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The top local sports stories of 2018

By Norwalk Reflector staff • Jan 1, 2019 at 7:01 PM

It was a special year for the local sports scene in 2018.

There were two fall sports teams that failed to win league championships in the last week of the regular season both advancing to a state semifinal — where they were also both in position to win.

There was an individual state champion, a local grad appearing in an epic World Series between two of the most famous franchises of all-time — and history-making, standout feats at the high school and collegiate levels.

Here is a look back at some of the top stories for the 2018 calendar year for Norwalk Reflector sports:

Honorable mention

Historic six-overtime game in Norwalk

SBC rivals Huron and Margaretta met for a third time in a Division III district semifinal boys basketball tournament game at Norwalk High School. The Polar Bears went on to beat the Tigers, 84-82 — but it took a staggering six overtimes (56 game minutes) and 2 hours and 34 minutes to do it.

The game is unofficially tied for the third-most overtimes in a single game in Ohio boys basketball history. It was the longest game of any reported to the OHSAA record book over the past 34 years — and the longest tournament game of all-time in terms of overtimes played.

Adam Wolf drafted

A 2015 Edison graduate, Wolf was selected 135th overall in the fifth round of the MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers in June. The 6-foot-6 left-handed pitcher went 8-2 with a 2.63 ERA in 16 starts last season for the University of Louisville.

After signing with the Tigers, he then made 10 starts for the Connecticut Tigers — the Class A Short Season affiliate of the Detroit Tigers in the New York-Penn League. He finished 1-1 with a 2.67 ERA in Connecticut.

10. Hedrick’s state track weekend

Meghan Hedrick had made history before even running a single meter at the Division III state track and field championships in June.

Standing on the podium for the 1600 relay at the end of Saturday’s running finals, she entered yet another category in the St. Paul history books. With a seventh place finish in the 3200 relay Friday, coupled with fifth-place finishes in both the 800 and 4x400 relays, plus another seventh-place effort in the 400 relay, Hedrick become the only girl in Flyers history to medal in four events at the same meet.

With their four state qualifications, Hedrick and senior teammate Olivia Powers had gone to Columbus as the only girls to qualify in four events in a single season. Powers finished with three medals.

9. Willard’s regional volleyball run

It almost never happened.

But the Willard volleyball team was cornered and found a way — then didn’t stop until it came within a victory of reaching the Division II state semifinals.

After a solid regular season, the Crimson Flashes were the No. 2 seed in the Attica district. But after a first-round bye, Willard found itself down 2-0 vs. No. 7-seeded Lexington in a sectional title match.

However, the Flashes then reeled off three games in a row in mostly dominating fashion, capped by a 15-10 win in Game 5 to reach the district semifinals, where they again dropped the first game before winning in four.

Willard then survived Perkins in four games, and blitzed Wauseon in a regional semifinal to get to the Elite 8 for the first time since 1985.

The Flashes ended the season with a 19-8 record after falling to eventual state champion Parma Heights Holy name in a competitive three-game sweep.

8. Tessari completes comeback

A legendary figure in Ohio high school wrestling, 2011 Monroeville graduate was 187-6 with four individual state championships for the Eagles.

In the eyes of many, Tessari’s 39-3 season as the national runner-up at the NAIA championships while wrestling for Lindsey Wilson College in 2017 was an extraordinary personal comeback in itself. He lost his scholarship to one Division I powerhouse (Ohio State), battled drug addiction and failed every class at another college (Hofstra) — but had returned to the mat and delivered.

But with one last year of eligibility in 2017-18, Tessari returned to the NAIA title match. He capped a 25-1 season with a 4-1 decision to avenge his only loss of the season — and go out on top with a national championship.

7. Stoll’s All-Ohio sweep

It’s somewhat cliché to make ‘best ever’ claims about athletes while they are still performing.

But recent Edison graduate certainly built a strong case as perhaps the best male athlete in school history.

On the football field, Stoll was selected as the Div. V Offensive Player of the Year in 2016 and 2017. In his last three seasons, the Chargers won two regional championships, two SBC championships, and went 32-7 in 39 games.

On the wrestling mat, Stoll was fourth in Div. III at 170 pounds in 2016, seventh in at 195 in 2017 — and finished state runners-up at 182 pounds in March. Stoll also won all three of his matches, including the clinching win over Massillon Tuslaw, as the Chargers won the Div. III state duals championship in Feb. 2017.

He then capped his impressive Edison career at the state track and field championships in June.

After switching from baseball to track, all Stoll did was reach state in two hurdle events, including All-Ohio honors in the 110-meter hurdles. That made him an all-state athlete in three sports in the same school year.

6. Freriks wins another SEC title

In February, Norwalk native Geena Freriks won the SEC championship in the 500 freestyle, giving her conference championships in the 200 and 500 in back-to-back years. She was the first University of Kentucky female to win either event at the SECs in over two decades, and is one of three Kentucky swimmers, male or female, with multiple individual SEC titles.

At the NCAAs in March, the 10-time All-Ohioan at Norwalk and Sandusky swam in six events for the Wildcats, earning All-America honorable mention honors in two school record relay swims.

For her career, Freriks has earned All-America honors seven times over the past three seasons. In the past two summers, she has also swam in U.S. Olympic and World team trials.

Freriks capped her big 2018 with a big performance at the U.S. Nationals (July 26-29) in Irvine, Calif. It was the biggest U.S. swimming event between then and the 2020 Olympic Trials.

Freriks broke the long-course record by a UK swimmer in all four of her events: the 100, 200, 800 and 1,500 free swims.

