By David Knox, Sports Editor
It’s tough to top a state championship.
That’s what we decided when it came time to pick the Trussville Tribune’s biggest sports story of 2016. The indomitable Hewitt-Trussville Huskies of Jeff Mauldin charged through the Class 7A playoffs and topped Auburn High in two straight games in Montgomery to claim the school’s first state baseball championship and the first 7A championship.
There were other notable sports stories – on and off the field – that had the area buzzing, such as the football Huskies’ prolific record-setting offense and race toward a state title that fell short. The Huskies were ranked as high as No. 2 during the season and the Clay-Chalkville Cougars held the No. 1 spot in the 6A poll for three weeks. Of course, they did not meet on the field for the first time since 1997, and that was a story, too.
The loss that dropped the Cougars from the top spot was their first to Pinson Valley, a triple-overtime thriller, that helped propel the Indians into the playoffs. That was a story, as was the dismissal of PVHS head football coach and athletic director Matt Glover after the season.
What was your top story? Let us know. Meanwhile, check out our Top 10 Sports Stories of 2016:
1. Huskies take first state championship in school history as baseball team wins 7A title over Auburn.
The Hewitt-Trussville Huskies rode their dominant pitching, daring baserunning, solid defense and clutch hitting to one final win — a 2-0 victory over Auburn High at Riverwalk Stadium in the Class 7A baseball championship series for the Huskies’ first state baseball championship.
Cameron Furr picked up on the mound where series MVP Carson Skipper left off in Friday’s win.. Furr allowed four hits, struck out four and walked none as the Hewitt pitchers completed a shutout sweep over the Tigers. Friday, Skipper allowed three hits, fanned eight and also walked none in a 6-0 win. Skipper added an RBI single in Saturday’s game, a run that gave his pitching mate a two-run cushion and helped him earn the MVP honors.
“Everything was working for me,” Furr said. “From the beginning I had all three pitches working,” said the junior, who finished the season 8-1. “We felt they had trouble with the curve ball. I watched Carson pitch last night and just went with the same approach.”
Coach Jeff Mauldin tipped his cap to his two starting pitchers, but also to the huge Trussville contingent that made the trip.
“To look up in the stands and see 1,000 people or so from Trussville was just huge. Our community is awesome in supporting our athletics program. It’s easy to play when you have support like that.”
The Huskies posted a 36-11 record.
2. Josh Floyd’s football Huskies pile up points, wins, but fall shy in 7A quarterfinals.
The Huskies posted an 11-1 season, mushing out to an 11-0 mark before a heartbreaking 29-28 decision to a Gadsden City team it had beaten during the regular season ended their season in the Class 7A playoffs..
Nevertheless, it went down as one of the best and most exciting seasons in the Huskies’ XX seasons.
Coach Josh Floyd’s team started the season with a convincing XX win in Nashville over Montgomery Bell Academy, rolled over Florida’s Manatee High 78-54 – the most points scored in a game in school history — and continued rolling through the season in Class 7A, Region 4 with an 11-0 mark. The Huskies led Gadsden City throughout in a quarterfinal playoff game but dropped a 29-28 decision late to break the hearts of Huskies fans who thought this might be the season HTHS won a state title.
3. No more Paws and Claws?
One of the county’s biggest rivalries ended in 2016 as Hewitt-Trussville declined to play its neighbor Clay-Chalkville. The 7A Huskies took yet another loss from the 6A Cougars in 2015, 53-35, giving Clay a 14-5 edge on the field; Clay forfeited a win in 2011.
HTHS coach Josh Floyd stated he wanted to add a couple of national games to the schedule – the Huskies played Montgomery Bell Academy of Nashville in 2015 and 2016, Manatee of Bradenton, Fla., in 2016 and is slated for 2017 – but the Huskies did play Center Point in a week that Clay played HTHS’s 7A region mate James Clemens.
The two may get together again, but it would happen for sure if January 2017’s reclassification puts the two schools in 7A and in the same region. Otherwise, the fiercest rivalry in Northeast Jeffco could be over – if not for good, at least for a while.
4. Cougars’ Pigrome named Gatorade Player of the Year, makes impact as freshman at Maryland.
Clay-Chalkville Cougar quarterback Tyrell Pigrome led his team to a state championship in 2014 and to a runner-up spot in 2015.
In January 2016 he was selected for Alabama Gatorade Player of the Year honors, the first player to be so honored from our area.
Pigrome, a two-time Alabama Mr. Football runner-up, led Clay-Chalkville to a pair of state championship games, winning the title as a junior and appearing in the Alabama/Mississippi All-Star Game. He accounted for 62 touchdowns as a senior, passing for 44 scores and running for 18 and compiling 1,349 rushing yards as a senior. As a freshman at Maryland, he had some spectacular moments, playing in 11 games and starting one. He passed for 322 yards as he hit 37-of-71 passes and two TDs with two interceptions. He added 254 yards rushing and four TDs.
