The year that was 2021, at least when it comes to sports, was much better than 2020.
COVID-19 cancelled all spring sports in 2020 and had a major impact on football as well.
There was still some issues here and there as far as COVID, but by and large seasons went off without a hitch and Tipton County-area teams found their fair share of success.
Here are the top 10 sports stories of the year.
1. Munford wins second straight region title in dramatic fashion
When Munford won the Region 8-5A title in 2020, Cougar haters would say it was tainted considering, because of COVID, there were only two teams in the region.
Well, there was nothing tainted about the way Munford won the 2021 region title. In fact, it was one of the most dramatic title games in recent history.
In the regular season finale against Memphis Central the Cougars trailed 29-14 midway through the fourth quarter before Munford got two touchdowns by Auvic White to trim the deficit to a point.
Enter Munford kicker Braxton Brown. He booted a 23-yard field goal as time expired to give Munford the win and a second striaght region title.
Said White: “If you heard my speech at the very beginning of the game, I talked about discipline, I talked about tenacity and resilience. I prayed and I know when I pray God is going to help me, no matter the circumstance.”
Munford came up with another last-minute drive in the first round of the playoffs to beat Portland before losing to Henry County in round two, but it was definitely a season to remember.
2. Brighton baseball makes first state tournament
Since Brighton High School opened its doors in 1996, the school has fielded several top-notch baseball teams, but it had never made it to state … until 2021.
After the Cardinals swept two from Hardin County to claim the district title they advanced to a sectional game at Houston, a team with a ton of state tournament berths.
That didn’t seem to matter.
Logan Rushing turned in a dominant pitching performance, striking out 13 and allowing just four hits over seven innings, to lift Brighton to a 4-1 win.
Brighton acquitted itself well at state. After a 6-3 loss to Science Hill in the opener, the Cardinals bounced back with a 6-3 win over Beech. Trailing 3-1 through five, Brighton scored five runs over the final two innings to win. Kaleb Baskin had one of the best pitching performances of the season for Brighton with a complete-game win. Siegel beat Brighton 11-3 later that day to end the Cardinals’ historic season.
3. Covington softball breaks through with state berth
Entering the 2021 season, Covington softball had not been to the state tournament since 2010 and had lost six straight sectional games. With a loaded roster in 2020 they had a great chance to break through, but COVID ruined that.
That all seems like ancient history after what happened this year. Sarah Richardson came up with a two-out, walkoff single in the bottom of the seventh of a sectional game vs. South Gibson to send the Lady Chargers back to state for the first time in 11 years.
Covington head coach Justus Cousar found a quiet place in the dugout moments after the win while his players continued to celebrate on the field.
“Obviously, it feels great,” he said with a laugh. “It just feels like it’s been a long time coming. We were finally able to take that next step against a really good softball team … It made a huge difference for us to be able to play at home tonight. We got that lost shot at it instead of them getting that last shot at it.”
4. Lady Charger basketball makes state again
After a disappointing end to the 2019-20 season, the Covington Lady Charger basketball team was ready to make up for that in 20-21. And boy did they.
Covington won 11 straight games down the stretch, including a dramatic sectional win over nemesis Jackson South Side, to make it back to state for the second time in three seasons.
In the state quarterfinal in Murfeesboro, the Lady Chargers drew Macon County, the team that beat them in 2019.
Na’Kyla Gilliam and CorTayza Flowers each hit a 3-pointer in the game’s early moments to put Covington up 6-0 and the Lady Chargers led by five midway through the second quarter when Kalynn Howard made a 3.
The final result, however, ended up being about the same as two years ago.
Macon County started the third quarter with a full-court press, held Covington scoreless for the first 6:15 of the period and went on to a 49-34 win.
“I definitely felt like this time coming in the girls were more relaxed,” Covington head coach Katrisha Glass said. “I felt they knew they had a chance and they showed that in the first half. I would say this was probably the best team we’ve had. If I had to rank it I would definitely go with this year.”
5. Father-son combo carries TRA to state semifinals
Tipton-Rosemark’s season and a wildly successful run for a father and son came to an end with an 81-70 loss to Christ Presbyterian Academy in the Division II-A state semifinals.
At the end of the game, senior Alex Anderson gave head coach Cedric Anderson, his father, a giant hug as tears were shed from the both of them.
