Saturday, November 29, 2008

Black Friday turns into good Friday

Like John McCain earlier this month, I stand here to concede the 2008 Football Forecast championship to the Senior Staff Writer. Unlike McCain, the Forecast results are official. I trailed the 2008 Champion by two games entering Friday night with only two different picks from the Leader.

In what gave new, personal meaning to the term of the day, "Black Friday," both my picks — SouthWest Edgecombe and Miami — lost and, more importantly, SouthWest's defeat at West Craven means the high school football season is over in The Wilson Daily Times readership area. That means no more games and my one-year reign as Fearless Forecaster Supreme is over.

Moving on to more important things, The Associated Press is reporting today the real Black Friday was a hit — sorta. Preliminary figures from a research firm show that sales are up 3 percent over Black Friday a year ago. In case you didn't know, "Black Friday" is the term given to the day after Thanksgiving, traditionally the biggest shopping day of the year.

That 3-percent spike is a good thing. We should be going out and buying stuff. If what I read is true and consumer spending accounts for 2/3 of our economy, spending money helps everyone. I know you're thinking that saving money is the smarter thing to do right now but look at it this way. The price of gas in Wilson today is under $1.75 per gallon. Less than two months ago, it was more than $4 a gallon. I'm no economist but the high price of fuel is a major reason our economy hit a tailspin in the last two months. Regardless of the effect the mortgage crisis has had, gasoline — and the price of it — is the lifeblood of our economy. Now it's pretty affordable again and if you're like me, you probably have about $20-25 after filling up the tank that you didn't have back in September.

So folks, do yourself and everyone else a favor. Go out, spend a little money, eat out one more time a week, buy someone you love an extra Christmas present. It might save someone's job and it will certainly help our national and local economy.

Anyway, that's my one non-sports rant of the year. I'm thankful to have a place to do it.

We've got a lot of high school basketball this week but I've got some things up my sleeve for this space in the coming weeks, so please don't be a stranger.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Long season needs to be longer

If I am to defend my Football Forecast championship I may need two more weeks in the high school football season. That means, objectivity aside, I will certainly hope for SouthWest Edgecombe to defeat West Craven in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.

You see, the Football Forecast weekly picks end when the last team from The Wilson Daily Times readership area is eliminated. The Cougars are the last team playing and, as it stands now, I trail by two games a certain former sports editor who watched in dismay as I unseated him as the king of the Football Forecast last season. Considering how similar our picks have been on a week-by-week basis, I have serious doubts I can gain three games on the Peerless Prognosticator in one week. My best hope is for a SouthWest victory and at least one more week of the Football Forecast.

After this past week — in which I went 9-3 and the Senior Staff Writer was 10-2 (thanks Wake Forest!) — my overall record is 117-50 to 119-48.

But I vow to not go down without a fight and I'm hoping SouthWest Edgecombe will do the same.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Cobb's Cougars back in the third round

The result from Friday night's 3-A football playoff game at Kinston was not surprising but the score might have been.

SouthWest Edgecombe marched into Kinston and laid waste to the Vikings' best season, burning them 47-13 on a freezing night in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3-A playoffs.

I figured this matchup between true eastern powerhouse teams would go SouthWest's way but Kinston had been impressive down the stretch. The Vikings' only two losses came against quality opponents — West Craven, ranked No. 4 in the final 3-A poll and Wilmington Hoggard, ranked fourth in the 4-A poll. There was little reason to think it would be a blowout.

But SWE head coach Raymond Cobb always manages to inspire his kids to play to the level of the game. Looking at photos from last week's defeat of South Granville in a foggy first-round matchup, I remarked to my cohorts in the sports department that Cobb's bearded visage on the foggy sideline made him seem like a Confederate general in those grainy old Civil War photographs.

I don't think Coach Cobb wants to hear this but there is a bit of Stonewall Jackson in him. There's no doubt he commands loyalty, dedication and a fierce belief in his troops that if they follow their gameplan, they can win. He's been a winner wherever he's been and here are the Cougars back in the third round of the playoffs. But that's where it ended two years ago when Eastern Alamance came to Pinetops the day after Thanksgiving. The Cougars lost 21-20 in overtime of their 13th game of the season.

This time, SWE will hit the road and a familiar one at that. Vanceboro is the destination where unbeaten West Craven awaits. The Cougars began the season there with a 21-6 loss, helped in part by turnovers in the form of interceptions thrown by SWE. West Craven quarterback Brett Mooring picked apart the Cougars with 267 yards but if next Friday is as cold this Friday, look for the Cougars' wishbone attack to have the upper hand.

