There was a lot of negative news in the national world of sports. An NHL lockout, an NFL murder-suicide, the Penn State scandal, Bountygate with the Saints, replacement referees and the fall from grace of Lance Armstrong were among the more notables.|
And yet, in Quad-Cities sports, 2012 was overflowing with positives, from a John Deere Classic championship at last for Zach Johnson, a state football championship for Mercer County, a World Series appearance for the Moline Legion baseball team and the emergence of the catchphrase of "Allemania," with the major success of the Pioneers' sports teams.
Sure, the St. Louis Cardinals left the River Bandits, and the Quad City Mallards struggled to get their CHL season under way. But even in those cases, there were silver linings -- the Houston Astros returned as the QC affiliate with some high draft picks potentially coming this way, and the Mallards got a milestone victory for their coach before the year ended.
Here's how 2012's top Q-C sports stories rank according to a vote of the Dispatch/Argus sports staff:
1. "At last, it's Zach," cried the headline in the Monday, July 16, sports cover of the Dispatch/Argus. Zach Johnson, who is on the John Deere Classic board of directors, finally broke through and won the JDC championship, needing two extra holes to get past Troy Matteson.
The Cedar Rapids resident walked off with a check for $838,000. "This tournament means so much to me and my family over the years," Johnson said after his bogey-free round of 65 to close out at a 20-under 264.
Quad-Cities golf fans went into the tournament hoping for a four-peat by Steve Stricker, something that had only been accomplished on the PGA Tour by four others. Three back-9 bogeys on the final round derailed that possibility as Stricker tied for fifth at 16-under with fellow University of Illinois product and Quincy native Luke Guthrie.
Both Johnson and Matteson scored a double-bogey on the first extra time through the 18th hole at TPC Deere Run, each finding trouble off of the teee. Johnson bunkered left and Matteson hit into the trees to the right. That sent them back to the tee to try it again.
Johnson hit in the left bunker for the second straight time. This approach, though, was much different than his first from the sand. His 6-iron from 192 yards hit the front of the green and released. I trolled toward the back left pin position, and kept rolling and rolling. The ball finally stopped inches short of the cup for a kick-in birdie and Johnson's ninth PGA Tour victory.
"That's an unbelievable shot," said Matteson of Johnson's winning bunker stroke. "To hit it to six inches to that hole location, I mean, if you ask most pros, they'll take middle fo the green where my ball was all day long."
2. It was a perfect season for the Mercer County Golden Eagles, a 14-0 season capped by a 14-7 win over Belleville Althoff to win the Class 2A state football championship. It came exactly 10 years after Aledo High School won its state football championship with 14-0 perfection.
"What a rush!" said Mercer County coach Nat Zunkel. "Fifteen weeks ago, we asked, 'Why not us? All credit to these kids. They've worked heard, and we've talked about persevering. It was a process, we got better and better each week. One team gets to say they went out as state champs, and I'm glad it was us."
3. The metro high-school sports year will be remembered as "Allemania," with the Pioneers' baseball and football teams both capturing state second-place finishes.
Alleman won silver in the Class 2A baseball state championship, falling 5-4 in eight innings to Normal U-High, but that wasn't the most memorable feat of the day. That came in the bottom of the seventh inning, Alleman down by two runs and down to its last out.
To the plate stepped Blake Newberg, taking the spotlight for the Pioneer highlight of a lifetime, an "I was there" moment for the big Alleman following at O'Brien Field in Peoria. The No. 8 hitter in the lineup with a .258 batting average who had never hit a varsity home run, belted one over the left-field fence to tie the game and send it into extra innings.
"Honest, I thought, what just happened?!?" said Alleman pitcher Matt Schissel, who was locked in a pitcher's duel through the first six innings, the game tied at 1 until then. "Blake hits the heck out of the ball, but it seems to always be at someone. That was the one time when he didn't find a glove, with it going over the wall."
Said Newberg, "Far back in my mind, I thought to myself, wouldn't a home run be great. … I knew I had hit it hard, but I didn't think it was good enough. But then I saw the fans go wild and looked at the umpire giving the home-run sign."
Normal U-High came back, though, with a home run in the top of the eighth to decide the game.
"I want one pitch back," said Schissel. "All 387 feet of it."
Getting the pitching win in the semifinal game was Cody Sedlock, who also scored the game-winning run. Sedlock committed to the University of Illinois on a baseball scholarship.
It was the first title-game and first runner-up finish by an Illinois Quad-Cities Metro team in baseball.