“I love that man, he has provided for me since I was born,” said Alex. “He taught me the game.”
He scored 15 points and grabbed 14 rebounds vs. CPA and his teammate, junior Tyler Byrd, had a career game with 36 points, 12 rebounds and six steals, but it wasn’t enough.
Rosemark trailed by seven at halftime before taking a 45-44 lead midway through the third quarter. CPA responded with a 7-0 run and never trailed again.
“It means the world to me. These are my brothers I thought I’d never have.” Alex said after the game. “I thought I would just play basketball and go about my business, but that wasn’t the case. I wish I had more time because it’s full of fun and it’s rare to have a group that loves one another like we do.”
6. Covington football makes state quarterfinals
As Covington always does, the Chargers had designs on going past the state quarterfinals. And man were they close to doing just that.
Covington lost just three games in 2021. One came to Haywood, one of the best 4A teams in the state, and the other two were against Dyersburg.
The first came in the regular season on a controversial roughing the kicker penalty. The second came in the quarterfinals, in overtime, at Dyersburg again.
It was a disappointing end to the season for sure, but Covington proved once again it’s one of the best programs in the state. The Chargers have advanced to at least the quarterfinals 15 times since 1997 and have won 10 of them.
“It’s a tough loss to take,” Covington head coach J.R. Kirby said the day after the season ended. “I had a hard time dealing with it yesterday. I got up about 4 this morning and looked at the film. We just did not do enough to win. There were too many mistakes. They made one more play than we did.”
7. Covington baseball gets back to state
Considering the 2021 Chargers had just one player who was a member of the 2019 state title team, not too many people expected them to make another run to state. That’s exactly what they did, though, and in dramatic fashion.
In the sectional game, Covington trailed South Gibson 4-2 in the seventh before scoring twice to send the game into extra innings.
Two innings later, Chris Godwin hit a solo homer, the defense held in the bottom of the inning and Covinggon booked its trip to Murfreesboro.
Covington nearly made it to the semifinals at state before dropping a wild one to Greenbrier, 11-9.
8. Lady Rebel softball makes state finals
Seeking its third state title, the Tipton-Rosemark softball team vanquished Silverdale, the team that beat them in the state title game in 2018.
That meant TRA had to beat Columbia Academy twice to win it all. The Lady Rebels put runners on second and third in the top of the seventh with two outs, but came up short in a 2-1 loss to Silverdale.
After TRA beat Middle Tennessee Christian to qualify, head coach Johnie Sanfratello said, “Just making it to the final four and giving yourselves a chance at another state title is huge. We thought we a had a really good chance last season but, of course, COVID happened and that didn’t happen. These younger girls knew that and decided they’re not gonna take any game for granted.”
9. TRA baseball gets to state on walkoff
There were a lot of dramatic endings to pivotal games in 2021 and TRA’s sectional win ranks right up there will all of them.
In the bottom of the eighth with the scored tied 5-5, Eli West reached on an error with one out and advanced to second after tagging up on a fly ball by Aiden Sprenkle. Pinch-hitter Jordan Massey drew a two-out walk to set up Green’s walk-off single. Green looped a ball into shallow right field and pinch runner Kade Allen scored easily, setting off a wild celebration.
Said first-year head coach Jacob Cole: “If you had told me last year that we were going to state, I don’t know if I would have believed you. I knew that we were going to be good, I knew we were going to be good on the mound … The fight that this bunch has, the belief in the guy behind them that they have, I didn’t expect that. I didn’t see that coming.”
10. Cross country runners make history
Historically speaking, when cross country runners from West Tennessee, and particularly Tipton County, make it to the state meet, they’re pretty much outclassed by runners from the rest of Tennessee.
Based on what happened at the Class A/AA state meet in Hendersonville, things are changing.
For the first time in history three Tipton County runners medaled and a team finished sixth.
Munford junior Ryan Coley led the way, finishing sixth among 251 runners with a time of 16:14. Covington junior San’Darius Coleman trimmed nearly a minute of his previous best time with a 16:41, which was good enough for 10th.
On the girls’ side, Munford sophomore Hannah Callahan made the podium by finishing 15th with a time of 20:20 and helped the team to a sixth-place finish.
It was the first time a runner from Tipton County medaled and the highest finish for a team.