By MITCH LUCAS
So many good times, so many special moments, in 2017, but only one can be number one, and that’s the Kilgore High School soccer Bulldogs.
Yet again this year, the KHS boys soccer program tops the Kilgore News Herald’s list of annual sports events, this time for capturing the program’s first-ever UIL Class 4A state championship.
The Bulldogs won the title by defeating Bridgeport in a shootout on the turf at Georgetown’s Birkelbach Stadium. It was the fourth-ever trip to the state tournament, their third straight season to get there, and their first state title.
There were lots of other big things happening in 2017. How about the return of Kilgore baseball to prominence? The Kilgore boys cross-country team winning district for an incredible fifth straight season? The young KHS girls cross-country runners reaching the state meet as a team?
Here they are, followed by our annual year in review.
KHS soccer wins the state crown. This has been building for a decade with four trips to Georgetown. It ended with a medal presentation and a parade through downtown Kilgore. The Bulldogs are state champions – enough said.
Kilgore baseball sets a new school record for single-season wins, claims a district championship. Kilgore High School baseball, to be fair, is normally very good, but 2017 set a new bar, as far as win total. The ’17 team established a new single-season win total, won a district title, and got three rounds into the UIL Class 4A playoffs.
KHS cross-country success. Seriously, who wins a district title five straight seasons? Well, the Kilgore boys cross-country team. And then the girls, with a lineup filled with freshmen, get all the way to the UIL state meet in Round Rock.
Kilgore College’s Lady Rangers reach conference tournament final, get over 20 wins for first time in a decade. The return of big-time women’s college basketball to Masters Gym might be just around the corner, after the best KC season in this decade.
The Kilgore boys 800 meter relay team wins state gold. Jonathan Shepherd, Patrick Jackson, Terrell Shelton and Melek Hamilton wanted to leave their mark on the Kilgore track record book. They certainly did it in Austin.
Kilgore native Steve Torrence wins the regular-season NHRA Top Fuel title, finishes second in the championship. Torrence overcame some serious obstacles to have his best NHRA season ever, and eight wins along the way.
KHS, West Rusk football programs put together third-round runs. Nine wins for the Kilgore Bulldogs, 10 for the West Rusk Raiders, and six playoff games between them.
Bubba T found safe after scare. It wasn’t really a sports story per se, but it was a happy time when Kilgore mega-fan Christopher “Bubba T” Terry was found safe after a community-wide search.
Kilgore DU program continues to ride high waves in year three. And the waves they’re riding are on state and national levels.
Jeff Coleman returns to KHS basketball. A few years after rescuing Kilgore boys basketball from the mire of a 29-year absence from the playoffs, Coleman is back to try and lift the Lady Bulldogs.
January: Sabine High began its journey into its newest sport: soccer. The Cardinals and Lady Cardinals began play both under coach Art Busha.
More changes occurred for Sabine athletics with the announcement of the retirement of athletic director, head football coach and head softball coach Mark Comfort. Comfort coached the SHS football program to the playoffs in three straight seasons, and was a constant contender, and playoff team, in softball.
February: KC softball officially opened the Ballpark at KC Commons with an 11-2 win over Crowder. Kilgore High School alum Amber Williams had a three-run home run in the game.
Former KHS football Bulldog Larry Hickman, also a football standout at Baylor and in the NFL, passed at age 81.
For a second straight school year, it was announced that Kilgore High’s Ducks Unlimited program was the top high school chapter in the state.
Tonye’cia Burks, representing the University of Houston, set a school record in the women’s triple jump at the American Conference’s indoor track and field championships: 42 feet, 7 inches. Burks is a Kilgore High alum who reached the state track meet here, as well.
March: The KC Lady Rangers made the Region XIV Conference tournament, knocking off third-seeded Panola College, then Jacksonville, before losing in the conference finals to Trinity Valley. KC finished the season 21-11, but it included a second straight trip to the conference tournament, the run to the title game, and the 100th win for coach Anna Nimz, in what was her second season with the program. It was the best finish, and farthest trip into the conference tournament, since the Lady Rangers made it to the championship game in 2009.
Sabine ISD hired Rex Sharp to be its new athletic director and head football coach, promoting him for the role of defensive coordinator.
Kilgore’s boys and girls soccer teams both secured District 16-4A championships for the second straight season, after they both made it to the state tournament back in 2016.
Burks followed her performance in the indoor track season by setting the new UH women’s triple jump record at an outdoor event (43 feet, 5 inches).
April: Kilgore’s soccer Bulldogs beat A-Plus Academy, a Dallas program, and defending 4A state champion Palestine in the regional tournament. Kilgore, of course, returned to the state tournament, claiming the program’s first title.
The Kilgore tennis teams both secured District 15-4A spring-season championships in Longview.
The KHS golf team finished its season with the District 15-4A tournament at Wood Hollow Golf Club in Longview, just missing out on a regional qualifier after a good performance by Marshall Tinkler.
Kilgore’s Ian St. Clair and Tyrese Sheffield got out of the 4A tennis regional and moved on to the state tournament at Texas A&M University, which was set for mid-May.
