Some years it’s difficult to populate a local Top 10 sports stories of the year ballot.
That wasn’t the case in 2017 as prep teams and individuals made headlines. The Saluki softball team advanced to the NCAA tournament. And, all of Southern Illinois celebrated the 50th anniversary of SIU’s NIT championship.
The voting was extremely close – the top three stories were within three points of each other.
So, without further ado, here are the Top 10 sports stories as voted by the Southern Illinoisan’s sports staff:
No. 1 – Goreville wins Class 1A state softball championship
The Blackcats have established themselves as a Class 1A softball powerhouse.
Goreviille won a state title in 2012 and finished third the following year.
In 2017, the Blackcats faced two-time defending champion Hardin-Calhoun in the state title game. Goreville prevailed, breaking up a scoreless game with two runs in the ninth inning.
Lexi King, the winning pitcher, started the rally with a two-out double. Summar Albright singled home what proved to be the winning run. Macy Goins doubled home an insurance run.
King went the distance to pick up the victory, fanning 13 along the way.
Goreville finished the season 26-8 while Hardin-Calhoun finished 33-9.
No. 2 – Sam Sikon wins third straight 2A shot put title
The Carbondale senior capped an incredible prep career by winning his third straight Class 2A shot put title. He established a new Class 2A state record with a toss of 63-6. Sikon won the event by more than five feet.
Sikon managed to win the state title despite nursing a hand injury the entire season.
Now a member of the SIU track squad, Sikon burst onto the scene as a sophomore winning both the shot put and the discus. His winning toss as a sophomore was 61-0.25.
He was a double repeat winner as a junior, throwing 62-11.25.
Sikon placed second in the discus this year.
No. 3 – Saluki softball wins MVC tournament
In her first year as SIU’s softball coach, Kerri Blaylock’s Salukis won the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. It took Blaylock 26 years to replicate that feat.
The Salukis, 33-24, defeated Northern Iowa 4-3 in the Valley title game to claim their first championship since 1991.
A four-run fourth inning proved to be the difference for SIU.
Eyrika Brandenburg’s bases-loaded double chased home SIU’s first two runs. After Savannah Fisher scored on a wild pitch, Shaye Harre singled home what proved to be the winning run. Harre was named the tournament’s MVP.
Brianna Jones with the winning pitcher.
With the win, the Salukis earned their 11th NCAA appearance.
No. 4 – Massac County girls win Class 1A golf title
Massac County’s Patriots added to the luster of the historic program with their fourth Class 1A state title. The Patriots win titles in 2006, 2009, 2012 and 2017.
The Patriots rolled through the postseason, winning regional and sectional titles. Junior Millie Lawson was regional and sectional medalist.
Lawson led the Patriots at state with a 32-hole total of 161. Emma Korte finished at 164, Mady Blair 169 and Madie Coakley 170.
The Patriots finished five strokes ahead of runner-up Rockford Lutheran.
No. 5 – Anna-Jonesboro football advances to state semifinals
Brett Detering’s Anna-Jonesboro Wildcats advanced to the state semi-finals before finally being derailed this year. They finished the year 12-1.
The Wildcats rolled through the regular season and SIRR Mississippi Division schedules undefeated. Anna-Jonesboro wasn’t challenged until Week 7 when the Wildcats earned a 42-36 victory over Du Quoin.
A high-scoring team, the Wildcats scored 40 or more points nine times.
In the playoffs, Anna-Jonesboro knocked off Hillsboro, Pana and Vandalia before falling 41-2 to Pleasant Plains in a state semifinal game.
The Wildcat’s offense was built around senior fullback Jayce Turner, the Southern Illinoisan’s Football Player of the Year.
This marked just the third 12-win season in Anna-Jonesboro history, and the first since 2006.
No. 6 – Carbondale’s Cameron Caffey wins 182-pound title
Cameron Caffey made the leap from 170 pounds to 182 his senior year, and he made it look easy.
He rolled through the season with a perfect 41-0 mark and a state championship. And, he did it in style. Caffey set Carbondale’s record for pins in a season at 35. At one point, he had 21 pins in a row.
In the state title match, Caffey topped Cody Baldridge of Morris, 3-1.
Caffey finished his career with an overall mark of 156-25. He is now wrestling at Michigan State University.
No. 7 – 50th anniversary of SIU’s NIT championship game
The 1967 NIT basketball championship remains one of the shining moments in SIU sports history.
The region paid tribute to the 1967 team Feb. 11. Most of the players, including NBA stars Walt Frazier and Dick Garrett, returned to SIU for the tribute.
The Salukis defeated Marquette 71-56 in the championship game at New York’s fabled Madison Square Garden. SIU trailed by 11 points at the half, but scored 48 points in the second have to overtake the Warriors.
SIU defeated Rutgers 79-70 in the semifinal game.
The Salukis finished the season 24-2. They were the first “college” division team ever invited to the NIT.
No. 8 – Taryn Mays wins triple jump, Latavia Maines wins shot put
Du Quoin’s Taryn Mays capped her prep track career in style, making the Class 1A podium three times.
After a subpar day preliminary day, she barely qualified for the finals, Mays responded with a jump of 37-2 to win the state title. She had placed fourth as a junior.
Mays, now running track at the University of Illinois, was also a member of Du Quoin’s fourth place 400-meter relay team. And, she placed eighth in the long jump.
In Class 2A, Centralia’s Latavia Maines earned her second straight shot put championship.
Her winning throw was 47-7.25, nearly a foot better than Mount Vernon’s A’veun Moore. Moore is now a member of the SIU track team.
Maines’ winning throw was more than three feet better than her state championship throw in 2016.
No. 9 – Carterville’s Luke Ford named All-American and signs with Georgia
Carterville Luke Ford became the most highly recruited Southern Illinois football player in more than 15 years.
Ford’s performances in summer camps caught the attention of big time recruiters. He was pursued by SEC and Big 10 programs.
Unfortunately, Ford’s senior season didn’t unfold as anticipated. The big tight end broke his collar bone in the first game of the season. He played for three weeks with the injury before being sidelined for the rest of the season.
Despite the injury, Ford’s stock never went down.
He announced his decision to play at Georgia Dec. 21.
No. 10 – Former SIU hammer thrower Gwen Berry sets American record
Former Saluki thrower Gwen Berry shattered the U.S. women’s hammer record last May at the Ole Miss Classic. Berry threw the hammer 251-10, beating the mark set by Amanda Bingson in 2013.
It is just the last in a long list of honors for Berry, a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic team.
A 2011 SIU graduate, Berry was an All-American in the hammer, shot put and weight throw while at SIU. She was a four-time MVC champion. Berry was also a three-time member of the MVC scholar-athlete team.
She was originally recruited as a triple jumper.