Top 7 sports stories for 2017-18 school year

Ron Howell
Sports Editor

1. After making a state finals appearance for just the third time in school history in 2016, Sweetwater again had a solid football season under a new coach in 2017. Not long after playing West Orange-Stark for the Class 4A, D-II title at Arlington, the school announced the hiring of Ben McGehee from Temple.
The result? A 10-3 season under their new coach, while going three rounds in the playoffs with a fourth straight year of at least 10 wins for the Mustangs’ football program. Sweetwater has gone 48-7 since 2014.
Sweetwater started out 7-0 before losing two in a row, but the team completed the regular season with a resounding 48-23 win over Greenwood and then defeated Perryton (60-14) and Vernon (32-28) to begin the playoffs before losing to Graham 48-28 in the third round.
The Mustangs were led by three seniors who were among the state’s best in 4A, D-II: wide receiver-defensive back Kobe Clark, quarterback Chris Thompson and linebacker Kiante McCoy — plus a solid supporting cast of players this past season.
2. Among the three area schools, Blackwell enjoyed the most overall athletic success and the Hornets excelled in football, track and girls basketball in particular. Blackwell’s football team won its first 11 games to equal its best record ever and was the District 7-1A, D-II champion, reaching the regional round before losing to eventual state runnerup Balmorhea. Many of the Hornets’ starters will be back in 2018 for what they hope will be another succssful season.
Blackwell sent four state qualifiers to Austin for the UIL track and field meet — Brandon Brinkman, Hunter Clark, Kiley Cummings and Jordan Jones. Cummings made it in the girls triple jump and 400 and 800-meter runs; Brinkman and Clark qualified in the boys 110 hurdles and Brinkman also went in the 300 hurdles; and Jones made it for the second straight year in the girls pole vault.
The girls basketball team had its best run in 25 years, reaching the the Region II-1A quarterfinals by knocking off Aspermont (64-45) and Eden (55-46) before their season ended with a loss to Garden City. The Lady Hornets were led by Emilee Sanderson, Madison Solis and Cummings, named the district’s newcomer of the year.
3. Sweetwater again had success in baseball and softball as both teams returned to the postseason.
In baseball, the Mustangs reached the playoffs for the sixth consecutive year after qualifying as the No. 2 seed from District 5-4A under coach Roland Herrera.
In softball, Sweetwater advanced to the playoffs for the sixth time in the past seven years, but first under coach Alex Fuentez. The team was the No. 4 seed in District 5-4A but finished just one game behind Big Spring, Brownwood and Wylie, who shared the district title. Sweetwater’s two teams both lost best-of-3 bi-district series, but in both cases pushed the series to a decisive third game.
4. Highland and Roscoe both qualified for the playoffs in football again.
Highland was the No. 2 seed behind only Blackwell in District 7-1A, D-II after losing a showdown, 35-34, at Highland in the last game of the regular season. The host Hornets led until the visiting Hornets scored the go-ahead — and winning — touchdown with 37 seconds left to hand Highland a heartbreaking defeat. Highland then faced Jayton in bi-district and lost 54-30 to end its season.
Roscoe, meanwhile, was the No. 3 playoff seed from District 4-2A, D-II but was very close to finishing as the co-champion with Hamlin, which claimed the title with a 21-14 win over Roscoe in overtime in the final game of the regular season.
The Plowboys’ postseason was also a short one, as Roscoe lost to Farwell by a score of 39-32 in the bi-district round.
5. Sweetwater’s basketball teams both welcomed new coaches but still made the playoffs. The girls, led by Devin Griffin, finished as the No. 4 seed from District 5-4A to make the postseason before losing to Burkburnett in bi-district.
Sweetwater’s boys, led by Bryan Loera, were No. 2 seeds in District 5-4A. However, the Mustangs also lost in their bi-district playoff with Graham. (Note: among area teams, the Highland boys also made the playoffs by finishing as the No. 3 seed in District 12-1A this season, but lost in bi-district to Klondike)
6. Like so many Sweetwater teams during the 2017-18 school year, the volleyball squad also had a new head coach in Morgan Doyle — formerly an assistant volleyball coach and player at the school — after the retirement of longtime coach Liz Miller. The Lady Mustangs still made the playoffs by finishing as the No. 3 seed in District 5-4A, but they lost in bi-district to Burkburnett.
7. Sweetwater had six of its athletes agree to play collegiately in late May. They were Clark and Thompson (Abilene Christian), McCoy (Texas A&M), Jeremiah Barrera (Texas College) and Garret Ehlert (New Mexico Military Institute) in football and Journee Pugh (Western Texas College) in girls golf.