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Blue Ridge's state softball championship came 40 years after the first Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association title by a Susquehanna County team and more than a quarter century after what had been the most recent team title.
There have been individual successes, led by the multiple track titles by Susquehanna's Teresa Covert, but team titles have been hard to come by.
Blue Ridge fell one game, one run and one inning short in softball in 2002. Elk Lake gave the county another chance in baseball last season.
When the Lady Raiders returned to the final to give the county its third shot in as many years, they came through with a 2-0 victory over Sto-Rox. The title was the first for a county team since the 1977 Elk Lake boys' basketball team put together one of the most impressive seasons and championship game performances by a state small school in any sport.
The other state championship teams from the county were also in boys' basketball - Montrose in 1964 and Elk Lake in 1969.
The Blue Ridge state title was the first by a county girls' team in any sport.
The previous state impact by county teams was isolated in boys' basketball.
From 1960 to 1982, Montrose and Elk Lake combined to play in seven basketball championship games. The Meteors went 1-3 while the Warriors went 2-1.
Elk Lake's 1977 team went 36-0 and rolled to a 94-60 victory over Shanksville. The Warriors set a PIAA record for points in a championship game as Bob Stevenson set what was then a state tournament scoring record with 55 points.
Coach Red Wallace sent the rest of the starters - Jim Hunsinger, Dave Tewksbury, Tom Wooden and Mark Schultz - back out on the court to join Stevenson, who was tied for the state tournament record of 51 points and two points short of the school record held by Wallace's son, Jimmy.
After tying Wallace's record in the final minute, Stevenson broke it by taking the ball the length of the court for a dunk. The basket allowed Stevenson to finish his career with 2,992 points, well ahead of Wilt Chamberlain's state record for the most by a player in the three-year career.
Wallace, who died from cancer months later, stayed behind in Hershey to rest while his team returned home to celebrate.
"We knew he had surgery and knew he was in some pain," Stevenson said in a 1996 interview. "Basically, he had most of us convinced that the pain was arthritis and that doctors had done what they had to do with the surgery.
"It really was apparent when he didn't make the trip back with us. That's when we knew something was really wrong.
"He didn't usually ride the bus with us, but we knew he would have wanted to be there for that."
The state title was the second for Wallace, who also coached his son's team to a championship in 1969.
Jimmy Wallace scored 35 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dished out nine assists as Elk Lake rolled over Laurel Valley, 71-52 in the final. Steve Prentice added 19 points and Jack Keeney joined Wallace to lead a run that broke the game open late in the third quarter.
Elk Lake's teams under Wallace were noted for getting role players to effectively support an all-state leader.
Montrose gained notoriety for its trapping 1-2-2 zone press that could harass teams all over the court, but more often overwhelmed teams as they crossed the mid-court line.
The Meteors first reached the state final under Si Bernosky in 1960. Later in the decade, they set a state record that lasted almost three decades when they won 52 straight games.
The winning streak included a state championship in 1964 and a perfect record going into the 1965 final where Montrose lost.
The breakthrough came at the Scranton CYC in 1964 when the Meteors broke open a one-point game in the final two minutes to beat Mercer, 73-65.
George Yankay, Stu Douglas, Rich Hilton, Stu Peters and Alan Reimel formed the starting five that stayed on the court for every second of the state championship game victory.
Yankay scored a game-high 23 points and hit six of seven free throws down the stretch. Douglas had 20 points, including a three-point play and a dunk to break the game open after the Meteors led, just 62-61. Hilton added 17 points.
Montrose and Elk Lake pushed each other along during the 1960s and 1970s, making Susquehanna County one of the hotbeds for state small school basketball.
Blue Ridge's state run also materialized with a little help from its county neighbors.
Elk Lake has had one of District 2's top programs for years. Although the Lady Warriors have been a step below Blue Ridge in recent seasons, they came up with an upset in last year's District 2 semifinal to keep the Lady Raiders out of the state tournament in the year between the state championship game appearances.
That loss, which came after a perfect regular season, reminded the Lady Raiders that nothing was automatic on the road to a state title.
"We didn't think we could lose," first baseman Brooke Hinkley said. "This year, we didn't take anything for granted."
Blue Ridge avoided such stumbles this time around and allowed the county to end its drought of 27 years without a state team title.
WEEK IN REVIEW
Both Northern Tier teams lost to the Southern Tier in the UNICO Scranton Soccer Cup all-star games for graduating Lackawanna League seniors.
The Southern Tier won the girls' game, 3-1, despite strong goaltending by Mountain View's Melissa Clementoni.
Clementoni helped keep the Northern Tier in the game until the final eight minutes when Megan Beatty beat the last defender and came in alone for the clinching goal. Beatty, from Abington Heights, had assisted on the first two Southern goals.
Forest City's Amanda Vitzakovitch, who left the game with an injury with 8.2 seconds left, assisted on the only Northern goal.
Forest City's Brooke Elliott and Dana Bennett and Mountain View's Kelly Finan also played in the game.
Nine county players were on the Northern team, which lost the boys' game, 5-1.
