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Girard, East among 2018 sports highlights

Girard and East provided the Mahoning Valley’s top sports stories of the year. Here are the others that made The Vindicator’s Top 10 list for 2018.

Staff report

It was another year of the Mahoning Valley being a force in the sports world.

Girard’s electrifying offenses, the Youngstown City Schools’ athletic renaissance, an incredible act of generosity and the Youngstown Phantoms’ run to the Clark Cup final were the highlights. The Youngstown State University football team and Niles provided the lowlights.

Here are The Vindicator’s Top 10 stories for 2018:

1SFlbHIGH-FLYING GIRARD MAKES STATE FINAL

Girard’s high-school football team lit up scoreboards across Ohio en route to the school’s first appearance in a state championship game this past fall.

After a 9-1 regular season wasn’t enough to earn a home game in the playoffs, the Indians remained undeterred. Girard (13-2) rallied to beat East, got revenge against Perry for ousting it from the postseason last year, and avenged a regular-season loss to Hubbard to win its first regional title.

After a 53-48 win against Licking Valley, Girard finally met its match in a 42-14 loss to Cincinnati Wyoming in the Division IV state final.

Quarterback Mark Waid had a season for the ages. He passed for 4,376 yards and 48 touchdowns with nine picks while rushing for 1,776 yards and 27 scores in his senior season and finished his career as the state’s third all-time leader in passing yards with 11,658.

Waid is set to continue his football career at Youngstown State.

2YOUNGSTOWN’S RESURGENT HIGH SCHOOL SPORTS

Youngstown City Schools made noise on and off the field throughout 2018. It started in the spring with East’s club rugby team winning a Division III state title in its first season of existence. Then the Goldens Bears’ girls track team recorded two state runner-up finishes. Laniya Lewis, DeShante Allen, Kyndia Matlock and Jahniya Bowers rallied from last place to second in the 4×100 relay. Bowers, Matlock, Allen and Johnae Coleman teamed up to take second in the 4×200 relay.

Fast forward to the fall, which marked the return of Chaney athletics after six seasons of no sports. The fallout from the move affected East’s classification as a football team, dropping the Golden Bears from Division II to Division IV.

On the field, East was the Valley’s biggest story in area high-school football. In his second season in charge, coach Brian Marrow led the Golden Bears to its first winning season since 2007 at 7-4. A shutout win against Poland, plus knocking off then-undefeated Canfield and Hubbard declared that East was back.

It was paced by a punishing defense headlined by YSU signee Chris Fitzgerald and future Bowling Green State University Falcons in Blaine Spires and Dewan Martin on the defensive line.

3 SFlbTHE BUTLER DEBACLE

YSU’s 2018 football season will be remembered for its shocking start: A 23-21 loss to Butler.

In what Sports Illustrated called “one of the biggest upsets of the century,” the Bulldogs rallied from a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter to stun the Penguins. YSU was a 38-point favorite for the bookies in Las Vegas and had the advantage of having 63 scholarship players to Butler’s zero.

That game set the tone for disappointing 4-7 season, with head coach Bo Pelini repeatedly calling out his team’s effort and focus. Pelini’s future with the Penguins remains uncertain as he completed the final season in his four-year contract with the university. His contract is slated to expire in February.

4 YSU AND OHIO STATE WEATHER DOMESTIC-VIOLENCE ISSUES

Ohio State’s coaching turmoil had a ripple effect in Youngstown.

In July, Buckeyes wide receivers coach Zach Smith was fired after news broke of multiple domestic-violence incidents involving Smith and his ex-wife. The monthslong controversy that followed focused on what head coach Urban Meyer knew of Smith’s behavior, culminating in a three-game suspension to start the season. Meyer retired after going 12-1 and missing out on the College Football Playoff.

When the story broke, YSU decided to revisit an April incident between the football team’s co-defensive coordinator, Richard McNutt, and his ex-wife. Even though McNutt wasn’t charged with any crimes or broke any university policy, he was suspended for the team’s first three games.

The episode prompted the university to change its workplace violence policy to cover off-campus incidents.

5 PHANTOMS SOAR WHILE LONEY BOWS OUT

In May, the Youngs-town Phantoms took the biggest step in their nine-year history when they qualified for the USHL Clark Cup Finals for the first time.

Their opponent was the Fargo Force, the winners from the Western Conference who had two Youngstown connections – Ty Farmer and Griffin Laughran.


