The Top 5 stories of the prep sports season.
5. PHS seniors wrap up amazing careers
When the Portal Panthers took the court for the beginning of the 2010-11 season, they decided to go in a new direction.
Fresh off of a rare campaign that didn’t result in a state playoff appearance, Portal coach Jeff Brannen turned to a pair of rising freshman — Stacey Morgan and Robert Lee — and immediately inserted them into the starting lineup.
Lack of experience was never an issue as both Morgan and Lee immediately played big roles in turning the Panthers’ fortunes around. Not only did Portal return to the state playoffs – a feat that would occur in all four of the duo’s seasons with the Panthers – but Portal also brought home three Region 3-A championships.
Morgan and Lee finished their careers in the quarterfinals of this year’s state tournament after hitting their high-water mark in 2013 with a run all the way to the state Final Four – just the second time a Portal team has advanced that far.
After four great seasons, the pair exited high school with a career record of 90-28.
4. SEB football back in the playoffs
It wasn’t too long ago that football season had sunk to nearly an afterthought in Brooklet.
Despite two state championships and a handful of region titles to its name, Southeast Bulloch hit a funk on the gridiron. The Yellow Jackets hadn’t posted a winning record for a season since 2005 and hadn’t made a state playoff field since 2003.
The program started to show signs of new life when head coach Pat Collins took over in 2010, but faced the additional challenge of moving up into Class AAA beginning in 2012.
But the Jackets continued to move forward and put up a respectable showing in their first season in their new classification. Heading into last fall, SEB made no bones about the fact that they intended on winning, no matter the competition.
And that’s exactly what happened.
The Jackets didn’t drop a game over the first month of the season and their 7-2-1 regular season mark earned them a trip to the state playoffs.
SEB nearly pulled an upset in its first postseason game in over a decade and, as the sentiment at spring practice showed, the Jackets have no plans of slowing down.
3. Bowers caps career with state title
Naming Sarah Jane Bowers as the best girls golfer in Statesboro High’s history likely wouldn’t have garnered much argument as her senior season began this spring.
By the end of May, she had taken any sort of subjectivity out of the argument.
With an eight-foot putt rolled in for par on the fourth playoff hole of the girls’ Class AAAA state championship, Bowers became the school’s first ever individual state champion in the sport.
The championship was a fitting end for someone who has made stops at about every high point or hurdle that a program can encounter.
Bowers arrived at SHS as a freshman and was quickly thrown into the rotation. She may have had some physical growing up to do, but her mental toughness showed as she consistently led the way.
Under her leadership, the team took strides toward qualifying for state in Bowers’ sophomore year, but as her junior year dawned, Bowers found herself with no teammates.
Instead of packing it in for the spring, Bowers chose to compete with the boys squad and posted qualifying scores at both the regional and state championships.
With the girls team brought back to life this season, Bowers resumed her leadership and – with just three girls on the roster – was able to get the Lady Devils into the state finals.
2. Blue Devils rewrite the record books
Statesboro’s track and field squad is no stranger to success, but the final month of the 2014 season saw the Blue Devils hit another gear entirely.
Beginning with the Statesboro Relays and running through the Region 3-AAAA meet, state sectionals, and the state championships, six different Devils combined to set six new school records and one new Statesboro Relays record.
Zaquavian Smith and Andreas Ward completed their senior seasons and will each own three spots on the records board.
Smith set a school record at the state finals in the 400-meter run to back up his record effort in the 200-meters at sectionals. He was also a member of the new record holders in the 4x100 meter relay which also included Ward, Jaier Williams and Octavian Canty.
Ward bested the old SHS mark in the 110-meter high hurdles at the state finals before improving on the 300-meter intermediate hurdle record that he already held later in the competition.
On the girls side, Simone Kirkland cleared 8-feet, 6-inches in the pole vault to set a new school mark while Jaslyn Joseph ran the fastest 300-meter hurdles in the 46-year history of the Statesboro Relays.
The Devil boys and girls swept both the Statesboro Relays and the region championships, while the boys’ 5th place finish at state was the school’s best showing since 1977.
1. Lady Gators take state basketball title
The top prep moment of the 2013-14 school year goes to the only team state championship to make its way back to Bulloch County.
The Bulloch Academy girls basketball squad had flirted with greatness before. The Lady Gators entered the season coming off of back-to-back region championships and a trip to the Final Four.
Plenty of talent had graduated away from the 2012-13 team, but — as has become the norm at BA — new faces pitched in immediately while returning starters stepped up to lead.
Bulloch wasted no time in announcing itself as a state power, running off 14 consecutive victories to start the season.
A loss during a Christmas tournament ruined the chances for a perfect season, but did nothing to lessen the Gators’ championship drive. Bulloch easily ran through its region schedule, going undefeated in league competition and winning a third consecutive tournament title.
The Gators stormed through the opening round of the Class AAA state tournament before squaring off with Tattnall Square — the only team to deal out a loss to Bulloch — in the quarterfinals.
The rematch was never even close.
Bulloch cruised to a 55-22 victory had little more trouble in the remaining rounds. The Gators capped off their first ever state championship with a dominating 46-29 win over Stratford Academy.
Mike Anthony may be reached at (912) 489-9404.