By Mike Kays
Phoenix Sports Editor
It happened seven months ago, but there are still days where someone will come up and congratulate Darren Riddle, in person, text or phone.
Improbably, Hilldale won its first OSSAA state championship in a boys team sport under Riddle’s tutelage, defeating Berryhill 2-1, completing a streak of 13 wins in its last 14 games, its final three coming against the top three teams in Class 4A.
“People I haven’t seen in a long time will still catch me and congratulate me,” he said. “I find myself talking about it quite a bit even now. It was obviously a special time and it’s always hard to put into words how special.”
We’ll try to. The Phoenix staff picked this as the area’s top sports story of 2012.
The Chiefs, ranked No. 1 in the Okrankings.com state poll, got their only run in the bottom of the first inning after a lead-off double and Hunter Harrison then allowed only three singles the rest of the way to put his record at 12-1 for the season. Ironically, his only loss was 6-0 to Berryhill earlier this season.
The Hornets’ runs came on wild pitches — Scott Rodden in the second and courtesy runner Dakota Holmes came home in the fifth for what proved to be the decisive run.
Hilldale went into the state tournament ranked No. 11 and finished 27-7. They got to the title game with a 4-1 quarterfinal win over No. 2 Byng, a 6-5 semifinal win in eight innings against No. 3 Anadarko, a game where the Hornets trailed 5-2 before scoring three runs in the seventh to force extra innings.
Hilldale won 4A girls golf in 2006 and the 5A slowpitch softball championship in 1999. Riddle’s baseball team got close in 2004, losing to Skiatook in the title game.
Riddle was asked to compare the two teams. The former was led by Jeff Breedlove, who became Oklahoma State’s catcher and played a stint in the minor leagues, and Joseph Liles, who wound up at Connors State. Both comprised the Hornets’ pitching rotation in 2004. Harrison (12-1) was the ace of the 2012 staff that also had another standout catcher, Jarrard Poteete, who is now at Texas Tech.
“Of course if you compare it by how they wound up, there’s no comparison, but both were special groups,” Riddle said. “One thing both had was legitimate No. 1s on the mound and 2-3 solid arms of guys who were gamer-type kids. I think the ‘04 team had the best infield in the state at that time and I think last year’s team had the best ouffield in the state.”
Miles Jackson, who singled in the winning run in the semfinal game, Scott Rodden and Bryatt Alexander made up the 2012 outfield. Two of those, and Harrison, are among five returning players that could make another run in the spring.
A banner celebrating the title hangs in the Hilldale Event Center, but Riddle said there’s plans to put a sign at the baseball field on the back of the press box, overlooking the entrance to the stadium.
A close second was something of a mixed nature – Sequoyah High School and the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. The Indians had to relinquish their 2012 slowpitch state over eligibility regarding player Kelsey Leach, which several months later on appeal was reinstated, as was the eligibility of Leach, who had moved in from Cave Springs. Sequoyah defeated Morris in the championship game 5-1. .But the Indians weren’t done with the OSSAA. The football team had to forfeit all of its nine wins and a Distr.ict6-3 3A-7 championship when 12 players were suspended over attending summer camps paid for by the school in violation of an association rule. Some students appealed the ruling and were able to finish the regular season, but the Indians’ district title went to, ironically, Hilldale.
The issues led to the dismissal of head football coach Brent Scott and athletic directors Larry Grigg and Dale Miller — Grigg was also the girls basketball and slowpitch coach. Scott and Miller have had wrongful termination suits filed in their behalf against the school.
The rest of our selections:
3. Unprecedented football years.
Several teams had record seasons. Hilldale had its best season in school history, losing to eventual state champion Blanchard in the 3A quarterfinals. Stigler had its best season since 1965 when it reached the Class 3A quarterfinals. Warner had a perfect regular season in Class A, losing in the second round and Fort Gibson reached the second round in 4A for the first time since making the state finals in 1999. Wagoner’s bid for a repeat 4A championship ended against Anadarko, which lost to Clinton; and Vian was on a national record scoring pace until being stunned by Davis in the 2A semifinals.
4. Taylor Jordan.
The Midway High School senior goes 29-0 in Class 4A tennis in a dominating performance. She beat Reynolds Chew of Metro Christian 6-4, 6-1 in the finals.
5. Jessica Hembree.
After breaking her leg just shy of a third state championship in Class 5A cross country, the Tahlequah senior redeemed herself as a senior, going out as a champion.
6. Kevin Peterson.
The Oklahoma State football signee capped his Wagoner athletic career with a repeat championship in the boys 200-meter dash, winning it in Class 5A last spring after taking first in the event in 4A in 2011.
7. Fort Gibson swim team.
The Lady Tigers won their second consecutive state championship.
8. Okay volleyball.
The Lady Mustangs, led by three-time All-Phoenix MVP Bristen Graves, breaks the slump of state quarterfinal exits and gains the semifinals for the first time since 1997.
9. Wagoner girls soccer.
After shocking Fort Gibson in the first round, the Lady Bulldogs don’t stop until a 1-0 Class 4A semifinal loss to Bethany. The Lady Bulldogs wound up 12-4 and had a 13-4 shots-on-goal edge on Bethany, which lost in the finals.
10. Catrina Pearson’s finish.
The Muskogee senior had a 1-under 70 at Muskogee Country Club, the best score of the event, rallying to a fourth-place finish in the Class 6A girls golf tournament.
Others stories receiving consideration involved Landon Decker of Vian winning a state wrestling championship, the closing of Outlaw Motor Speedway and Bacone’s trip to the NAIA national tournament in baseball.