By Jeffery Armstrong
As 2004 comes to a close, I reflected on how good this year has been for sports in the Southern Crescent. In basketball, the Forest Park Lady Panthers basketball team has once again started well. Last year, the 2003 Lady Panthers began the year 4-0 en route to an 11-16 record, their best mark in years. This year, Forest Park won the Henry County Classic, its first tournament title in 26 years. Forest Park improves to 6-7 with the title victory and hopefully the Lady Panthers will be able to surpass last year's win total.
Morrow and Riverdale girls basketball teams have both played well so far, with Morrow defeating a ranked Riverdale team and then Riverdale turned around and knocked off the top-ranked team in the state, Stephenson, the defending state champs.
I've been impressed with both Mundy's Mill teams this season, as they finally stopped taking lumps and have delivered some of their own so far.
At the start of 2004, all the Southern Crescent basketball teams were trying to qualify for the region playoffs and several did. The Morrow boys exorcised some personal demons to climb from the eighth seed to consecutive Region 2-AAAAA titles, defeating No. 1 seed Stockbridge in the process. It was a heartbreaking loss for the Tigers from Stockbridge, who were undefeated until meeting Morrow in the region tournament. Morrow lost to Savannah in the state sectionals.
Thanks to great play from Toney Douglas, Jonesboro qualified for the state playoffs again but the Cardinals lost in the first round to Tift County. Speaking of Douglas, the guard has taken his tremendous heart and shooting skills to Auburn University and the freshman is currently leading the team in scoring at 19 points per game. He was even named MVP of the recent San Juan Shootout tournament.
The Henry County Warhawks finally broke through and made the state playoffs but they also lost in the first round to Coffee County. Riverdale and North Clayton boys made state for the first time in years and gave a good accounting of themselves. On the girls basketball end, Jonesboro, Riverdale and North Clayton made the state playoffs, but it was Mt. Zion's improbable run to the state Final Four which was the highlight of the 2004 basketball season. Player of the Year Shaka Dennison carried that team down the stretch and led them to victories over Colquitt County and ranked teams Beach and Riverdale in the playoffs before they succumbed to Collins Hill.
Several area teams qualified for state in baseball, but it was Jonesboro who made the biggest impression. The Cardinals swept the ranked Effingham County Rebels in two games at their place in what had to be the upset of the year. Despite getting trounced the next week by Starr's Mill, the Jonesboro Cardinals didn't hang their heads. And why should they? Sweeping Effingham was a major feat.
The 2004 football season was one I won't soon forget North Clayton was amazing, blitzing its way to a 10-0 season thanks to outstanding play from Morgan Burnett, Dirk Engram, Winston Bowens and several others. Henry County actually won more than one game and even played a meaningful 10th game for the first time in years. Lovejoy rebounded from an 0-2 start to win its second straight region crown and Riverdale made the playoffs for the fourth straight year, thanks to strong early play and great coaching by first-year head man Nick Davis and his staff. The worst thing about the 2004 football season was the disappointment of all five Southern Crescent playoff teams (North Clayton, Mt. Zion, Eagle's Landing Christian, Riverdale and Lovejoy) losing in the early rounds. There's nothing worse for me than seeing these young players crying after losses.
Jeffery Armstrong is a sports writer for the Daily and his column appears on Thursdays. He can be reached at email@example.com .