Some highlights from 2013-14:
Science Hill junior quarterback Malik McGue shrugged off a painful throwing shoulder to rally the Hilltoppers past Dobyns-Bennett in Kingsport for their first victory in the series since 1994. McGue popped his shoulder out of place two days before the showdown, and some of his immediate family was concerned shortly before kickoff if he would be healthy enough to be effective.
But he led the ‘Toppers to 21 points in the final five-plus minutes for a 35-24 victory that required a comeback nearly as stunning as when Science Hill blew a 34-19 lead in the fourth quarter against the Indians in the same J. Fred Johnson Stadium the previous year.
McGue passed for a 26-yard touchdown to Mikey White to get Science Hill within 24-21 with 5:17 left, and added TD runs of 27 and 19 yards in the final 1:50 to secure his lofty perch in Hilltopper history.
McGue’s senior season will come with much anticipation. He’s already being recruited by the likes of Air Force, Middle Tennessee State, Furman, Yale and ETSU, and will attend offseason camps at Tennessee, MTSU, Cincinnati, Kentucky, East Carolina, Virginia Tech and Louisville.
ETSU landed a talent from Science Hill this year in point guard Tianna Tarter, whose of talent and athleticism produced more entertaining play than any other area female that comes to mind. She was the best player in elementary school in a Boys & Girls Club flag football league that was 99 percent boys.
Fate challenged her unfairly with her father Lanny’s shocking death in May of her eighth-grade year, but his spirit was present in the passionate way Tianna played while helping the Lady Hilltoppers to unprecedented victory totals, national rankings and a state semifinalist and two state runners-up finishes. She had more impressive games statistically, but her competitive fire was never more evident than when she played 32 minutes in the state championship game against Riverdale as a sophomore in 2012 — one day after Science Hill lost Shy Copney to a knee injury in a win against Bashaara Graves-led Clarksville.
Science Hill was 38-0 but Shy-less when it tipped off against top-ranked Riverdale, and the Lady ‘Toppers were soon in a stunning 30-5 hole. But Tarter was a tireless catalyst in an unlikely comeback that had the Riverdale fans nervous by the time her transition floater made it 58-51 with five minutes remaining.
A deeper Riverdale pulled away from there, but Wildcats coach John Wild was talking about how Tarter looked like an SEC- or ACC-caliber player shortly after his team won the title. Perhaps she’ll help generate electricity at ETSU home games — the program is returning to cozier Brooks Gym — similar to how she and fellow senior Gabby Lyon helped bolster Science Hill’s atmosphere at home games the past four years.
David Crockett had electric atmospheres for football and boys basketball this year thanks primarily to the arrival of football coach Jeremy Bosken and basketball coach John Good.
Good’s son, Patrick, was the area’s male version of Tarter. A dynamic lead guard that can drive, pass and shoot with equal aplomb, Patrick scored 44 points in a district tournament game while helping Crockett beat his former Science Hill team for the second time in three meetings last season.
He also lit up Dobyns-Bennett like a neon sign, and Charlie Morgan’s Indians were the area’s most talented team and Big Seven, district and region champs. Patrick scored 35, 39 and 41 points in three games against D-B, a team that, as Morgan said, was first and foremost trying to contain him.
Patrick is already generating discussion among some D-I coaches, which will continue to snowball this summer when Crockett goes to camps at Chattanooga, Wofford and perhaps VCU.
Bosken’s football team took some lumps, but capped a decided improvement from 2012 with a playoff berth. It was hard to expect anything less after seeing the carnival-like atmosphere for Crockett’s season-opener against Sullivan East, which included fireworks, inflatables for children and an overflow crowd.
The arrival of Science Hill transfer Ian Martin and many returning starters, including running back T.K. Hill and quarterback Ryan Burger, will make anything less than continued strides in 2014 a disappointment.
It was disappointing to hear Daniel Boone softball coach Rick Wagner was stepping down after the 2014 season, which produced a sixth straight district tournament title. His Lady Blazers won eight league titles in 12 years, advanced to the state tournament twice and finished state runner-up two years ago.
But as evidenced by his classy demeanor following a state tournament loss or a heartbreaking extra-inning loss to Volunteer in what was consequently his last home game, Wagner wasn’t obsessed with winning. He was most concerned about connecting with players. The wins seemed to be a byproduct of that attitude.
“They played with a lot of heart,” he said after the loss to Volunteer while taking a final glance at the massive crowd filing out of the park. “They’re winners. I’ll tell you right now — we’ve played every darn good team in Tennessee this year — and I wouldn’t trade my bunch for anybody’s, and I mean that wholeheartedly. … I’ve been blessed.”
Wagner, a former ETSU baseball player, shares many similarities to the star of the 2014 Buccaneers baseball team.
ETSU senior Clinton Freeman went out in style, and was just as humble and friendly as when he arrived from David Crockett. Freeman led ETSU full-time players in batting (.348) and most other categories. His 13 home runs were more than any three teammates’ combined total, which was why he was pitched so carefully. Not that it mattered. Freeman hit offspeed pitches for home runs in both games of ETSU’s home-and-home sweep of Tennessee. He also recorded the save in each game against the Vols.
Freeman was so dialed in this season that no one was surprised when he lined a pretty good 2-2 slider over the center field fence against Mercer in his final game at Thomas Stadium.
Freeman could’ve foregone his senior season had he been interested in the St. Louis Cardinals’ call in the 27th round of last year’s draft.
Here’s hoping St. Louis or some other organization with an Appy League affiliate will be the one signing Freeman in the coming weeks.
Follow Trey Williams on Twitter. Like him on Facebook.