She placed 33rd in the 100; 18th in the 200; 19th in the 1,500; and sixth in the 400.

5. Western’s regional basketball run

When last season’s four seniors on the Western Reserve girls basketball team entered the program four years ago, the Roughriders were coming off a 1-20 season.

In March, they walked off the court with the program’s second-ever Division III regional runners-up trophy, coming within a win of the state semifinals.

Western lost to state power Ottawa-Glandorf, 62-40, to end the 2017-18 season with a record of 23-4.

During the regular season, Western was never threatened in the Firelands Conference, winning all 14 games to run away with the outright title. As the No. 2 seed in the Shelby district behind Margaretta, which it had lost a late lead to in a 43-40 setback on the road in January, the two teams got the expected rematch on March 3.

But first, Western had to get by a Seneca East team that won 18 games, and did so with a 43-41 win. The ‘Riders then won the district title game with a thrilling double-overtime win over the Polar Bears, 44-40.

That led to a regional semifinal, where the ‘Riders found themselves down 26-17 with just under seven minutes left against Amanda-Clearcreek.

But the ‘Riders exploded for 17 points over the final 6:48 after scoring just 17 in the previous 25 minutes, outscoring the Aces by 13 down the stretch in a 34-30 win to reach the championship game.

4. Fairchild umpires in World Series

It was the pinnacle of an illustrious career to date at the highest level.

Chad Fairchild, a 1989 Western Reserve graduate, entered his 21st season as a professional baseball umpire — and his 15th as a Major League Baseball umpire — in 2018.

Early in the postseason, Fairchild got the pleasure of working up the left-field line during Game 3 of the American League Division Series between the Houston Astros and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field — just a short 45-minute trip from home.

But the ultimate dream came when Fairchild worked the Fall Classic in late October and not November. And what a World Series it was as the Boston Red Sox beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games.

Fairchild worked first base for a World Series and postseason record-long 18-inning game won by the Dodgers in Game 3. Then, he was behind the plate calling balls and strikes in Game 4 — a Saturday night primetime assignment at one of the iconic sporting venues in North American sports at Dodger Stadium.

3. Barnett wins state title

You can’t win four championships if you don’t win the first one.

In March, Edison freshman Casey Barnett has at the least put himself in that elite conversation. Barnett was able to come away with a last-second reversal to win the Division III 106-pound state title match, topping previously unbeaten Lucian Brink (Coshocton) with a 4-3 decision.

Barnett won 59 matches to tie a single-season record at Edison held by his elder brother, Brady, and Evan Cheek — also individual state champions in the last four years.

Casey Barnett’s win also made him Edison’s first state champion by a freshman wrestler.

His effort, along with a runner-up finish by Sam Stoll at 182 helped Edison finish third overall in the team standings with 67.5 points.

2. Monroeville volleyball reaches state

On Oct. 9, the Monroeville volleyball team had five chances to sweep Ashland Crestview in a matchup of state-ranked teams in the second-to-last match of the season.

The eventual five-game loss cost the Eagles a share of the Firelands Conference title. Entering the Div. IV state tournament trail, Monroeville was faced with advancing from a district that had defending regional champion Buckeye Central, and an FC rival St. Paul team it had already lost to twice.

Yet 25 days later, Monroeville was celebrating a second state semifinal trip in four years.

Monroeville beat both Buckeye Central and St. Paul in four games to win the district championship — then did the same in four over state-ranked Dalton in a regional semifinal.

Playing for a trip to the Wright State University Nutter Center, the Eagles left no doubt in the regional final vs. Wellsville. They rolled to a 25-10, 25-11, 25-11 sweep that took just 55 minutes.

Back in the state semifinals, Monroeville took a 2-0 lead over defending state champion New Bremen, but were unable to close it out in the five-game loss. It marked the second time the Eagles went the limit in a state semifinal match, as they finished the year with a 24-4 record.

1. Norwalk football’s turnaround

It started with a new coach in February, and finished 13-plus minutes shy of an appearance in the Division III state championship game.

The Norwalk football team put together a seven-game win streak during the 2018 regular season; but ultimately lost its final two games of the season to lose a chance at the SBC Lake Division championship.

However, the 7-3 record put Norwalk in the playoffs for just the fourth time in the 47-year history of the state tournament, where it proceeded to make school history.

The Truckers won three games in November to claim a regional championship trophy, advancing to the state semifinals for the second time ever, and the first time since 1974.

Norwalk blasted Bowling Green, 42-14, in just the second-ever home playoff game in the first round of the Region 10 playoffs. In the second round, Rocky River was even less of a contest, as the Truckers blasted the Pirates to the tune of 56-7 in the cold and snow at North Ridgeville.

That set up a rematch with Sandusky, which it had beaten 52-35 in a wild Week 7 game six weeks earlier, in the regional title game at Bellevue on Nov. 16.

The Truckers went ahead midway through the third quarter, and an early fourth-quarter field goal by Garrison Smith gave them the lead for good. The Norwalk defense turned away Sandusky three times down the stretch in the 20-17 win.

Facing Associated Press poll champion Kettering Alter in the state semifinals at Wapakoneta, the Truckers had plenty of chances. They trailed 14-6 with less than two minutes left in the third quarter.

However, a turnover at the Alter 7-yard line proved to be the last gasp. All told, Norwalk had the ball four times inside the Alter 10 — but came away with just six points in the 34-13 loss.

The three victories in November marked the most playoff wins in a single season, as the state title in 1974 was under the original format of just four teams in the playoffs over two weeks.

The seven-win improvement was the biggest single-season turnaround in the 124-year history of the program.

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