Happy New Year!

As I head out of the office for the final time in 2007, I want to throw some special thank-you’s to you guys who have made this the No. 1 blog in Freedom Communications (outside of the 200,000-circulation Orange County Register). We’re now getting more than 45,000 page views a month, which ranks us No. 4 in all of Freedom and only behind three blogs at the OCR.

You guys rock. It blows their mind that a blog at one of the smallest papers in our chain is doing so well. Thanks!

Be smart tonight and stay away from the idiots. I’m excited about 2008 and I hope you are, too!

The Top 10 stories of 2007

If the year of 2007 will be remembered for anything, it will be remembered for this one word: almost.

The Kinston Vikings boy’s basketball team almost won the 3A state championship. The North Lenoir baseball team almost won the 2A state championship. And the Kinston Indians, after winning both halves of the Carolina League Southern Division race, almost made it out of the first round of the playoffs.

There was still a lot to remember – and celebrate – in 2007. The Free Press sports staff of Bryan Hanks, David Hall, Richard Clark and Keith Spence, along with correspondent Justin Hill and publisher Patrick Holmes, voted on what they considered the top 10 local stories of 2007.

They considered everything within Lenoir County and East Carolina athletics to be local. Here is their top 10:

1. ECU Athletics Director Terry Holland admits to giving a relative, later revealed by The Free Press to be his 51-year-old brother, more than $16,000 in academic aid through the athletic office. Holland later writes a check covering the amount.

2. The Kinston High School basketball team plays in the 3A state championship game for only the third time since 1965, but came up short against Concord. The Vikings end the 2006-07 season with a record of 29-3.

3. Former Kinston basketball star Herbert Hill is named first team All-Big East as a senior at Providence College. A few months later, Hill is selected in the second round of the NBA Draft by the Utah Jazz, but is traded to Philadelphia on draft night.

4. The Kinston Indians win both halves of the Carolina League Southern Division race and earn the right to host all three first-round games against Salem, only to lose the series two games to one to the Avalanche.

5. The ECU basketball team defeats N.C. State, marking the first basketball win for the Pirates over an Atlantic Coast Conference team in 58 attempts.

6. Quinton Coples, considered one of the best high school defensive ends in America, transfers from Kinston High School to Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Va. Coples, a 6-7, 240-pounder, is later selected to play in the U.S. Army All-American Game.

7. The two-time defending 2A state champion North Lenoir baseball team plays East Rutherford for its third straight title. After winning the first game of the best-of-three series, though, the Hawks lose the final two games.

8. Greene Central defensive end Brandon Sutton finishes with 10 tackles and two sacks and is named the most valuable player in the East-West game in Greensboro.

9. Jim Bob Bryant is selected to coach in the Shrine Bowl. He is the youngest coach in the 71-year history of the game that pits the best prep football players from North Carolina and South Carolina.

10. After beginning the season 0-4, the Jones Senior football team wins nine straight games, including an undefeated run through the Coastal Plains 1A. The nine wins ties the school record for victories in a season as the Trojans advance to the third round of the 1A playoffs.

2007 Glaxo all-tournament team, MOP, MVP

Most Valuable Player: John Wall, Raleigh Word of God

Most Outstanding Player: C.J. Leslie, Raleigh Word of God

All-tournament team:

Antonio Moffit, Knightdale

Justin Watts, Durham Jordan

Ryan Kelly, Raleigh Ravenscroft

Donovan Ingram, Kinston

Eugene Phelps, Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft

Larry Drew, Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft

Quinn Cook, Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha

Naji Hibbert, Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha

Josh Selby, Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha

Milton Chavis, Raleigh Word of God

Glaxo Game 20 final: Raleigh Word of God 64, Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha 62 (8-man championship)

End of 1Q: WOG 17, DeMatha 15

Halftime: WOG 34, DeMatha 26

End of 3Q: WOG 50, DeMatha 43

FINAL SCORE: WOG 64, DeMatha 62

For the first time since 1989, the GlaxoSmithKline Holiday Invitational champion hails from North Carolina.

Raleigh Word of God never trailed after the first three minutes of the game and improved to 14-0 with the victory. 

Word of God Levi Beckwith said his Holy Rams take pride in keeping the trophy in the Tar Heel state.

“I’m very proud, very proud,” Beckwith said. “DeMatha made some amazing shots down the stretch and had me thinking that maybe it was meant for them to win. But our guys kept playing hard.”