The Alleman football team hoped to prevent history from being made in Class 4A. However, the Pioneers could not upend Rochester, 43-18 in the final, as the Rockets became the 13th program to secure three straight state titles. In the process, the Pioneers were denied their first state title, reaching the title game for a fifth time.
"They were better than us tonight," said Alleman coach Dave DeJaegher, whose club went 12-2.
4. There was a reunion in Quad-Cities professional baseball in September. With the St. Louis Cardinals leaving the Quad-Cities in favor of Peoria in the Midwest League, the River Bandits turned to an old friend, the Houston Astros for 2013 season. The Astros were the Q-C Midwest League affiliate from 1993-98, an era thqat saw the franchise set an all-time attendance mark in 1994.
"It's going to be a really exciting time here in the next couple seasons to see this unbelievable talent come through," River Bandits general manager Stefanie Brown said. "It's going to be a lot of fun baseball." The Astros have the No. 1 pick in the June Draft for a second straight year. Also, the Astros had the top combined record in Major League Baseball.
5. It was a final year of Western Big 6 football. Midyear, the conference announced it would be merging with four teams from the Mid-States 6, to form a 10-team football conference in 2013.
The new conference will be called the Mid-West 10 Football Conference, and will include the six teams from the WB6 as well as Peoria Richwoods, Peoria Manual, Peoria High and Peoria Notre Dame.
The last WB6 football champion? Rock Island, after a 10-7 overtime win over Alleman in a battle between a pair of conference undefeateds.
6. Moline Legion Post 246 had a most improbable run to the American League World Series in North Carolina. The team lost its Great Lakes Regional opener in Midland, Mich., and needed five wins in three days – because of a rained-out day – to avoid elimination. They wound up in the North Carolina field.
"We knew it was going to be one of our toughest runs. We were going to have to pull out what I thought was a miracle," said Legion standout Tim Wages.
7. Nary a training camp, a delayed season opener. It was that kind of start for the Quad City Mallards, whose season seemed in peril in mid-October. Yet, the CHL came through to control the club and the Mallards did, indeed, take flight into their 16th season, and 18th overall for professional hockey locallly.
These new Mallards got a new coach and general manager, Terry Ruskowski, who picked up his 600th coaching victory in late December, a big milestone in hockey. Yet, the Mallards struggled through the '12 portion of the schedule, however considering what they went through before the season started, that wasn't too bad. Heading into the post-Christmas games, they were just six standings points out of fourth place.
8. It was called PlaybookGate, and a couple of Quad-Cities teams were unfortunately caught in the middle. Someone within the LaSalle-Peru football system sent out the team's playbook to its nine opponents. Alleman did the noble thing and brought it to L-Ps attention, which was the only wah the Cavs' athletic administration learned about it. From there, L-P called the other schools and asked if they had received the scouting report. Six of the other eight told them they had received the playbooks in the mail. Still, that didn't stop blogger hacks from getting the story wrong on the internet as Dispatch/Argus sports writer Dan Tomlin took Yahoo! Sports to task with his column on Sept. 17.
9. It was a year of high-profile prep coaching changes.
At Rock Island football looked to a new leader, and got one that led the Rocks to a conference championship. With Vic Boblett retiring, Rock Island hired Bryan Stortz, who came with a resume that included three straight title-game appearances – including the 2007 state championship – from Lake Zurich. Stortz got his first RI win on Friday, Aug. 31, with a 49-35 win over Metamora. After a season-opening loss, the Rocks didn't lose again until the reagular-season finale before the 6A playoffs.
"I don't think I've ever experience a football game like this," Stortz said after that first RI win. "It was a lot of fun to be in."
And at Moline, Jeff Schimmel was hired to replace successful outgoing coach Ryan Webber, who took the head coaching position at Gurnee Warren. Schimmel, a 1987 Moline grad, had been the head sophomore coach since 2007.
"This is a dream job, a great opportunity for a hometown boy," said Schimmel upon his hire in late July.
Meanwhile, in Geneseo, Brad Storm returned to the helm to replace Dave Martin. Storm resigned from the Leafs' program four years ago to follow his children's pursuit in sports.
10. Rock Island swimmer Kelly Bishop's striving for perfectionism had made her into an elite athlete, but it became destructive once she focused her attention in on one thing.Her body.
Bishop shared her journey through the struggles she faced dealing with anorexia and bulimia in an article on December 3rd.
"It's almost self-punishment," Bishop said. "It's a quest for perfection. The most pressure I've ever felt is from myself. No matter how far you get, you'll never be good enough. For me, it was not performing in the pool and not doing what you know you should be doing. A part of you feels empty because you love it, and you are not fulfilling that. Another part of you will still be empty because you're not a 5-foot-10 model that you always wanted to be. No matter what, you are always losing."
