So many big events happen every calendar year in sports in the Kilgore area that it’s hard to narrow it down to five, but as usual, in 2019, there were some that stood out above the rest.
Kilgore High School’s baseball team’s success – returning to the University Interscholastic League’s Class 4A state tournament in Austin for the first time since the 1970’s — is the Kilgore News Herald’s top sports story for 2019.
The Bulldogs, guided by coach Eugene Lafitte, had made it within one round of the state tournament the previous year, but broke through this time to be one of 4A’s final four the first week of June. In a game played at the University of Texas’s Disch-Falk Field, though, Kilgore lost to Sweeny in the semifinals (Sweeny went on to lose to Argyle in the 4A state championship).
It was a magical run for Kilgore in spite of the semifinal loss, and the Diamond ‘Dogs bring back quite a bit of talent for the 2020 season, which starts in February.
Here are the other stories the News Herald chose as the top sports moments of the year, locally:
■ Sabine High School football’s unprecedented success. Coach Rex Sharp and the Sabine Cardinals set a new single-season school record for wins and finally broke through to win a playoff game for the first time in school history.
The Cardinals’ previous record was nine wins. In 2019, they won 10 games, including a UIL Class 3A first-round playoff game over Mount Vernon. The Cardinals lost in the second round to eventual state runner-up Pottsboro in a wild game that went down to the final moments. The Cardinals wound up 10-2, but had their best-ever season, and hoping to build on that later this fall with another.
■ Kilgore High School volleyball returns to the playoffs in a big way. The Lady Bulldogs haven’t had real success on the court since the early 1990s. There have been playoff seasons — prior to the 2019 season, Kilgore had made the playoffs in three of its previous four years, but always as the number four seed in their district.
This year, the Lady Bulldogs — in the first season for coach Madeline Harris — set the bar for a turnaround, at one point getting 10 straight wins, including knocking off defending district champion Bullard in a five-set thriller Oct. 4.
Kilgore lost the rematch in Bullard, so Bullard won the district crown. But Kilgore went into the 4A playoffs, and did something the volleyball team hadn’t done since Bill Clinton was President: they won a playoff game, beating North Lamar, a team that had knocked them out of the playoffs the previous two meetings.
KHS finished 22-15, placed several on the District 16-4A all-district team, and possibly set the tone for next season, just like Sabine football did.
■ Kilgore College football continues to flex its muscles. The Rangers didn’t win the Southwest Junior College Football Conference playoff championship this year, as they did in 2018. But they did once again claim the SWJCFC ‘s regular-season championship and finished with the best record before being upset in the first round of the conference playoffs. It was another good year, coach Willie Gooden’s first as head coach after over a decade as an assistant. The Rangers sent all sorts of talent everywhere, still have a lot in the cupboard for another run in 2020. They’ve even adopted #WRTS (we run this state), and in junior college football, that’s fairly accurate.
The high point of the season had KC ranked number two in the nation, and even after the upset loss in the playoffs, the Rangers still finished number seven. They’ve won 18 games in the last two seasons, living up to that moniker the winningest JUCO program in Texas history.
■ Kilgore High School continues playoff achievement. It’s been 15 years since the proud 2004 Ragin’ Red team went 16-0 and claimed the UIL Class 4A Division I state title. But Kilgore has continued to sustain postseason berths since then.
Since 1995, Kilgore has made the UIL football playoffs in all but two seasons (2006 and 2010), a feat no other program in East Texas can claim.
The Bulldogs got off to a 3-0 start in 2019, including beating Pine Tree in a triple-overtime classic here at R.E. St. John Memorial Stadium, before injuries played a big role. Still, coach Mike Wood’s team bounced back, made it through it, and earned a playoff berth in District 10-4A, losing to a scrappy Crandall team in a first-round game in Athens.