In North Dakota, Youngstown and Fargo split the first two games of the best-of-five series. The following weekend at the Covelli Centre, the Force won twice by scores of 3-2 and 4-2. Farmer scored the Cup-clinching goal in Game 4 and Loughran was named playoff MVP for scoring seven goals.

On June 8, Troy and Aafke Loney announced they had sold their half of the Phantoms to Black Bear Sports Group, a consortium based in Maryland. The Loneys were co-owners with Bruce Zoldan from 2014-18.

Five former Phantoms played for Ohio State in the 2017-18 season when the Buckeyes qualified for the NCAA’s Frozen Four for the first time since 1998. Luke Stork, Tommy Parran, Sean Romeo, Austin Pooley and East Palestine native Matt Miller took part in the Buckeyes’ 2-1 loss to eventual NCAA champion Minnesota-Duluth in the semifinals in St. Paul, Minn.

6 CANFIELD COACH STEPS UP TO SAVE ATHLETIC DIRECTOR

Dave Crawford, a Canfield assistant wrestling coach, donated 60 percent of his liver to athletic director Greg Cooper.

Cooper was diagnosed with nonalcoholic end-stage fatty liver disease-cirrhosis and had been in need of a new liver since June. The transplant was the culmination of an entire community taking up the cause to find Cooper a liver.

Family friends Clare Neff and Ellen Bennett led a fundraising effort to pay for incidentals related to the surgery. Canfield Mayor Richard Duffett helped put word out that Cooper needed a liver. Forty-six men stepped forward as potential donors before Crawford was selected as the best match.

The surgery was a success and Cooper was able to return home to be with his family a few days before Thanksgiving.

7 NEVER FORGET YOUR FIRST

Among several state titles won by Valley teams and athletes in 2018, some will be special because they represent schools going places they haven’t been before.

Valley Christian and South Range won their first state titles in school history this past spring. The Eagles’ Jamynk Jackson won the 200-meter dash and teamed up with Brandon Paige, Lohron Brown and Terrance White to win the 4×200 relay. South Range’s baseball team entered the postseason with more losses than victories, but came away with the Division III championship.

On the wrestling mat, Canfield 182-pounder David Crawford became the first two-time state wrestling champion for his school. In that same tournament, Girard coach Jim Cardiero had his first state champion in his 27-year coaching career with heavyweight Jack DelGarbino completing an undefeated senior season.

Other Valley state champions included Champion’s softball team winning its fifth title in eight years. Newton Falls’ Izzy Kline and Crestview’s Dominic Perry each won gold in the shot put.

8 PARENTS RUN AMOK IN NILES

After five games, enough was enough for Michael Cappuzzello.

In an embarrassing episode for Niles McKinley High School, its varsity girls basketball coach resigned after a handful of games, with Cappuzello citing “numerous altercations” with parents.

A mother who was upset her daughter played in three quarters of a game screamed in his face and the same girl’s father was “aggressive” with Cappuzello. He resigned one day after the then 1-4 Red Devils won their first game of the season.

9 VALLEY STANDOUTS GO PRO

A pair of Valley offensive lineman became critical pieces in the NFL. Austintown Fitch’s Billy Price had a smooth transition from being a four-year starter at OSU to being the starting center for the Cincinnati Bengals, who drafted him with the 21st overall pick.

Warren Harding’s James Daniels was taken 39th overall by the Chicago Bears in the second round and while it took him seven games to crack the starting lineup, he’s been a stud ever since. He earned rave reviews for shutting down all-pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald during a 15-6 win against the Los Angeles Rams.

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0PROFESSIONAL PROS AND CONS

For fans of Ohio professional sports teams, 2018 was a mixed bag.

The Golden State Warriors swept the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA finals. Franchise legend and Akron native LeBron James left the team for the Los Angeles Lakers, and Cavs fans took solace in the fact that this time he didn’t announce his decision via an hourlong TV special.

It was agony to ecstasy for the Cleveland Browns. The Browns finished the 2017 season 0-16 – prompting a parade – and started the 2018 season 2-5-1 before firing head coach Hue Jackson. After Jackson’s departure, the Browns are rebounding under interim coach Gregg Williams and rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has been source of excitement.

The Cleveland Indians were swept in the American League Division Series by the Houston Astros.

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