After missing five weeks of the swim season, Bishop was able to return to the sport she loved, and qualify for the IHSA State meet.
Best of the rest
-- What a Quad Cities Marathon it was. Six records were set, including course marks in both half-marathons, the women's marathon and its40-plus masters division. But in the record-smashing field of 5,587 participants, the most exciting record came in the men's marathon. Kenya's Philip Lagat won a race to the wire with Ethiopia's Demesse Tefera for the closest-ever margin of victory – just four seconds, with the winning time coming in two hours, 19 minutes and 41 seconds.
"It was a great race. The last three miles we were side-by-side. We were just competing at that point," said Lagat.
There were records in the Genesis Firecracker Run in East Moline as well. Nick Hird won his record seventh Firecracker title in the 5K, and Jen Paul won her third straight and fourth in the last five years with a record time of 17:29, 15 seconds better than the previous mark.
--The Summer Olympics in London had a Quad-Cities twist. Georganne Moline reached the finals in the 40-meter hurdles. Her mother, Carrie Moline, is a United Township graduate and an East Moline native.
"When I saw her wearing her Team USA gear, it was very emotional," Carrie said of Georganne. "She is more than a great athlete; she is a beautiful person inside and out."
-- In the ASA 12-Under Nationals return to the Quad-Cities, the Quad City Firebirds reached the field of 84's Sweet 16 at Moline's Green Valley Complex (later in the year renamed as Milt Hand Complex to honor the late former Moline parks director who spearheaded getting the Nationals here for the past decade) benefiting from a thrilling two-run, walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning by Ashley Barker to get there.
-- Looking for state history with a championship repeat, the Moline softball team returned with bronze instead, coming from behind to defeat Elk Grove 4-2 in eight innings on the final day. "We came down here trying to make history," said Moline outfielder Emily Rasche. "We wanted the state title repeat. But we'll settle for bragging rights. There was no sharing third with them again."
In 2010, Moline and Elk Grove were to play for a third-place trophy, however that game got rained out and both teams received bronze medals. Sherrard also won state hardware in Class 2A, finishing fourth.
-- Derrick Willies of Rock Island had a football scholarship to Iowa without playing a down with the Rocks. And even before his senior football season began, he was a state champion on the track.
Willies, as a junior, outlasted top-seeded Crete Monee senior Rashad Hulbert to win the Class 3A 110-meter hurdles state title at Eastern Illinois University's O'Brien Stadium.
Paired together again in the 300 hurdles, Hulbert outlasted Willies to claim the win in that event.
"It's still a good day," said Willies, who helped the Rocks score 25 points and snag a tie for sixth place. "Yeah, it'd be nice to go home with two state titles, but all I wanrted was a state title. That's good enough for me."
Temmate Derrick Ellis placed third in the long jump.
Also on the day, Kewanee's Donte Pryor captured two state golds in Class 1A, with a career-best long jump followed by a win in the 10-meter dash.
Erie-Prophetstown's Devin Johnson came away with three medals – in the 4x100 relay, the 400 and long jump. Monmouth-Roseville's 4x400 placed second.
Alleman's Scott Schilb was the Pioneers' first thrower medalist since 1979, placing fifth in the discus.
In girls' state track, Annawan-Wethersfield's Erica Dynes celebrated a first in the Class 1A 100, while Sherrard's Danielle Crawley took second in both the 100 and 200.
And in the 300 hurdles, the Q-C went 2-3-4, with finished by Rockridge's Devin Hasson, Ridgewood's Molly Smith and Annawan-Wethersfield's Sara Fisher.
Geneseo's Kaci Storm capped her track career with three medals – in the 100 hurdles, 300 hurdles and 4x200 relay.
Rock Island's Mystique Thompson now has six state medals – and two years of high school to go – after taking fifth in the Class 3A 100. The Rocky 4x200 relay placed third in 3A.
-- Rock Island junior B.J. McGhee finished the wrestling season with a 43-2 record, with one of those losses preventing him from state gold. McGhee lost a gut-wrenching 4-2 decision to Aurora Marmion sophomore Johnny Jimenez in the 2A state finals at 113 pounds.
"It still feels good to me," said McGhee.. "I got to finally go in the Grand March – I accomplished one of my dreams. I still am not a state champion. I want to be a state champion."
There was gold mined in Morrison. Twins Mark and Matt McDonnell won state titles at 145 and `95 pounds, respectively. Zach Nelson of Mercer County also gained a silver medal, at 152 pounds in 1A.
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