Should SouthWest advance to the East championship, it's a very good bet it will find NEW 6 Conference nemesis Rocky Mount waiting. The Gryphons were the other team to beat SWE this year, managing a 7-0 victory in Pinetops by stopping Cougars quarterback Greg Horne millimeters shy of the goal line on fourth down.

Now I know that West Craven's Clay Jordan and B.W. Holt of Rocky Mount are two of the best coaches in the business but I would hate to have to play a Raymond Cobb-coached team twice in one season. The next week — or two — should be very interesting indeed for the SouthWest Edgecombe football team and its fans.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Hesmer joins a short list

When Will Hesmer takes the field in goal for the Columbus Crew in Sunday's MLS Cup final against the New York Red Bulls in Carson, Calif., he will join a very short list of area athletes to participate in a professional sports championship game.

Hesmer was the 1999 Wilson Daily Times Athlete of the Year as a senior at Hunt High School before going on to a standout career at Wake Forest University.

Without having done extensive research, I can think of four athletes who hail from the WDT readership area who played in a pro sports championship. Most notably are former Southern Nash High School star Julius Peppers and SouthWest Edgecombe product Yancey Thigpen. Peppers was a defensive stalwart for the Carolina Panthers in their 32-29 loss to the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII while Thigpen started at wide receiver and caught a touchdown pass for the Pittsburgh Steelers in their 27-17 loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl XXX.

Former Hunt High School multi-sport star Octavus Barnes was a member of the Atlanta Falcons when they lost Super Bowl XXXIII to the Denver Broncos. I don't remember Barnes, who lettered in football and basketball at the University of North Carolina, getting into the game or if he was even on the active roster. He only played two years in the NFL.

Former Fike High School standout Glenn Bass was part of two American Football League championship teams with the Buffalo Bills in 1965 and 1966.

Then there was Red Barrett who pitched in the 1948 World Series for the Boston Braves against the Cleveland Indians. Barrett was not a Wilson native but lived here for many years and raised a family here.

If there are any other athletes from the Wilson area who played in a pro sports championship game, please give me a shout because I would love to know who they are.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hesmer, Crew in MLS Cup; Winslow, Lady Deacs done for '08

Just in case anyone hasn't heard, William Hesmer and the Columbus Crew will play for the MLS Cup on Sunday at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. The Crew, making their first Cup final appearance, will meet the New York Red Bulls, another first-time finalist, at 3:30 p.m. EST. The match will be televised by ABC.

Hesmer, a former Hunt High School and Wake Forest University standout, has blossomed into one of the best goalkeepers in MLS this season. I had a chance to chat with him Wednesday night and am planning on a feature story on Will in Friday's sports section of the Wilson Daily Times.

Will plans on putting on a soccer clinic on Dec. 20 at Gillette Athletic Complex with some of his MLS buddies and a slew of former Wilson players. Stay tuned for more information on this huge event.

While Will still has one soccer match left this season, the year is over for another former high school star from Wilson — Wake junior Sarah Winslow. Her Lady Demon Deacons were eliminated 2-1 by James Madison in the second round of the NCAA tournament on Sunday.

It was a disappointing end to a solid season for Winslow, who was fourth at Wake in goals scored with five while handing out three assists. The No. 23-ranked Lady Deacs finished 13-8 with five of those losses by one goal.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

It's official: Zeller to miss 12-16 weeks with broken wrist

The University of North Carolina sports information department just confirmed what had been the worst-kept secret all day: freshman 7-footer Tyler Zeller suffered a broken left wrist at the end of Tuesday night's 77-58 defeat of Kentucky.

He had surgery today and is expected to miss 12-16 weeks — or in simpler language, the rest of the season. That's a bad break, no pun intended, for UNC but if there's one team that can handle such a loss its the No. 1-ranked Tar Heels.

Look for consensus national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough to return very soon. Carolina head coach Roy Williams stated after Tuesday's game, he thought (emphasis on "thought") Hansbrough was already capable of returning from the stress reaction in one of his shins that had sidelined him for the first two regular-season games.

With a game Friday at UC Santa Barbara and then onto the Maui Invitational, Hansbrough probably needs to be on the floor, in the mix, sooner rather than later.

