2018 Year in Review: Pine Belt sports

A look back at 2018′s biggest sports moments in the Pine Belt.

2018 Year in Review: Pine Belt sports
USM head coach Jay Hopson and senior defensive back Picasso Nelson. (Source: WDAM)

HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - It’s tough to encapsulate 365 days of sports into just a couple minutes – especially in an area of Mississippi that saw a number of high school and conference championships.

Here goes nothing.

Like almost every year in the Pine Belt, as the calendar turned to February, Sacred Heart soccer was raising another championship trophy. The Lady Crusaders captured their fifth state title in six years.

Soon after, 2018 began to look like the year of the Tiger.

Hattiesburg High captured a trio of state championships – beginning with girls basketball’s first ever crown – a dramatic win over West Jones as time expired.

The track team followed suit with the boys capturing its first state title and the girls finishing second. Joe Hartfield and his baseball club completed the hat trick by winning their first championship since 2006.

Just a few weeks later, star outfielder Joe Gray was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers.

The high school baseball season ended with legendary Petal coach Larry Watkins retiring after 38 years.

JCJC sports continued its dominance in 2018. Lady Bobcat basketball made its second straight national tournament appearance – the sophomore class finished their careers with a 56-6 record.

After four tries, Jones finally captured the NJCAA softball national championship – the first such title for a Mississippi school.

The world of track and field had its moments as well. Aside from Tori Bowie doing her thing on the world stage, the Southern Miss women won its first Conference USA outdoor title.

Geoffrey Kipchumba wrapped up his storied William Carey career by winning his ninth NAIA national title in track & field/cross country.

Southern Miss baseball followed its school-record 2017 season by taking the Conference USA regular season and tournament titles for just the second time.

The Golden Eagles fell in the NCAA regional for the third straight year.

A slow, quiet summer led to a rapid, boisterous fall.

USM was up-and-down in Jay Hopson’s third season. The Eagles finished bowl eligible for the fourth straight year – but were left out of the party.

Jones College posted its first 10-win season since 2001, capped off with a Mississippi Bowl win over Eastern Arizona.

Five local high schools made it to the Rock for the state championships – Poplarville, West Jones, Oak Grove, Taylorsville and Seminary. However, all five left M.M. Roberts Stadium empty-handed.

Not to be outdone, Hattiesburg soccer shined in November. The Lady Eagles won a program-best 13 games en route to their first Conference USA title appearance where they fell in double overtime to North Texas.

A month later, Lady Crusader soccer captured William Carey’s first national title since baseball’s 1969 world series.

December began with Jon Gilbert leaving Southern Miss for East Carolina – and Rodney Bennett left searching for his third athletic director in six years. Jeff Mitchell was named the interim AD.

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