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Here are the top five stories for 2008.
1. Orrick Repeats Class 1 State Football Championship: The longest winning streak in the state of Missouri belongs to the Orrick Bearcats. Coach Pat Richard’s crew extended the streak to 29 games on Nov. 28, but it wasn’t easy as the Bearcats had to go into double overtime before defeating Thayer 34-28.
It was the second year in a row Orrick defeated Thayer in the Class 1 title game at the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. The Bearcats began defense of their crown needing to replace just five graduated seniors from the previous year. Orrick rolled through the regular season as they chalked up their second straight I-70 Conference championship as well.
Along the way back to the Dome, the Bearcat defense registered 9 shutouts – including five in a row. While the defense kept opponents out of the end zone, the offense relied on the running attack that averaged over 300 yards a game and just under 40 points an outing. The toughest test for Orrick came in a quarterfinal meeting with West Platte at Tiger Stadium in Excelsior Springs as Blue Jay quarterback Ryan Humes threw for 325 yards on 24 completions against a defense that had recorded shutouts in the first two playoff games. Despite the loss of leading rusher Aaron Blyth to an injury, the Orrick offense managed 370 yards on the ground for a thrilling 48-39 victory. For the second year in a row, the Bearcats got past Princeton in the semifinals for their second trip to St. Louis.
In the title game, the Bearcats appeared to have secured their second consecutive title when Logan Eubank capped a 10-play 60-yard drive with a 16-yard touchdown run with 17 seconds left in the game for a 20-14 Orrick lead. The Bearcat celebration was temporarily put on hold as Thayer quarterback Jacob Eckman hit Lance Schneider for a 62-yard touchdown pass on the final play of regulation and the Bobcats were an extra point away from a victory, but the attempt was wide left and the game would be decided in the second overtime. Quarterback Joe Kaufman capped his career with a 29-0 record when he scored his third touchdown of the day on a 1-yard sneak in the second OT session.
2. Richmond Lady Spartans win the MRVC East Softball Championship: For the first time in the 17-year history of Richmond softball, the Lady Spartans could call themselves conference champions. The Lady Spartans had a home field they could call their own and officially captured the league title with an 18-3, 4-inning win at Knob Noster on Oct. 7 as the Lady Spartans put together a 9-1 record in the newly formed MRVC East Conference.
“The girls should be very proud of themselves,” Richmond Coach Staci Maddux said. “They’ve worked hard and they deserve this. They have done something no other Lady Spartan team has been able to do and I’m very proud of all of them.”
The Lady Spartans finished ahead of Carrollton at 8-2, with Higginsville taking third at 6-4.
Although the Richmond softball season would end on a disappointing note the next day with a 4-1 loss to St. Pius in the first round of the Class 3, District 15 Tournament at Excelsior Springs, Maddux said it was an outstanding year.
“They’ve had so many great accomplishments this year and they have a lot to be proud of,” she said. “They won a conference championship, and no other team has been able to do that.”
Along the way to a 17-8 season, the Lady Spartans took second in their own tournament and was also a runner-up in the Chillicothe Tournament.
The Lady Spartans had three first-team, all-conference selections with seniors Whitney Martens, Baylyn Jennings and Hayley Clubine. Two other seniors, Hannah Alpers and Megan Phipps were named to the second team, with junior Stephanie Williams receiving honorable mention.
The softball title was the first conference championship for an RHS girls team since the 1994 tennis squad.
3. Hardin-Central Lady Bulldogs capture elusive district hoops crown: After back-to-back disappointing losses in the district championship game, the third time proved to be a charm for the Hardin-Central Lady Bulldogs.
Coach Ken Layman’s girls defeated Bosworth 56-33 in the Class 1, District 7 championship game in Norborne on March 1. The Lady Dawgs relied on a strong defensive effort in the finals. Hardin-Central’s goal was to shut down Bosworth’s Andie Young who had averaged 40 points in the first two rounds of the tournament, including 46 in an upset over the top-seed, Tina-Avalon, in the semifinals. The Lady Dawgs’ defense held Young to 19 in the title game – drawing praise from Layman for their effort.
