Randolph-Clay girls basketball coach Jennifer Acree, center with 4-year-old daughter K.J., is surrounded by the Lady Red Devils during a practice last season. Randolph-Clay finished as runner-up in the Class A state tournament. (Herald File Photo)
For four Southwest Georgia high school teams, they reached the final game and played for championships.
And there was a banner hoisted for their success in 2013.
But for the Randolph-Clay girls basketball team, the Deerfield-Windsor boys basketball squad, Deerfield-Windsor baseball and Deerfield-Windsor girls soccer, they couldn’t call themselves a state champion.
In The Albany Herald’s countdown of the Top 10 stories of the year, the four teams finishing as state runner-up comes in at No. 8. A runner-up finish is still a big deal in Southwest Georgia.
Randolph-Clay’s 61-56 loss in the Class A state championship game at the Macon Metroplex was a stunner, considering the powerful Lady Red Devils had been ranked No. 1 in the state all season and had dominated their competition.
On a strange day that started with the Lady Red Devils having to wear another school’s uniforms because of a GHSA bracket mix-up according to coach Jennifer Acree, Randolph-Clay fell behind when Gordon Lee shot a blistering 55 percent, making 16 of 29 shots, in the first half.
The Lady Red Devils started the fourth quarter trailing, 50-30, but then scored 26 points in eight minutes as senior Kanekia Washington dropped in 11 of her game-high 26 in the fourth. Washington, a three-year starter who had scored more than 1,300 points at Randolph-Clay, tried to lift her team in the end and scored 19 points in the second half. She was inspiring in her final game as a Lady Red Devil.
“We’re three baskets from winning a state title,’’ Acree told the Herald last March. “If we could take two minutes out of the first quarter and play them like we did in the fourth quarter, we would have won. We would have been the state champs.’’
The Deerfield-Windsor boys basketball team had its 19-game winning streak snapped and lost its chance to be state champs because of poor free throw shooting. Deerfield hit just 14 of 26 and lost to Loganville Christian 74-65 at Mercer University’s Hawkins Arena.
“Free throws. They’re free. That‘s why they call them free throws,’’ DWS coach Gordy Gruhl said last March. “You’ve got to make people earn their points.’’
Loganville Christian tried to shut down Deerfield’s top player, senior Ramello Carter. He still managed 32 points but the Knights didn’t get much contribution from the rest of the team.
It was a game where the Knights never had the lead.
The baseball team was swept by GISA Class AAA power Tattnall Square in the state finals, losing 2-0 and 4-3 to finish as the state runner-up for the third time in the past six seasons.
The Knights had the tying run at third-base in the second game. Sam Shellhaas had led off with a single, was bunted to second by Justin Glover, then Shellhaas took third on Ryan Toole’s deep pop fly. But Tattnall Square’s ace Taylor Ferringer, who was the Game 1 winner, recorded the third out on a strikeout to preserve the victory.
It was a heartbreaking way for nine seniors to end their careers.
“We didn’t come to lose,” Senior Weston King told The Herald after the game last June. “We came to win and came to compete, and we competed well. But this wasn’t how we wanted to go out.”
For the Lady Knights soccer team, it was their first time in the state championship game. However, they were no match for powerful Stratford Academy and lost 8-0.
Deerfield-Windsor frustrated Stratford early but once the Eagles settled down, they took control on their way to an undefeated season.
The Lady Knights finished the season 16-4 overall. Senior Casey Kincheloe finished her career at DWS as the all-time leading scorer with 117 goals. She finished her senior season with 45 — two shy of the program’s single-season record she set as a junior.
These were tough losses for the four teams to overcome, which is what makes this The Herald’s No. 8 sports story of the year.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The Herald’s sports staff has chosen Southwest Georgia’s Top 10 sports stories from 2013. Today marks the third of the 10 we’ve picked as having a significant impact as we count down to No. 1, which will appear in the Jan. 1 edition. Look for No. 7 in Thursday’s Herald.