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2018 in Review: Top stories, moments and athletes from past year

By Reece Waddell | Published Saturday, December 29, 2018
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Back on Top

BACK ON TOP – The Decatur Lady Eagles celebrate after defeating Needville in the Class 4A championship match. It was Decatur’s third volleyball state title in the past six years. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

LADY EAGLES WIN THIRD STATE TITLE

All season long, the Decatur Lady Eagles had overcome bouts of adversity.

In the 4A Region I final, Decatur dug out of a 1-0 hole to knock off Glen Rose. In the 4A semifinal, the Lady Eagles fended off a furious Melissa rally.

In the 4A final against Needville, Decatur was presented one final challenge.

After blowing a 20-15 lead in the second set, the Lady Eagles fell behind 9-3 in the pivotal third game. Needing one more rally, Decatur came together when it mattered most.

“That’s been our season almost to a ‘T’,” said Decatur coach Clark Oberle. “We’ve had ups and we’ve had downs, but we always manage to come back with an up after the down. I talked about it yesterday how we’ve come together as a team. We’ve learned we can trust each other. If one person is struggling, someone else is going to pick up the slack. That’s exactly what happened today.”

The Lady Eagles made an 8-2 run to tie the third set at 11 and survived a late surge by the Lady Jays to take a 2-1 lead. With momentum on its side, Decatur wasted little time putting the match away.

Freshman Jentry Lamirand put the finishing touches on the Lady Eagles’ third state title in six years with a kill in the fourth set that sent Decatur into a frenzy.

For the first time since 2014, the Lady Eagles claimed the class 4A state title, dethroning defending champion Needville 25-12, 21-25, 27-25, 25-18 at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.

“A lot of people saw us as the underdog today, but I told our kids before we went on the floor that we weren’t the underdog,” Oberle said. “They played like champions today.”

Golden Finish

GOLDEN FINISH – The Decatur boys cross country team shows off the Class 4A trophy and their gold medals after winning the 4A state title. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

DECATUR BOYS CLAIM GOLD

When Decatur’s final runner – senior Anthony Rodriguez – crossed the finish line in the Class 4A boys 5K at the UIL Cross Country Championships, Decatur coach David Park had no idea where the Eagles stood in the standings.

“I didn’t know where we were,” Park said. “I knew we were in the mix. I was having issues counting people.”

As Decatur made its way back to camp, Park and the rest of the Eagles began feverishly refreshing their phones, awaiting results. Soon, a shriek rang out through Old Settlers Park, which was followed by more cheers.

Park made his way over and asked to see for himself. When he was satisfied, he turned to his team and made the news official.

Decatur was the 4A state champion.

The Eagles held off second-place Andrews by two points, winning the title 90-92 in Round Rock. It was Decatur’s first title since 2012 and fifth cross country championship.

“It’s surreal,” said junior Triston Read. “I can’t even believe it. We’ve worked so hard for this. It’s been all of our dreams. They finally came true.”

Read was the Eagles’ top finisher, turning in a time of 16:15.40 for 10th overall. Fellow junior Matthew Ashmore also finished in the top 25, posting a 16:30.33 for 14th.

“There are no words,” Ashmore said. “This will be a very good memory.”

NORTHWEST FALLS IN 5A FINAL

As precious time ticked off the clock in the 5A state title game, the Northwest Texans frantically looked around the court wondering who should commit the clock-stopping foul.

Avery Anderson had four fouls, as did Jordan Keys, Julien Smith and Darrell Simpson. Port Arthur had a 70-64 lead with under a minute left, and Northwest had to stop the clock to extend the game.

Realizing no one was going to foul, Anderson took matters into his own hands. The all-state junior sacrificed himself, fouling out to give Northwest a chance. But it was for naught.

The Texans came up one win shy of their first state title, falling to Port Arthur 75-69 at the Alamodome in the UIL basketball championships.

Northwest finished the season 34-6 as the 5A runner-up.

“I thought it was more of us running out of fouls than it was us running out of gas,” said Northwest coach Mike Hatch. “I thought our kids played their tails off. Getting into foul trouble caused us some problems. That’s where we lost some of our aggressiveness because we had some of our better offensive players sitting on the bench.”

Looking for Room

LOOKING FOR ROOM – Decatur quarterback Roman Fuller runs during the Class 4A semifinal against Waco La Vega. The Eagles finished the season 8-7, becoming only the third team in Decatur history to advance to the state semifinal. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

EAGLES MAKE HISTORIC SEMIFINAL RUN

It took only three plays for John Richards to find the end zone for the Waco La Vega Pirates in the Class 4A semifinal.

On La Vega’s first drive, Richards took three handoffs from quarterback Ara Rauls III and went 74 yards to put the Pirates up 7-0. By the end of the first quarter, Richards had racked up 139 yards and two touchdowns on just six carries.

“It reminded me of the first time we played Hirschi,” said senior receiver Beau Bedford. “I said ‘We’re in for a dogfight.'”

He was right.

Decatur committed two first-half turnovers and surrendered 393 total yards in the first two quarters alone, falling 53-0 to La Vega in the 4A Division I semifinal at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. The Eagles finished a historic year 8-7 overall after ending the regular season 4-6.

“I hate it for them for how it ended tonight, but I told them I wouldn’t be any prouder if we won tonight,” said Decatur coach Mike Fuller. “We played a great team. What they’ve accomplished and what they’ve gone through to get here…nobody wanted it to end like this, but they’ll wake up tomorrow or maybe Monday, and realize they accomplished something that not many people can do.”

Decatur joined the 1975 and 1988 teams as the only squads to advance to the state semifinal. After starting the season 1-4, the Eagles did the unthinkable and made a magical postseason run few saw coming.