Others we kept an eye on were true freshman Bailey McElwain from Hewitt, whose storyline included a commitment to Stanford, an aborted plan to attend prep school and a flip to Vandy, where he scored a pair of TDs; former Cougar Hayden Moore, who saw extensive time as a part-time starter at QB for Cincinnati; and Clay’s TJ Simmons, who played mostly on special teams as a true freshman at Alabama.
5. Igbinoghene leaps into forefront as national triple jump champion.
Hewitt-Trussville’s Noah Igbinoghene captured the triple jump championship at the New Balance National Indoor meet in New York in March.
The Huskies track star jumped 49 feet, 7 inches to win the national championship, the first track national championship for a Hewitt-Trussville athlete.
Igbinoghene finished fifth in the county in the long jump, so he earned All-American honors in each event.
The son of Nigerian team track and field stars – his mother a sprinter and his father a jumper – Igbinoghene also won the Class 7A indoor long jump with a 23-6 leap in the spring. That broke his 1-year-old record by more than foot.
6. Nico and Noah garner big-time attention as star-studded wide receivers.
Clay-Chalkville wide receiver Nico Collins is rated a five-star prospect by most recruiting services, making him the highest-rated player in CCHS history.
Noah Igbinoghene of Hewitt-Trussville is rated a four-star WR by most services, making him the highest-rated Husky in HTHS school history.
That made for an interesting season off the field as big-name coaches made multiple visits to see the two area stars. After being courted by Notre Dame, Ole Miss, Duke and others, Igbinoghene committed on Thanksgiving to play and run track at Auburn.
As the year wound down, Collins was weighing his offers from Alabama, Michigan and Georgia.
7. Pinson Valley grad Zach Cunningham sweeps All-American honors as Vandy linebacker.
The area has produced some great high school and college players, but perhaps no player more honored than junior linebacker Zach Cunningham of Vanderbilt.
The Pinson Valley graduate swept through all the major All-American teams in 2016.
Cunningham enjoyed one of the most impressive regular seasons ever by a Vanderbilt defensive player and became first Commodore player in team history to earn unanimous First Team All-America recognition and the seventh Vandy player ever to claim consensus All-America honors.
He collected first-team All-America honors from American Football Coaches Association, the AP, Football Writers Association of America, Walter Camp Foundation, ESPN, SI.com, CBSSports.com, The Sporting News and other outlets.
Cunningham led the Southeastern Conference with 119 total tackles and earned First Team All-SEC LB recognition from league coaches and AP voters.
He was a finalist for the Butkus Award and a semifinalist for the Chuck Bednarik Award.
He almost certainly will forgo his senior season to enter the NFL Draft.
We also kept an eye on Jacksonville State center Casey Dunn, the HTHS grad, who earned FCS All-American honors for the Gamecocks.
8. Pinson Valley beats Clay-Chalkville for first time in 11 tries in football.
It took overtime, but Matt Glover’s Pinson Valley Indians finally knocked off Clay-Chalkville, beating the Cougars 21-14 ion double-overtime at Willie Adams Stadium, the Indians’ first win over the Cougars in 11 tries.
Clay-Chalkville was ranked No. 1 in the state at the time, and the win marked the first time the Indians had beaten a top-ranked team in school history.
9. Matt Glover relieved of football/AD duties at Pinson Valley.
The Pinson Valley Indians posted an 8-4 record, knocked off Clay-Chalkville for the first time and appeared on the brink of a big 2017 season with nine offensive starters and six defensive starters returning.
So it was something of a shock when PVHS Principal Michael Turner relieved head football coach and Athletics Director Matt Glover of his duties following the football season.
Glover, the winningest coach by percentage and just shy of the most wins by any PVHS football coach in his eight seasons in the Valley, could remain as a tenured teacher, but chances were good as 2016 ended that he would land another head coaching job. PVHS was beginning its search for a new coach as the year ended.
10. HTHS AD Karen Sanchelli Johns resigns.
As the 2016 year wound to a close, Hewitt-Trussville Athletics Director Karen Johns had submitted her resignation to Trussville City Schools Superintendent Dr. Pattie Neill, effective Dec. 31, 2016.
It’s not the first time the former college softball coach had tried to step down.
“This was the most disappointing decision of my professional career,” Johns told The Tribune. “With that being said, it’s one I felt compelled to make.”
All the reasons aren’t clear. She has much support from a certain element of Hewitt fans and parents yet some say she has made some questionable decisions.
The story was fluid as the year wound down, so stay tuned and watch this space.