Montrose's Matthew Hearn and Tyler Singleton, Blue Ridge's Mike Keiser and Preston Propert, Forest City's Tom Kernoschak and Jon Peterjoy, Mountain View's Brandon Bennett and Travis Nolan and Elk Lake's John Pierson played in the game.
Four members of the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons have been selected to play for the International League team in the 17th annual Triple-A All-Star Game July 14 in Pawtucket.
Lou Collier was named as a starting outfielder. At the time of Wednesday's selection, he was leading the team with 52 RBIs while hitting .306.
Jim Rushford, Jim Crowell and Dan Giese were also selected.
Rushford, an outfielder, was hitting .327 with 45 RBIs.
Geise led the IL with nine wins while Crowell led the league's left-handers with 10 saves.
This is the third time in four years that the Red Barons have had at least four players selected to the all-star game.
TOM ROBINSON writes a weekly local sports column for the Susquehanna County Transcript. He can be reached on-line at RobbyTR@aol.com.
JEFF GORDON Is King Of The Road Course
Sonoma, CA Jeff Gordon has done it again. He won his fourth road course victory at Infineon Raceway as he dominated the Dodge/Save Mart 350 on Sunday, after surviving a fuel mileage scare and a strong challenge from Jamie McMurray.
Gordon started from the pole and led a record-setting 92 of the 110 laps, even though the seat in his No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet was blistering-hot the last 40-laps.
"These last few weeks haven't been too good, and we needed this win," said Gordon. "I drove it as fast and as hard as I could and got as big a lead as I could, and then gave most of it up at the end.
"I couldn't drive the car as hard as I needed to there at the end. They started catching me, but we wanted it real bad, and we got it today."
Jamie McMurray, Scott Pruett, Michael Waltrip, and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top-5.
Gordon moved up two spots in the points and is now fourth, 20-points behind Matt Kenseth.
Jimmie Johnson has now extended his Nextel Cup points lead to 27-points over Dale Earnhardt Jr., who finished 11th.
Top ten finishing order: 1. Jeff Gordon, 2. Jamie McMurray, 3. Scott Pruett, 4. Michael Waltrip, 5. Jimmie Johnson, 6. Boris Said, 7. Casey Mears, 8. Mark Martin, 9. Jeff Burton, 10. Elliott Sadler.
Chase For The NEXTEL CUP Contenders 1. Johnson-2375, 2. Earnhardt Jr.-2348, 3. Kenseth-2143, 4. J. Gordon-2123, 5. Stewart-2068, 6. Sadler-2067, 7. B. Labonte-2018, 8. Busch-1993, 9. Newman-1980, 10. Harvick-1974.
TRUEX Continues As Busch Leader The top-10 Busch Series points leaders after 17 of 34 races: 1. Truex Jr.-2572, 2. Busch-2544, 3. D. Green-2292, 4. Biffle-2245, 5. Hamilton Jr.-2227, 6. Keller-2225, 7. Hornaday-2223, 8. Leffler-2174, 9. Waltrip-2092, 10. Bliss-2003.
SETZER Is Truck Leader The top-10 Craftsman Truck Series points leaders after 9 of 25 races: 1. Setzer-1439, 2. Edwards-1308, 3. Hamilton-1286, 4. Crawford-1230, 5. Musgrave-1221, 6. Chaffin-1187, 7. Crafton-1181, 8. Wood-1172, 9. Kvapil-1154, 10. Skinner-1143.
ELLIOTT To Try The Brickyard Bill Elliott, the 2002 Brickyard 400 winner will attempt to qualify for this year's race.
The 48-year-old Dawsonville, GA driver, who is running a limited schedule this season, announced his plans last week.
Elliott has seven top-10 finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, including his 2002 victory.
The Brickyard, which will be run August 8, will be Elliott's second Nextel Cup event of the season. His only other start came in April at Texas Motor Speedway.
Elliott has won 44 races in 728 starts, and was the 1988 Winston Cup champion.
NASCAR Not Ready To Change Race Endings, Yet Speculation has had NASCAR implementing the rule of a green/white/checkered racing finish, in the case of a late race caution as soon as this Saturday's Pepsi 400, but NASCAR said that won't be the case.
"We continue to evaluate the green/white/checkered, and there is a possibility you could see it sometime this season," said NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo. "But it won't happen next weekend."
Three of the last four Nextel Cup races have ended under caution.
Craftsman Truck Series events never end under caution. Instead, that series runs extra laps in addition to the scheduled difference to ensure that a race ends under green.
That is what happened Friday night in the Black Cat Fireworks 200 at Milwaukee, which was extended five laps.
NASCAR Refuses To OK Burton's Sponsor For most of the season Jeff Burton's No. 99 Roush Racing Ford has been unsponsored. With the exception of a couple small decals on the fenders, his car been a plain, solid white car.
Roush Racing has lined up Diaego, the world's largest liquor maker as a sponsor.
But NASCAR says no.
The issue in question is that Diaego wants to advertise hard liquor on the side of Burton's No. 99.
That is a no-no with NASCAR, who has refused to allow spirits, whisky, or hard liquor inside the sport.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sterling Marlin, and Rusty Wallace all have beer sponsorships on the side of their cars.
