BY ALLIE DAVISON | Wharton High
With the 2010-2011 school year taking its final bows, the athletic season deserves a standing ovation. Hillsborough and Pinellas counties have produced some of the most breathtaking moments possible in high school sports. From game-winning field goals to a school's first state title, swimming to baseball, fans were spoiled this year by the heart and talent of Tampa Bay's student athletes. We're sure to see some of these counties' finest make ESPN Top 10 plays in college. Here are my picks for the top five moments during a high school season that was the stuff of Hollywood movies:
kicks for survival
The star QBs and shutdown corners are usually the game changers or makers out on the field; people tend to look past the kickers to focus on more glamorous positions. With time expiring, Armwood's senior kicker, Ash Dudney, walked out to the 44-yard line with the weight of an undefeated season and a state championship final resting on his shoulders. If he were to make it, two-time champions Armwood would propel themselves into contention for the 4A title . If he were to miss it, the season would end with another semifinal lost in the last few moments.
Dudney crushed the ball and watched it sail between the posts, good for the game-winning score of 22-20. The longest of the season for him, Dudney's field goal was a magnificent example of conquering fear and going for it. Armwood unfortunately fell to Tallahassee Lincoln in the state finals, 17-14. The fairy tale ending to their season didn't happen, but the team experienced the game of a life-time, dubbed one of the greatest victories in Armwood history.
2East Lake homers
Seeking redemption after losing in the finals last year, the college-bound all-star softball team produced a perfect regular season. Heading into the district tournament, the Eagles seemed to be untouchable, outscoring their opponents 232 to 8. However, in the district final they found themselves equally matched on the scoreboard. After a scorching comeback from the Seminole Warhawks in the fifth, the playing field was leveled at 4-4. Unwilling to let this year fall apart, the Eagle girls sent 14 batters to the plate and scored 10 runs in the bottom of the fifth. Finishing 14-4, the girls wiped away the sweat on their brows. Humble athletes are able to compete at high levels, and the East Lake softball team came together to win.
3 Wharton boys
tennis ace into history
Making it to a state final is a dream. Going twice? Rare. Three times? Mind-boggling. Four times? The word "impossible" comes up. With the departures of tennis legend Michael Alford to the University of Florida and longtime coach Marcie Scholl, the expectations for Wharton boys tennis didn't look promising, especially with two freshmen in the starting lineup. After a "three-peat" (three state championships in a row), this new team flew under the radar for most of the season. At the district tourney, they fought back to tie with the always-challenging Plant. After breaking the tie and ultimately winning the title, the boys found themselves in a similar situation at the region finals against Plant. Winning meant they would be rewriting history once more by competing for a "four-peat."
Senior and co-captain Rohit Navelkar had not lost a match all season. After forcing a deciding third set with a second set tie-break win, he was down again 1-4. With history waiting, Navelkar fought back and won in the 10th game in a match that lasted more than six hours. This team silenced the critics by stamping their ticket to an eighth consecutive trip to the finals. Wharton did not complete the coveted four-peat but proved so much is possible with a believing attitude.
to first state title
Playing for the school named after the late legendary owner of baseball's royalty, the New York Yankees, Steinbrenner's girls soccer team prevailed as princesses, complete with a state championship trophy crown. The 2-year-old school became the quickest to win any state title with a 2-1 overtime victory over Merritt Island. The team went into overtime in shock after blowing a 1-0 lead with 13 seconds left. Needing a spark seven minutes into overtime, instead of playing a typical throw-in, Lauren Laughlin displayed her unique acrobatic throw to find the head of senior Carly Keene for the golden goal. Under high pressure, most players would never attempt such a high-risk move, which Laughlin had used inconsistently throughout the 21-2-2 season. The crafty shot caught their opponents off guard allowing the 5'11" Keene to put the ball in and earn her team a much-deserved title. When the moment seemed too much after blowing the lead, the girls faced the pressure and never looked back.
5Spine injury no match
for Baird's drive
An athlete's worst nightmare is to come so close to a dream but then watch it crumble because of an injury. With track season beginning only a month after shedding the back brace he had worn from August to December because of a pars fracture to his spine, Plant's senior pole vaulter Brian Baird seemed close to that nightmare. With his 15-foot third-place finish in last year's state meet, Baird had been set to take his turn at the gold, but eight months of being sidelined saw his chances of vaulting in this year's state meet grow slim. But he kept progressing, and in a shock to the track and field world, Baird qualified for the state meet, where he cleared all his levels with perfection. This time, his 15 feet crowned him champion. Baird's turnaround after serious injury is impressive testimony to his unfailing determination.
SOURCES: tampbay.com, tbo.com and ESPN.com