Smith: The best games I watched in 2018-19

Smith: The best games I watched in 2018-19

Let’s take a final glance at the high school sports season.

My 12th year covering athletics professionally had quite a few memorable moments, and it’s been a blessing being able to be the one to keep them on file for the masses. While I couldn’t be everywhere, the hope was to get to as many games as possible, which sets up the premise of this column.

This is a rewinder of the five best games I was able to see — sort of. I’ll explain immediately with the first entry:

No. 5: The Kinston-Greene Central basketball trilogy

I get it — two of the games were absolute blowouts and tough on the eyes. Still, this was a continuation of what became one of the biggest basketball rivalries in the state over the past three years. The first contest on Dec. 14 was the closest, with the Rams winning 64-58 in overtime. The Vikings’ Dontrez Styles was saddled with early foul trouble, allowing Imajae Dodd and Donte Johnson to operate in the paint. Kinston came back from a 10-point halftime deficit and back-to-back 3-pointers from Chance Minott and Judah McBynum tied the game at 54 in the final minute of regulation, but in overtime Greene Central would hit eight of nine at the free throw line to eventually pull away.

The next two meetings had none of the drama — Kinston held Greene Central to 26 percent shooting in a 55-42 victory on Jan. 29 and 24 percent during a 60-25 beatdown in the ECC tournament championship game on Feb. 22 — but it was always gratifying to see a packed house to view two of the best 2A teams in the state.

Unfortunately for both, Farmville Central ended championship runs—Kinston’s in the third round, Greene Central in the Eastern Regionals. The Jaguars then went on to win the 2A state title.

No. 4: North Lenoir baseball gets a walkoff victory over Ayden-Grifton (April 18)

This was the closest game Graham Hill and I called all season for Neuse News, and it was certainly a memorable affair. The Hawks fell 4-2 in the first meeting March 26 and the Chargers picked up where they left off, scoring three in the first off an error and a 2-run double from Josh Harris. North Lenoir got two runs in the second on Jayden Gatling’s RBI double and a wild pitch, and after each team scored a run in the third, pitching took over until the bottom of the seventh.

Trailing 4-3, North Lenoir’s Malik Dixon’s one-out grounder was mishandled and two batters later, Ethan May’s sacrifice fly tied the game. One pitch later, Garrett Brock became the Hawks’ hero with an RBI single to left field to secure the win.

No. 3: Kinston pulls off another close football win, this one against Clinton (Nov. 23)

The 2018 football season was a magical one for the Vikings, where the team showcased the “Kinston Tough” moniker time and time again. Kinston had its second-best start ever with 12 consecutive wins, including eight by eight points or fewer.

Kinston’s final win of the season came against a storied Clinton program, 21-13, in the second round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs. The Vikings trailed twice against the Dark Horses, but Kieren Hooker found Demetri Holmes with 1 second left in the third for a 15-yard touchdown to put the team up 14-13. The Dark Horses had two chances in Kinston territory, but the Vikings forced a turnover before getting the ball back on a failed fourth-and-11 from the 30. Justin Holloway scored from 9 yards out with 3:26 left to extend the Kinston advantage to eight.

Clinton had one more chance, advancing to the Kinston 1 with 24 seconds left facing fourth-and-goal, but a false start followed by Holmes’ pass deflection allowed the Vikings to breathe easier.

No. 2: Ayden-Grifton bucks all the trends in softball (March 15)

In 10 previous Eastern Carolina 2A matchups, South Lenoir defeated Ayden-Grifton by a combined score of 116-3. The Blue Devils seemed to continue tradition by jumping out to a 5-0 lead after two, led by Logan Lucas’ RBI double with run-scoring hits from Allie Parker and Mallory Dawson. The Chargers scored three in the top of the third, highlighted by RBI singles from Kim Gurkins and Nora Fields, but an inning later, Parker and Dawson had base knocks of their own to score two.

The score remained 7-3 in the seventh before Boo Hardee’s one-out RBI single started a rally. Three consecutive South Lenoir errors brought in two runs and Mikayla Olejar’s sacrifice fly tied the game at 7. From there, pitching reigned supreme until the top of the 13th on Gurkins’ one-out fielder’s choice before she closed the deal on the mound for an 8-7 win.

I wasn’t able to see South Lenoir’s 9-4 eight-inning win on April 9, but this was one of the best conference matchups of the season, coupled with Greene Central’s 7-6 walkoff win against the Chargers on April 2 after a 3-run Ayden-Grifton rally before the Chargers returned the favor 12-8 on May 2. Still, the top spot had been reserved for months on this list.

No. 1: Arendell Parrott Academy wins school’s first volleyball title

If a school wins a state championship, it has to rate pretty high on any list. The Patriots were undefeated heading into last year’s title game and had a 2-0 lead on Asheville Christian before dropping a five-set heartbreaker. This time around, APA swapped sets with Caldwell Academy (winning the first 25-23 and the third 27-25 before dropping the second and fourth 25-17) before breaking it open in the decisive fifth 15-4.

Parrott showcased its resolve in the fifth, going up 4-1 — highlighted by two Alli Grant Avery kills and a Gisell Cervantes ace — and when Caldwell got within 6-4, APA scored the game’s last nine points to squash any dramatic finish. Virginia Edmondson had a pair of kills in the run and Gabby Carriere finished the contest with a pair of service aces.

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