Valdosta Daily Times

December 24, 2012

Column: The best of 2012

Ed Hooper
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Merry Christmas, folks. There are just a few more days left in 2012, and what a year it has been for us local sports fans.

We’ve seen some teams reach the pinnacle of sports, while others fell short. Regardless, it was still an awesome year in local sports and there was plenty to celebrate.

This year was especially good to a guy like me. I graduated from college and then turned around and watched my alma mater claim two national championships. A day after covering the Blazers’ football national championship, I got engaged. So needless to say, this year had been pretty special for a guy like me.

I hope the year has been great for you too, and I hope 2013 is even better for our local sports teams. Now that I’ve covered three championships this year, I want more championships this upcoming year.

With that said, here are some of my thoughts and awards reflecting back on this past year in local sports.

Best team: Valdosta State softball

The Blazer softball team won 36 straight games at one point this past season, eventually finishing with a 58-5 record and as Division II national champions.

I saw this team more than many, as I also served as the team’s radio announcer. I can use one word to describe this year: Magical.

No matter what the scenario, there was never a doubt that the Blazers could do it. Even in the championship tournament, the Blazers got one out, heck one strike, away from being eliminated. But they never had the doubt.

They stayed calm and eventually hoisted the school’s first-ever women’s national championship.

Best title run: Valdosta State football

While I think the Valdosta State softball team was the best team, the Valdosta State football team’s run to the national championship was the more impressive feat.

After losing two of their first four games to start the season, the Blazers had their backs against the wall the remainder of the year, but managed to reel off 10 straight wins to claim the national championship.

Best game: VSU-FSC Super Regional

It was the longest game in Division II softball in over four years. The Valdosta State Blazers used a Natalia Morozova walk-off single in the bottom of the 16h inning to edge Florida Southern 2-1 in game one of the Division II South Super Regional in Valdosta. With over 800 fans in attendance, the stadium was rocking the whole night as the teams fought back-and-forth for the victory.

I learned a valuable lesson that night: Never say on the radio that a game could go into extra innings. It is likely to happen, much like it did that night.

The 2012 Winnersville Classic definitely gets an honorable mention here.

What a finish to another great rivalry game between the Vikings and Wildcats. Bravo to Gustavo Gonzales for delivering the game-winning 40-yard field goal. It was only his first year of ever playing football and it was the biggest game of the season for either team.

Gonzales will forever live in Winnersville history, just like that final 48 seconds the Wildcats put together in 2011.

Coach of the Year: VSU’s David Dean

My choice for Coach of the Year is David Dean. As mentioned, the Blazers were 2-2 four weeks into the season and fans were calling for Dean’s job. Then, the Blazers won 10 straight and won the national championship. Now who wants Dean fired? Nobody. Bravo to Dean, who won his second national championship as the Blazers’ head coach.

Best moment: Cayden Cochran’s


Could this kid go through anymore adversity? After losing his family home in a tornado in May 2011, Cochran’s family home in Oklahoma burned down the night of the Blazers’ national semifinal win over Minnesota State-Mankato. Regardless of the fire, the junior QB stayed focused and led     Valdosta State to the national championship.

After the game, Cochran showed all Blazer fans why they are lucky to have him as their quarterback. The redshirt junior cried on national television and then shared a special moment with his family on the field. That celebration shows how sports can keep a family together, even through disaster.

Most clutch performance: Sarah Vaughn, VSU

While many will note Samantha Posey’s walk-off home run in the 11th inning of the nationa tournament elimination game against Augustana (S.D.) as the biggest at-bat of the year, it was actually Sarah Vaughn that posted the most clutch performance.

Although she saw limited at bats during the tournament, Vaughn had the biggest hit of the year for the Blazers. Trailing by a run in the bottom of the seventh inning in the elimination game, Vaughn was used a pinch hitter for Clare Wamsley. Then, with two strikes against her, Vaughn singled up the middle, driving in Morozova. Four innings later, Posey drilled the walk-off homer to lift VSU to the following day. But, if Vaughn doesn’t come through in the clutch, the Blazers would have gone 0-2 in the national tournament and wouldn’t have a ton of reasons to celebrate.

Best play: The outfield leaps

I know it might seem like I have been choosing a lot of VSU softball here in this column. It’s largely because this team was unbelievable. Two of the most unbelievable plays you will see on a diamond, whether baseball or softball, were made in the same game by the Blazers. Outfielders Clare Wamsley and Courtney Albritton each robbed Rollins of home runs by leaping about fence height, sacrificing their own well being, to make the catches. In a game that ended with the Blazers winning 1-0, the two catches saved the Blazers’ season and national championship hopes.