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Top 10 sports stories of 2017: The year’s biggest local moments

Championships won, and taken away. A football team risen up from misery. A senior class captained in absentia.

With the year at end, these are The Daily Leader’s selections for the Top 10 sports stories of 2017.

No. 1 — Loyd Star’s baseball team wins the 2A state title

For the first time in almost four decades, Loyd Star’s baseball team ascended the mountain and won the 2A state championship in baseball. The Hornets went an impressive 34-7 over the course of their 12-week season, which culminated in a title game series win over East Union on May 19.

No. 2 — Loyd Star’s baseball title is revoked

Half a year later, the Mississippi High School Activities Association took Loyd Star’s championship away. A handful of Hornets players were ruled ineligible after it was discovered they did not meet residency requirements to attend the school. Loyd Star also had to forfeit gate fees, pay a small fine and was placed on one year of disciplinary probation.

“It’s a very unfortunate situation, particularly when a student-athlete has been at one school since he was 5 years old and now, in his senior year, he’s ruled ineligible and has to transfer to another school,” said Lincoln County School District Superintendent Mickey Myers.

No. 3 — Ole Brook football sends three players to Division 1 colleges on scholarships

After an 11-win season that saw them go deep into the 5A playoffs, Brookhaven High School football signed away three of its senior starters in one big ceremony. Offensive lineman Trace Clopton inked a deal with Southern Miss, as did defensive back Jemaurian Jones. Defensive lineman Jeffery Johnson signed with Tulane.

“It’s a big day for these three young men and their families. They’ve taken a lot of pride in saying, ‘We are Ole Brook’ for the last four years,” Panthers coach Tommy Clopton said at the signing.

No. 4 — Brookhaven’s Andrew Knott leads cross-country team to championships

On Nov. 6, Ole Brook’s boys’ cross-country team competed in a field of 162 runners at the state finals and came back home with two trophies. Senior Andrew Knott finished first and won the individual state championship, running the 5K in 16 minutes, 43 seconds. All six of his teammates finished in the top 15 percent and Brookhaven won the team championship as well.

“I was just trying to do my part on the team and put us in the best possible position to pull out the win,” said Knott, who later signed a scholarship to William Carey University. “This group of guys has been working hard for the past few years to achieve this. I’m glad everything finally came together.”

No. 5 — Brookhaven Academy football comes back to life

After going a combined 0-19 across the 2015 and 2016 football seasons, the Cougars got to taste blood again in 2017. BA rolled to a 9-3 record and gave regional bully Centreville a dogfight in the second round of the MAIS playoffs before falling 52-33.

“I want everyone’s head up high. It’s been a great season and you have a lot to be proud of,” BA coach Ron Rushing told his team after the game. “You’ve come a long way since last year.”

No. 6 — Loyd Star cross-country wins its first championship with an eighth-grader

Loyd Star’s Aubrey Britt competed against 91 other girls in the 2A cross-country championship run, and she did it with a hurt ankle. That didn’t stop her from completing the 5K in 20 minutes, 50 seconds and beating the second-place runner by 19 seconds to win her school’s first championship in cross-country.

“I tried not to think about the pain. I could feel it, but I just chose to ignore it,” Britt said. “I just thought about the finish line the whole way through.”

No. 7 — Jordan Blackwell is voted permanent football team captain months after his death

Jordan Blackwell was poised to lead the Ole Brook Panthers on defense as a senior middle linebacker, but he lost his life in Lincoln County’s Memorial Day Massacre. The team honored him all season long in 2017, painting a memorial to him in the end zone and carrying his No. 18 jersey into every game ahead of the team. At the year-ending banquet, his teammates voted him team captain for 2017 and presented his family with a framed memorial.

“They have shown us Jordan is still a part of the team,” said Tiffany Blackwell, Jordan’s mother. “It shows this team truly are their brothers’ keepers.”

No. 8 — Wesson slow-pitch softball goes deep in playoffs

After finishing third in the district, the Lady Cobras slow-pitch softball team turned it on in postseason play. They ran through the playoffs and reached the state semi-finals before falling to Newton County in two games.

“For whatever reason our girls weren’t hitting, but in the playoffs we hit so many homeruns — good, hard homeruns, the entire team,” said Lady Cobras coach Michelle Nunnery. “It all came down to our bats. That’s what helped us the most.”

No. 9 — Leo Lewis sinks Ole Miss with NCAA testimony

Mississippi State linebacker Leo Lewis, one of Ole Brook’s own, made national news this year as the key witness in an NCAA investigation into the University of Mississippi’s football recruiting practices. Lewis’s testimony, given under the protection of immunity, led the NCAA to smack Ole Miss with scholarship reductions and a one-year bowl ban.

No. 10 — Co-Lin golf team finishes 11th nationally

Co-Lin’s golf team yelled “fore” in Mesa, Arizona, in May as it competed in the NJCAA Division II National Championships. The team finished 11th overall, and Joseph Dendy finished 24th individually.