By JUSTIN RAINS
As 2012 fades into the rearview mirror, it might be remembered locally as the year that Dogwood Circle sports teams used never-say-die attitudes to take them to new heights.
Some of the biggest success of 2012 came via teams that on multiple occasions found their collective backs against the wall. But, they persevered, pushed on and, for many, reached the top of the mountain.
Here are the top-five moments from the local sports scene in 2012, the year the Dogwood Circle refused to back down.
NO. 5: THE RISE OF JEFFREY WILSON — After a breakout season as a sophomore in 2011, it’s not as if big things weren’t expected of Elkhart running back Jeffrey Wilson in 2012.
But, Wilson managed to exceed even the loftiest expectations set for him, and did so by some margin.
On the year, the junior ran for more than 2,300 yards — an average of close to 230 yards per game for the Elks.
As a team, Elkhart didn’t have a great year, winning only two games. But, Wilson gave fans plenty of memories, from his first 300-yard game of the year against Grapeland, to his monster performance in a loss to Franklin.
In that Franklin game, Wilson and Franklin running back Darius Floyd combined for more than 600 yards and 10 touchdowns — in the first half.
Wilson finished that game with 401 yards rushing in a 69-34 loss, and had three more games in which he ran for 300-plus.
NO. 4: PALESTINE FOOTBALL CONTINUES IMPROVEMENT — Even for all of its success in 2012, the Palestine football team might remember it as the year of “what ifs.”
The Wildcats finished a respectable 7-4, the second-straight season that Lance Angel’s team has done so.
But, three of those losses came by a combined five points to a then state-ranked La Vega team, district champion Fairfield and state semifinalist Carthage.
The first was a heartbreaker to open the season, while the loss to Fairfield in overtime cost the team a district title and the loss to Carthage ended their season.
But, even with the close losses, 2012 still fits the mold of what Angel and his staff are hoping to build at Wildcat Stadium, which is a consistent winner.
The defense improved in 2012, and in sophomore quarterback Gee Clark, the Wildcats seem to have their signal caller for the next two seasons.
Add to that the potent rushing attack of Jarrell Owens and Ben Luckett, and Palestine football seems to be set up nicely for years to come.
NO. 3: CAYUGA VOLLEYBALL GOES TO STATE...AGAIN — Two years ago, the Cayuga volleyball team’s trip to the state tournament was historic.
Now? It’s becoming slightly old hat.
The Ladycats made their third-straight trip to the final four in 2012, and put together their best showing of the year while they were there.
But, to even get there, they had to battle back in the regional finals against Blum. Down 2-0 in the match, Cayuga stormed back to win the final three games and advance to state.
The Ladycats tried to do the same in the state semifinals, falling behind 2-0 to Round Top-Carmine, before winning Game 3 and almost taking Game 4, before RTC bounced back to take the game 27-25, ending Cayuga’s season.
But, with the trip and strong showing, the Ladycats again reinforced the notion that they are the program to beat in Region II, and may continue to be in years to come.
NO. 2: ELKHART BASEBALL GETS TO STATE — Another team that was no stranger to adversity in a playoff run was the Elkhart baseball team, who time after time during the 2012 season fought back en route to a spot in the state semifinals.
The never-give-up spirit was identified early, as the Elks came back from down 9-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning to Athens during the Howard Estes Memorial Tournament, before scoring nine runs in the inning to win in walk-off fashion.
Needless to say, the Elks weren’t done. At all.
In the regional finals, the Elks fell down to Central Heights by two runs, and entered the seventh inning facing that same deficit.
But, the Elks tied the game in the seventh, and then won things in the eighth on a walk-off single by Cam Reeves to score Cole Bridges and put Elkhart up 1-0 in the best-of-3 series.
Central Heights went on to win Game 2, but Elkhart blew things open early in Game 3 behind a home run from Tyler Tutt en route to an 8-1 win to advance to state.
At the state tournament, the Elks went toe-to-toe with eventual state champion in a marathon state semifinal that lasted for 13 innings.
Even in that loss, the Elks needed to comeback from a deficit, trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh before Bridges’ single scored Brian Johnson to send the game into extra innings.
NO. 1: NECHES CAPTURES ANOTHER TITLE — The ways to describe the four-year run of the Neches girls’ basketball program are running short.
The Lady Tigers did what they do once again in 2012, traveling down to Austin and dominating en route to a third-straight state title.
The win ended the careers of Neches’ legends Roddricka Patton, Raven McFarland, Cheyenne Haskins, Kristen Green and Lyric Duncan, a senior class that never didn’t play for a state title.
The one thing that was a bit different this time was that Neches got a bit of a challenge before getting to state.
The Lady Tigers edged past Goodrich by one point in the regional quarterfinals, then they all got what they wanted from unbeaten Saltillo in the regional finals before sealing the victory.
But, once they were down at state, a place that many felt right at home at, they made things looks easy again.
The Lady Tigers dispatched of Moulton in the semifinals with a 22-point win, then rolled to the championship with a 60-41 win over Lipan.
The win also gave coach Andy Snider his third state title, giving him one more title than his legendary coach father, Lee. Lee won titles in 1973 and 1976 with the Lady Tigers.
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at email@example.com