“They truly embodied what we preach all the time, which is the next play mentality,” Coach Fuller said. “They’ve been able to put the noise aside and put the past behind them.

“They really loved each other. They really loved their brother and cared about their teammates. I think that’s what I’ll remember the most.”

Second to Savor

SECOND TO SAVOR – The Boyd Lady Yellowjackets finished as the runner-up in 3A after falling to Callisburg in the final in November. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

LADY JACKETS’ TITLE BID FALLS SHORT

After winning the first set and rallying back from a five-point deficit, the Boyd Lady Yellowjackets looked to put a stranglehold on the 3A title match Saturday, going up 23-21 in the second game.

But after her team lost in the final a year ago, Callisburg senior Skylar Allen refused to let Boyd go up two sets. Allen put down back-to-back kills to tie the game. Callisburg then staved off two set points, before Macie Satterwhite put down a closing kill to give the Lady Cats the long game, 30-28.

The set proved to be the turning point. Behind the seemingly unstoppable Allen, who delivered 26 kills, Callisburg went on to take the next two sets and capture the 3A state title at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, 20-25, 30-28, 25-23, 25-19.

“It’s hard when you battle like that and you don’t come out on top, it’s sometimes hard to recover from,” Crafton said. “It does something to you. I don’t think we ever stopped or quit. It’s just tough for anyone to overcome, especially at this stage, when you battle so hard.”

Boyd finished as the 3A runnerup.

“We worked really hard to get where we are today,” said Boyd senior Macee Valtr. “We beat some really good teams to get here. It means a lot.”

Fellow senior Jordyn Todd added: “I’m extremely proud of how far we came. We did better than last year. That’s all we can ask for.”

UMPHRESS DEFIES ODDS TO BEAT CANCER

The Chico High School gym was nearly empty. Practice had been over for a while, but senior Bailey Umphress lingered.

As he put up shot after shot, Bailey and his coach, Mark Kyle, engaged in conversation. Kyle quizzed Bailey on specific plays and in-game scenarios, with Bailey answering almost instantly.

Kyle raved about Bailey’s intelligence and passion for the game. He said occasionally, he inserts Bailey and, almost like magic, a play starts to work.

But when asked how many points Bailey averages, Kyle said “only a couple.”

“That’s not what he brings to the team,” Kyle said.

Playing with only one lung and one kidney, Bailey serves as daily inspiration to his coach and teammates – because according to a few doctors, he should not even be alive.

When he was 6, Bailey and his parents, Keith and Traci, discovered blood in his urine. His father Keith said they suspected just a urinary tract infection.

They paid a visit to their local pediatrician, who referred them to Cook Children’s in Fort Worth. There, doctors performed a sonogram on Bailey’s kidneys, spending well over half an hour examining his right one.

Eventually, doctors completed the scan and returned with a diagnosis: pediatric renal cell carcinoma.

Doctors gave Bailey six months to live.

“We were just devastated,” Keith remembered.

But that was over a decade ago. Now, Bailey is a Chico High School graduate and plans to attend Dallas Baptist University to become a pilot.

“I didn’t like seeing my parents sad or upset,” Bailey said of his determination to beat cancer. “I just tried to keep fighting so I could love my family even more and see them longer.”

BATTLE OF BIG SANDY GRIDIRON RIVALRY ENDS

The Battle of Big Sandy on the gridiron is over – for now.

After nearly 100 meetings, Decatur and Bridgeport called it quits. When the University Interscholastic League unveiled its latest round of realignment in February, the Eagles and Bulls did not have each other on their non-district schedules for football.

The two schools landed in different 4A divisions. Decatur is in District 4-4A Division I and Bridgeport in 3-4A Division II for football. The two schools are in the same league for basketball – 8-4A.

The Eagles lead the all-time football series 64-28-6 and have won the last five meetings by a combined score of 291-96.

Bridgeport coach Shannon Wilson said it was in the best interest of the Bulls to discontinue the annual contest.

Decatur coach Mike Fuller said he first learned Bridgeport was not interested in renewing the rivalry last December, adding that he had seen it coming for a few months.

“It’s something that’s been around for a long time,” Fuller said. “[The players] have been fine. They’re a little bit disappointed, but they know how it goes. It may come back one day, hopefully. We wanted to continue to play, and they didn’t want to.”

Both Fuller and Wilson said the two schools currently have no plans to renew the rivalry. Since Decatur and Bridgeport are in different districts, they are not required to play one another.

Fuller said Decatur would start playing Bridgeport again any time they want to, while Wilson insisted playing them was not a priority.

BLANKS OVERCOMES PARENTS’ DEATHS

In a span of five months when he was 11, Chico senior Jerod Blanks lost both his mother and father.

His mother, Linda, passed away from cardiac hypertrophy in her sleep. His father committed suicide shortly after.

“I never would imagine losing one, much less both of them at the age of 11,” Jerod said. “I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.”

While losing both of his parents was trying, Jerod never let it stop him from accomplishing his goals.

Jerod graduated from Chico as salutatorian in May with a 3.9 GPA. He plans to attend Texas A&M University and major in mechanical engineering. He was the starting quarterback of the football team in 2017, leading the Dragons to their second straight playoff appearance. He also led the basketball team in scoring, helping Chico make it back to the postseason. In baseball, he was a first-team all-district selection and ace pitcher.

“I can just picture my mom in the stands. She gets one sunflower seed – she can’t put them all in her mouth – and I can picture her chewing them one by one and spitting them out, and my dad yelling at me from the side of the fence,” Jerod said, his voice trailing off

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