“We knew we had to keep the ball out of her hands and make her work for everything she got,” Layman said following the victory. “I platooned the girls in and out and tried to keep them fresh and wear her down a little.”
Brooke Derstler paced the Hardin-Central scoring with 18 points as she hit 12 of 14 free throws. Megan Layman was also in double figures for the Lady Dawgs with 13 points, while Reanna Newham pulled down 11 of Hardin-Central’s 48 rebounds.
After a slow start, Hardin-Central turned an 8-6 deficit after one period into a 13-point advantage at the half with a 19-4 scoring surge in the second quarter.
The Hardin-Central season ended with a 20-8 record after the Lady Bulldogs fell to Northeast of Cairo in the Sectional matchup at Warrensburg High School. The Bearcats jumped out to a 30-8 halftime lead on the way to a 56-43 win over Hardin-Central. Cairo would move on to win the Class 1 state title as the Bearcats stopped Delta 54-32 in the championship game 10 days later.
4. Richmond Spartan tennis team ends conference championship drought: There was a time in the 1980s when the Spartans dominated the MRVC tennis courts. Richmond won, or shared, the league title 12 times between 1982 and 1995. From then on, it was Higginsville rolling through the conference competition as the Huskers captured the next dozen MRVC championships.
Spartan Coach Ken Simmons was confident entering the season with plenty of experience and senior leadership coming back from a 5-7 campaign the previous spring. However, the Spartans began the new season with back-to-back 8-1 losses before beginning the conference schedule by hosting Higginsville. As the Huskers entered the match at Maurice Roberts Park, they had not dropped a league match in 13 years, but when they boarded the bus back home, that had all changed. Richmond ended the long string with a 6-3 victory, which served as a springboard to its first MRVC regular-season tennis crown since 1995. The Spartans dominated singles play by taking 5 of the 6 matches as Evan McWilliams, Phillip Corwin, Blake Truby, Kayleb Dunwoodie and Zach Peck chalked up victories. The Huskers won two of the three doubles matches.
Higginsville won the rematch later in the season, 5-4, on its home court, but the Spartans would end the year with an 11-1 showing, and later captured the conference tournament by 4 points over runner-up Grain Valley. Richmond had all six of its singles players reach the finals with McWilliams, Corwin and Fletcher O’Dell recording victories.
5. MRVC changes: Originally formed in 1928 as the Big Five, the Missouri River Valley Conference went through its biggest overhaul ever following the 2008 spring sports season.
With the enrollment numbers becoming a big discrepancy among the 10-member schools, the competitive balance of the league leaned toward the larger schools. After three or four years of talks, the conference accepted former Big Five charter member Excelsior Springs back into the fold, along with Harrisonville, a former member of the West Central Conference in December of 2006, with the league then dividing into the East and West beginning in the fall of 2008.
Both new teams joined the larger schools, Oak Grove, Odessa, Grain Valley and Pleasant Hill to form the MRVC West.
Meanwhile, the remaining schools, Richmond, Carrollton, Higginsville, Lexington, Knob Noster and Boonville made up new MRVC East. Each conference would have its own champion and all-conference selections.
It didn’t take long for the first change in the new league to take place as Boonville, a member of the MRVC since the 1971-72 school year, announced it was leaving for the North Central Missouri Conference beginning in the fall of 2008. Holden, a member of the Show-Me West conference, petitioned for membership shortly after Boonville announced its intentions. Holden was accepted to the league and began play with the new setup in the fall.
Holden was the first MRVC East football championship, with Harrisonville claiming the West title.
PHOTO: Orrick quarterback Joe Kaufman scored 3 touchdowns in the Bearcats’ Class 1 win over Thayer in November. (Photo by Russ Green/The Daily News.)