Burton's teammate, Matt Kenseth has Smirnoff Ice, which is also owned by Diaego, as an associate sponsor.
"In our minds we view Smirnoff Ice as a beer or wine," said Jim Hunter, NASCAR Director of Communications. "We don't view it as a hard liquor."
Burton says his team will continue to race, even though they don't have a major sponsor.
"It's an emotional drain," said Burton. "I don't think it's a weakness, but a topic of conversation. The crew members walk through the garage and people ask them, 'you guys getting ready to shut down, or what?' This is what we do for a living."
The Nextel Cup and Busch series are at Daytona Beach, FL for the July 4th Weekend, while the Craftsman Trucks will be in Kansas City, KS.
Friday, July 2, Busch Series Winn-Dixie 250, race 18 of 34, 120 laps/300 miles, 7:30 p.m. TV: FX Channel.
Saturday, July 3, Craftsman Trucks, O'Reilly Auto Parts 250, race 10 of 25, 167 laps/250 miles, 3 p.m. TV: Speed Channel.
Nextel Cup Pepsi 400, race 17 of 36, 160 laps/400 miles, 7 p.m. TV: Fox.
Racing Trivia Question: Name the two California speedways that NASCAR ran on in the 1960s, '70s, and '80s.
Last Week's Question: Which Nextel Cup driver's father won the 1961 and 1965 NASCAR Winston Cup championships? Answer. Dale Jarrett's father, Ned was the Winston Cup 1961 and '65 champion.
If you would like to read additional racing stories by Gerald Hodges/the Racing Reporter, go to www.race500.com.
These boys come together from Northeast Pennsylvania, and the Southern Tier of New York. Taking the game of baseball to Vestal on Friday night, starting pitcher Eric Secor took control of the mound and pitched a 10-0 shut out with 5 strike outs against the Vestal Bearclaws. Back to Arnold Park for the 8:00 a.m. game on Saturday, Paul Dudock took the mound to face the Endicott Trappers. Dudock got a 15-1 win pitching a one hitter with 10 strike outs. Packing up the equipment the Tornados headed down the road to take on the Kirkwood Knights on the SUNY Binghamton field. Lefty Mark Kuzma went to the mound to make it a pitchers dual until the fourth inning when the Tornados broke open with their first four runs of the game. Kuzma shut out the Knights, 7-0 with 5 strike outs. Sunday morning they were back at Arnold Park for the Semi finals with the Tornados seeded number 1 against the number 2 seeded Valley Legends. The Tornados put Eric Wells on the mound to do the job. Wells and the defense didn't mess around and Wells took the win 12-2, with 6 strike outs .
It was a true Championship game where the two number one seeded teams out of each bracket went head to head. The Binghamton Warriors came to the final game undefeated, as well as the Tornados. Tyler Austin took the mound first for the Tornados and Pete Sargent pitched for the Warriors. Warriors took the lead in the first inning with Palmieri's RBI scoring Bidwell. Warriors put a defensive hold on the Tornados for two innings until Secor hit a double and brought in Kuzma. Tornados scored two more runs in the fourth inning and one in the sixth. Austin got the win with 8 strike outs and a final score of 4-2.
KALEN KROPA Named to All State Basketball Team Kalen, a student at Rockingham County High School, NC, was named to the 2004 North Carolina All-State Second team. Kalen is the daughter of Ron and Kiki (Nataline) Kropa and the granddaughter of Pat Nataline and the late Nick Nataline. (The following was written by sports Editor Steve Cannuli, of Wentworth, NC.)
For Rockingham Countys Kalen Kropa, basketball may have ended a month ago but her play is being recognized at a whole new level.
Kropa was named to the 2004 North Carolina All-State high school basketball team (second team).
The junior guard, who helped guide Rockingham County to a 21-7 record this season, received nine voting points from members of The Associated Press.
The three-year Lady Cougar starter was also informed that she was named to the Winston-Salem Journals All-Northwest team (second straight year) and The News and Records All-Area team.
In three seasons at Rockingham County, Kropa has been a part of 79 wins and just 13 losses (.858). She is averaging 18 points, 5.8 assists and 5 steals per game and she eclipsed the 1,000 point mark at RCHS during this past season.
Currently, Kropa stands at 1,220 points.
This season, Rockingham County advanced to the second round of the 3-A state playoffs where it lost to East Chapel Hill, 60-48. It was the Lady Cougars earliest playoff exit during Kropas brief stint at the Wentworth-based school.
Rockingham County was the 3-A state runner-up in both Kropas freshman and sophomore seasons (2001-02 and 2002-03). In 2001-02, the Lady Cougars fell to High Point Central in the finals at Chapel Hill. Rockingham followed that up with a trip to the state finals, where they lost to Asheville in Raleigh.
Among her many honors, Kropa has also been named all-conference for the Piedmont Triad the past three seasons.
In addition to all of the above, Kalen will play in the Nike, Chicago Cup basketball tourney, July 15-18; in the Reebok Invitational Indianapolis tourney July 22-25; in the Junior Olympic Invitational Championship in Demoyne, Iowa.
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