Zeller is a tough loss but the Heels have plenty of depth inside with Deon Thompson, Danny Green, freshman Ed Davis and even William Graves. Besides, Zeller probably wasn't going to get a lot of minutes with Hansbrough's return imminent.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

VMI at the bottom of the heap?

VMI's monumental 111-103 upset of Kentucky on Saturday was bad enough for Wildcats fans but here's another look at it.

According to this Web site, it was a victory for the wallet as well. Kentucky had the biggest operating budget of any NCAA Division I program last year, coming in at $9,204,755 while VMI was 339th, or last, with a budget of $99,285, nearly 100 times smaller.

Keep in mind this are unsubstantiated figures but there are some numbers to ponder on the link. Duke is No. 3 at $8,010,066, North Carolina is 16th at $5,632,518 and N.C. State is 62nd at $3,130,284.

High school hoops will be here before you know it

With area private schools Community Christian, Greenfield and Wilson Christian having already tipped off their boys and girls basketball seasons, the public schools are next and Hunt will lead the way Friday night at Northern Nash.

Beddingfield gets under way Tuesday at Nash Central while Fike won't start until Wednesday, Dec. 3, at Greene Central.

Here are some things to keep in mind as another great season of high school hoops heats up.

• Fike boys head coach George Drawhorn is coaching his final season, his 19th as the Golden Demons head coach. Drawhorn has 478 career wins at Fike and Raeford Hoke. He succeeded the legendary Harvey Reid Jr. and has been just the second Fike coach since merger before the 1978-79 school year.

• Three seniors have already signed NCAA Division I scholarship offers (Greenfield's Brian McNair to Gardner-Webb and Beddingfield's Monique Spry and Southern Nash's Alyse Hall to Campbell) and there could be a few more by spring. Fike senior Jeremy Atkinson heads the list of area players still unsigned.

• The level of talent on the court this season will be pretty high. Besides the aforementioned quartet, look for big seasons from Greenfield juniors Brian Richardson and Jeremy Jeffers (both of whom have multiple Div. I offers) as well as Knights juniors Darian Cahill and Jarred Hinton, Hunt sophomore Damont Williams, Beddingfield seniors Jumal Rolle and Jermal Artis and junior Terry Davis, Fike junior Jerell Williams and seniors A.J. Hines and Darrus Parker and powerful Detrail Jenkins inside at SouthWest Edgecombe.
The girls side will have Beddingfield senior Shaniqua Clay, junior Casey Elliott and sophomores Ansia Dial and Vielka Givens, along with Jamie DeRatt who is making her high school basketball debut. Fike's Meredith Pruden, Jameka Thompson and Leslie Finch are a sophomore trio to complement senior guard Tramicka James while at SouthWest Edgecombe senior Monique Williams leads a talented cast including Quanedra Braswell and Nyneka Euwell. Don't forget Shante Neal, Hall's classmate at Southern Nash and rugged Shonice Pettaway at Greene Central and Vickie White and Amber Parrish at Hunt.

• The 33rd Eastern Carolina Classic Christmas Tournament, at Fike this year, will be a Saturday-Monday-Tuesday set-up.

• The Kinston boys should still be tough to beat in the Eastern Carolina Conference and ditto that for the Beddingfield girls, who will be without Spry for most of the season. In the NEW 6, Fike and Rocky Mount will resume their race for the top and the Lady Gryphons, Lady Demons and Ladybirds will challenge SouthWest.

Friday, November 14, 2008

B-Mc a McD nominee

Greenfield varsity boys basketball head coach Rob Salter called earlier this week to say Knights senior guard Brian McNair has been named as a McDonald's All-America nominee.

McNair is the second player in Greenfield history to earn such a distinction, following Anthony Atkinson who was a nominee in his senior season of 2002-03.

McNair, known affectionately as "B-Mc," has signed to play with Gardner-Webb University next season. The Knights tip off their season at home tonight against Waccamaw.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Syracuse standout has Wilson ties

It's been a rough season for the Syracuse University football team but one of the Orange's bright spots on defense has ties to Wilson.

Junior starting inside linebacker Jake Flaherty is the son of former Hunt High School principal Todd Flaherty, who was the school's second principal coming after John W. Jones.

The younger Flaherty, who was born in Rhode Island, is second in tackles with 60 for Syracuse, which is 2-7 overall and 1-4 in the Big East Conference.

Jake had an interception in the Orange's 35-17 loss at Rutgers on Saturday and was featured on the cover of the game program for Syracuse's home game against Louisville on Nov. 1.