Dec 31, 2021
Staff file photo / Brian Yauger Kennedy’s Cam Hollobaugh, right, hugs pitcher Gavin Shrum, who pitched a shutout in the Eagles’ 4-0 win over Van Wert Lincolnview in the Division IV state championship game Sunday at Canal Park in Akron.
A year after COVID-19 plagued sports around the country, athletes seized the opportunity to rise above the worldwide pandemic and take advantage of every chance they could to excel in their sports.
Some of those opportunities resulted in state championships a year after there were none. Others resulted in deep runs to state title games and the creation of endless memories. There were a countless number of moments that fans, parents, and athletes alike will look back on and remember, especially after having the opportunity to witness them in person.
A few months after competing in the spring, the Youngstown State football team was back in action in front of fans at the Ice Castle and the Browns fulfilled the dreams of many by capturing a playoff win. Baseball also returned to the Valley with the Scrappers filling up the stands at Eastwood Field.
After a year of negatives, 2021 brought several moments to look back on that will be remembered for years to come.
Ursuline Returns to States
For the first time since 2010, the Ursuline Fighting Irish battled to the state championship game this season. After working through the regular season with a 6-3 record, including losing back-to-back games to St. Vincent-St. Mary and Villa Angela-St. Joseph, Ursuline went on a tear in the playoffs as the No. 3 seed. They knocked off Canton South and Salem in the first two rounds, scoring a combined 102 points. They topped Glenville next before knocking off West Branch to earn a regional championship. The Irish then cruised by Port Clinton, 34-17, before falling to a strong Clinton-Massie team, 29-28, in the state title game. After pulling within one on a late touchdown, the Falcons went for two to win the game in regular time. Ursuline finished the year with a 11-4 record and scored 640 total points.
Baseball State Championship
With a roster of just 11 players and a first-year coach in Jim Ciambotti, the 14th-ranked Eagles ran the table through the tournament to bring the school its first state title.
Pitchers Gavin Shrum and Cam Hollobaugh guided Kennedy all the way to Akron, where they topped Van Wert Lincolnview, 4-0.
On the way, the Eagles beat teams like Columbia Station and Fort Loramie.
Kennedy finished the year with a 21-6 record. The win capped off a high school year in which JFK went to the state finals in football and regional finals in basketball.
A New Era in Cleveland
After a long and drawn out process, the Indians finally decided on a new name for a new era. Starting in the 2021 season, the Indians will be known as the Guardians and have already started the transition to their new name this offseason. But, it didn’t come without controversy. A roller derby team in Cleveland that already dons the Guardians nickname took the Major League Baseball team to court. The case was settled, though, and the baseball team is clear to move forward into next season with its new name.
Maplewood’s Richards Goes Back to Back
Once is nice, but twice is even better. Maplewood sophomore Caleigh Richards stepped on top of the podium for the second straight year at the cross country state championships after clocking a time of 18:16.2 and beating the field by about six seconds. Richards battled back from a bout with COVID-19 earlier this season and proved that she was one of the best in the state.
1 sport, 2 seasons
COVID delivered a lot of curveballs this past year and the YSU football team just rolled with the punches, playing two seasons in one year due to its 2020 fall season getting moved to this Spring. The Penguins went 1-6 in their spring slate, topping South Dakota in a 28-10 victory. They pushed South Dakota State to the brink, falling 19-17, and only lost to Western Illinois by three, 27-24. Their final game of the spring, a battle with North Dakota, was canceled. This fall they finished with a record of 3-7, beating Incarnate Word in an overtime thriller on the foot of kicker Colt McFadden. They also took down Missouri State and Southern Illinois. With a normal offseason ahead of them, things are looking up for the Penguins.
Blue Devil Dominance
Even though they didn’t bring home the big trophy in the end, the McDonald girls basketball program stormed its way through the tournament to reach the state finals.
Taking down teams like rival Western Reserve in the regional semifinal, Shadyside in the regional finals and Waterford in the state semifinals, the Blue Devils finished with a 24-3 record.
Led by seniors Sophia Costantino and the pair of Molly and Maddy Howard, McDonald swept through league play on the way to Dayton.
While scoring 171 total goals and only allowing 34, the Crestview Rebels boys soccer team went on a historic run this season, finishing with an overall record of 21-2. They earned a trip to the state finals but fell to Grandview Heights 4-2 at Lower.com Field in Columbus. Their only other loss this season came against Bay on Oct. 2 in an 8-0 decision. Junior Nick Novak led the Rebels with 57 goals and 44 assists while Mitchell Auer tallied 40 goals and 27 assists. Ryan Emch also scored 23 and had 19 assists.
On the verge
Nearly all of South Range’s athletic programs went on great tournament runs during the 2020-21 school year, but the softball Raiders went the furthest, reaching the state title game in Akron.
Led by pitcher Bree Kohler, now at Youngstown State, the Raiders went through Champion, the three-time defending state champs, Ursuline and Johnston before falling to Sherwood Fairview in the title game.
Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Cleveland Browns are in the playoff hunt this season, but last January brought fireworks between the two teams and the Browns were on the winning end. After topping the Steelers in their regular season finale 24-22, where Nick Chubb ran for 108 yards and Baker Mayfield threw for just under 200, the Browns beat the Steelers in the first round of the playoffs to earn their first playoff victory since 1994. The Browns went on to lose to the Chiefs in the AFC Divisional round, 22-17.
Baseball is back
After the concept came together in 2020, it was followed through with in 2021 and the Mahoning Valley Scrappers returned to Eastwood Field as a part of the Major League Baseball Draft League with five other teams, which included the West Virginia Black Bears, the Trenton Thunder, the State College Spikes, Williamsport Crosscutters and the Frederick Keys. The Scrappers finished third in the league with a record of 27-28-3 and earned a win percentage of .485. They won 14 games at home and 13 on the road. Six Scrappers ended up getting drafted in the MLB Draft and several local products earned the opportunity to fulfill a dream by playing at Eastwood Field.
Not every moment could fit into the top 10 from this year but several definitely earned the recognition. One would be fans returning to football fields and gymnasiums in full capacity. The loud cheers were back in full force as athletes remembered what home field advantage felt like.
Two seniors also capped off stellar high school football careers in a big way.
Hubbard’s T.C. Caffey blew up for the Eagles and had a senior year for the ages, entering the OHSAA record book with 2,600-plus rushing yards — he finished his season with 2,638 yards – and he also set the new OHSAA single-season record for rushing touchdowns with 37.
Springfield’s Beau Brungard also capped off a stellar career and led the Tigers to the brink of a third-straight championship performance. He earned All-Ohio Offensive Player of the Year honors for Division VI by passing for 1,779 yards and 22 touchdowns and rushing for 1,754 yards and 32 touchdowns.
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Dec 31, 2021