The Kilgore High School baseball Bulldogs won their district championship, clinching the title with a 5-3 win over Gladewater here at Driller Park. It was the sixth district championship won by Kilgore teams in the 2016-17 school year (football, cross-country, spring tennis, and boys and girls soccer were the others).
May: Kilgore College softball, only established about five years ago, made the Region XIV Conference tournament for the first time in program history. The Rangers, coached by Leslie Messina, lost to Blinn and then to top-seeded Tyler in the tournament, finishing the season with a 33-23 record, the best single-season mark in the history of the program.
Kilgore’s quartet of Jackson, Shepherd, Hamilton and Shelton captured the gold at the UIL state track meet in the 800 meter boys relay, edging out Atlanta. Kilgore’s winning time was one minute, 26.663 seconds; the Rabbits came in a fraction behind (1:26.670). Also at the state meet at UT, West Rusk’s Jayla Hooper was fifth in the 3A girls shot put, and Sabine’s Adam Cauldle was seventh in the 3A boys 110 meter hurdles.
The tennis doubles team of Tyrese Sheffield and Ian St. Clair, representing Kilgore High School at the 4A state tournament at Texas A&M University, came in second in the state, losing in the tournament final to a team from Abilene Wylie.
Kilgore boys soccer coach Austin Walker announced his departure from the school after three seasons. Walker becomes head coach at Midlothian’s Heritage High.
The UIL 4A baseball playoffs finally ended for record-setting Kilgore with a third-round loss to rival Gilmer. In the 2017 season, Kilgore claimed the District 15-4A championship outright, won two playoff series, and finished with a new single-season best record, 26-7-2.
The only senior on Kilgore’s baseball team, Collin Pippen, was named to the Texas High School Baseball Coaches Association’s all-star game, to be played in Round Rock in mid-June.
Overton High School baseball made it to the fourth round of the UIL Class 2A playoffs, but lost there to Woden in a best-of-three-game series. The Mustangs, led by coach Chad Halcumb, finished with a 24-5 record.
June: The University of Houston’s baseball program, including shortstop Cooper Coldiron, heated up as the regular season ended, and did well enough to host an NCAA regional. Coldiron, from Kilgore, helped the Cougars to their best finish in a few seasons, but UH lost in the regional final, short of a trip to the super regional round.
The Texans won the “Super Bowl” – in the Kilgore College annual football camp. Coach Keith Browning’s team, nicknamed the Texans, captured the title on the camp’s final day. It was the fourth straight season that a team coached by Browning won the mythical title.
Coldiron was chosen by the Chicago Cubs in the 2017 Major League Baseball Draft, in the 39th round (that draft includes thousands of players), but elected to return to the University of Houston for the 2017-18 season. Coldiron was also tabbed as the most interesting name in the draft by a fun article on CBSsports.com.
Alan Clark and Kevin Palmer shot a two-day 119 to win the 55th annual East Texas Oilmen’s Golf Association tournament, which for several years has benefitted the East Texas Treatment Center. The tournament is played each year here at Meadwbrook Golf and Event Center.
Kilgore lost Jay Cox, a sophomore at Kilgore High School, after injuries Cox suffered in an automobile accident in April. Cox, who was involved in several youth sports in his life, had been in a coma for weeks prior to his passing, and the entire community rallied around Jay and his family along the way.
Kilgore native Steve Torrence, a competitor in the NHRA’s Top Fuel racing division, claimed the points lead after a performance in Bristol, Tenn. Torrence would go on, of course, to win the Top Fuel championship later in the year.
Ryan Oden won the club championship at Meadowbrook, shooting a two-day 142 to hold off defending club champ Joe Ray.
July: Former Stephen F. Austin University golfer Stetson McMillan, of Lindale, won the 80th playing of the Meadowbrook Classic, edging out former two-time champion Bryan Baker by four strokes (McMillan shot a 169 over three days).
The Kilgore High School Ducks Unlimited chapter picked up another honor, as DU announced its top high school programs nationally. Kilgore, in just its third year of existence, was ranked seventh.
Members of a 12-year-old all-star team from West Rusk qualified for the Dixie Youth Baseball’s World Series for their age division in Oxford, Ala.
August: The Texas Sports Writers Association announced its annual all-state teams, and Sabine’s Will Shawn was named to the 3A all-state first team. Kilgore’s Collin Pippen was named to the 4A second team, and his teammates, Javan Smitherman and Jerrick “Deuce” Irvin were named 4A honorable mentions. Also, Overton’s Gavin Flanagan and Nick Croteau were named to the 2A third-team.
The West Rusk 12-year-old all-stars won their first two games in Oxford before losing to teams from Tennessee and South Carolina.
Tonye’cia Burks, already having a big season for Houston track, was honored even more by being selected to compete on the world stage – the Summer World U Games in Taiwan. Burks and her Houston teammates were actually in Taiwan when Hurricane Harvey hit the Texas Gulf coast.
Former Kilgore High School and West Rusk High School football coach Lawrence Kalmus passed at age 85.