Glaxo Most Outstanding Player C.J. Leslie led WOG with 19 points, while MVP John Wall added 14. The Holy Rams also got 11 points from Lance Beckwith and 10 from Milton Chavis.

DeMatha was paced by 25 points from Josh Selby and 14 from Naji Hibbert. 

Stags coach Mike Jones said, “Obviously, we’re very disappointed with the outcome of the game. But it was a great game and both teams worked hard.”

DeM   15  11  14  22  –  62

WOG  17  17  16  14 –  64

DeMatha: Denning 7, Beckwith 11, Wells 3, Leslie 19, Wall 14, Chavis 10. Word of God: Selby 25, Rouse 6, Grant 4, Hibbert 14, Cook 7, Oladipo 2.

FREE PRESS TRI-COUNTY INVITATIONAL Boys Championship Final: South Lenoir 62, North Lenoir 57

Starters

North Lenoir (6-4): Tyler Potter, Chris McPhail, Tim Roberts, Juel Bizzell, Rashee Hawkins

South Lenoir (5-6): Devon Koonce, Thomas Dove, Quan Outlaw, Eddie Colie, Alex Graham

End of 1st Quarter: South Lenoir 16, North Lenoir 8

Halftime: South Lenoir 30, North Lenoir 21

Leading Scorers – South Lenoir: Alex Graham 14, Quan Outlaw 9. North Lenoir: Chris McPhail 5.

End of 3rd Quarter: South Lenoir 41, North Lenoir 28

FINAL: South Lenoir 62, North Lenoir 57

Leading Scorers – South Lenoir: Alex Graham 18, Quan Outlaw 15, Devon Koonce 12. North Lenoir: Chris McPhail 16, Marquez Powell 12, Tim Roberts 10.

Blue Devils build a 19-point 3rd quarter lead and then hold on to win rubber match

Glaxo Game 19 final: Taft 62, Kinston 55 (8-team third-place game)

MANY APOLOGIES! INTERNET HAS BEEN DOWN!

End of 1Q: Taft 24, Kinston 5 — KHS lost star sophomore Reggie Bullock only 90 seconds into the game to what appears to be either a high ankle sprain or a knee injury. More updates as I get them. He is out for the rest of the game, though.

Halftime: Taft 37, Kinston 17. Scoring leaders: Taft — Justin Hawkins 12, Eugene Phelps 8, Larry Drew 7. KHS — Akeem Sutton 4, Dallas Best 3, Victor Holloway 3

End of 3Q: Taft 49, Kinston 38

FINAL SCORE: Taft 62, Kinston 55

Notes: Bullock suffered an ankle injury and is day-to-day.

KHS  5   12  21  17  — 55

Taft 24  13  12  13  — 62

KHS: Sutton 14, Hines 5, Ingram 16, Miller 1, Best 3, Jones 2, Benoit 1, Clark 2, Holloway 11. Taft: Phelps 17, Hawkins 12, Drew 18, Carter 9, Smith 2, Hayes 2, Fowler 2.

2007 GlaxoSmithKline Holiday Invitational 4-team All-tournament, MVP, MOP

Most Valuable Player: Hunter McClintock, Northern Durham

Most Outstanding Player: Earnest Ross, Morrisville Panther Creek

All-Tournament:

Jeff Thomas, Northern Durham

Brandon Oliver, Morrisville Panther Creek

Jerry Fairley, Northern Durham

J.D. Pelham, Cary Green Hope

Luke Davis, Raleigh Broughton

FREE PRESS TRI-COUNTY INVITATIONAL Girls Championship Final: South Lenoir 54, North Lenoir 44

StartersNorth Lenoir (7-4): Jordan Hudson, Helena Davis, Timon Jones, Enjoli Mason, Kindra Sherrod. South Lenoir (9-2): Karissa Herring, Shaquitta Jones, Lyndsey Medlin, Kayla Melvin, Shae Garner

End of 1st Quarter: South Lenoir 12, North Lenoir 7

Halftime: South Lenoir 25, North Lenoir 21.

Leading Scorers – South Lenoir: Shaquitta Jones 9, Shae Garner 6. North Lenoir – Enjoli Mason 9, Helena Davis 7.

End of 3rd Quarter: South Lenoir 39, North Lenoir 30

FINAL: South Lenoir 54, North Lenoir 44

Leading Scorers – South Lenoir: Shaquitta Jones 17, Karissa Herring 14, Shae Garner 11. North Lenoir: Helena Davis 19, Enjoli Mason 11.

Lady Blue Devils defeat North Lenoir for the third time this season.