Kilgore College opened its 2017 football season in the remnants of rain off Hurricane Harvey, hosting Tyler Junior College in a wet contest. KC lost the game, 22-8.
Former Kilgore High School basketball coach Jeff Coleman, who guided the Bulldogs out of the playoff wilderness of a 29-year absence and all the way to the 4A regional tournament, returned to the school to become head coach of the KHS girls. Coleman had brief stints at Tyler Lee and Gladewater, but is coaching girls basketball for the first time in his career.
September: Kilgore High School opened its 2017 season with a 35-21 win over Nacogdoches, here at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium. Also on opening week, West Rusk routed Winnsboro; Overton lost to Union Grove; and Sabine lost at Paul Pewitt.
In the second week of the season, Sabine picked up its first win for coach Rex Sharp in Liberty City, by beating Frankston, 44-21.
Kilgore College routed Cisco, 41-13, in the Southwest Junior College Football Conference opener out at Cisco.
The Davis family opened a cross country track (for motorbikes) near Kilgore, for competition in the Texas Cross Country Racing Association.
Kilgore football super fan Christopher “Bubba T” Terry was found unharmed after being lost in a wooded area for a number of hours – local law enforcement and emergency personnel led the effort of literally hundreds of people from the community in finding Bubba T, who received a grand reception at the Kilgore-Texas High football game that night.
October: Ryan Oden, already the winner of the Meadowbrook Golf and Event Center’s club championship, brought home the city championship with a two-day 144, to hold off Mark Greene (147). Laurie Thrower and Janice Stephens finished tied with a 180 in the women’s club championship tournament, and Don White won the men’s senior club and men’s senior city championships.
Former KHS cross-country runner Clayton Fletcher set record times for Northwestern Oklahoma State University’s program, in meets in Kansas and Arkansas.
Kilgore High’s boys cross-country team won its district championship for an incredible fifth straight season, and the KHS girls had the top two finishers, earning second place in district. The girls would go on, we know now, to reach the UIL’s cross-country state meet in Round Rock.
Sabine’s cross-country team captured its third straight district title the same weekend.
Playing its fall season (team tennis), the Kilgore High School tennis team reached the third round of the 4A playoffs, falling there to Wills Point.
Bobby Beane, a KHS and Baylor alum, was part of the 1977 Baylor baseball team honored at halftime of the Bears’ football game against West Virginia. Beane and his teammates were feted on the 40th anniversary of their trip that season to the College World Series.
Volleyball programs from Kilgore, Leverett’s Chapel and Sabine all qualified for the UIL playoffs – Kilgore in 4A, Sabine in 3A, and Leverett’s Chapel in 1A. None of the programs would reach the state tournament (although LC was seeking a state tournament return, after reaching that plateau in 2016). But it did mark the second time in three years Kilgore made the playoffs, all under coach Lacy Coldiron.
Kilgore College’s football Rangers beat archrival Tyler Junior College, 31-20, in the regular season finale for both programs at Rose Stadium in Tyler. But both teams missed the Southwest Junior College Football Conference playoffs – each of them needed a win, and a Navarro loss. KC did get the win, of course, but Navarro won its game, eliminating the Rangers from postseason contention.
November: Kilgore High School’s girls cross-country team, and Sabine High runner Armando Borrego, competed in the UIL state cross-country meet at Old Settlers Park in Round Rock. The top finisher for the KHS girls was Zoe Craven, who finished 11th overall. Borrego didn’t finish high, but completed the 5K course in 17 minutes, 36 seconds.
Kilgore High School senior Javan Smitherman continued a family legacy when he signed a letter of intent to continue his education and baseball career at Dallas Baptist University.
Kilgore trailed Bullard, 19-0, briefly in the regular season football finale for both teams in District 9-4A, Division I, then roared back for a 56-25 win. It clinched a playoff spot for the Bulldogs, who opened with (and routed) Little Cypress-Mauriceville in Lufkin, then beat El Campo in Waco.
Bobby Beane defeated John Patterson to win Meadowbrook’s match-play tournament.
Kilgore NHRA Top Fuel driver Steve Torrence led the division’s standings for much of the season, collecting eight wins along the way. Torrence was edged out in the final race day of 2017 by Brittany Force.
December: Kilgore lost to Henderson, 20-14, in the third round of the 4A playoffs, in a down-to-the-wire contest at Pine Tree’s Pirate Stadium. Kilgore completed the season with a 9-4 record, second in district play (to state champion Carthage).
West Rusk’s football program also went three rounds deep into the Class 3A playoffs, beating Corrigan-Camden and Buffalo before falling to eventual 3A Division II state champion Newton. The Raiders finished the season 10-2.
Kilgore senior wide receiver Jonathan Shepherd, a longtime verbal commitment to Oklahoma State University’s football program, made it official, signing a letter of intent with the Cowboys on the NCAA’s earliest National Signing Day ever (Dec. 20). Shepherd will run track for the Bulldogs in the spring, hoping to defend the school’s 800 meter relay state title, before moving on to OSU next fall.