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15th annual Lee T Awards recognize memorable moments in high school sports …

High school sports are filled with fleeting moments.

But for those who seize the moment, a memory is theirs for a lifetime ahead.

The biggest perk of being a sportswriter is getting a front-row seat for those moments and those memories. And in the past 12 months, I’ve witnessed plenty.

So, as the calendar comes to a close, I offer my 15th annual Lee T Awards. Based primarily on teams and athletes I covered in 2013, these awards recognize some of the players and teams that amazed me during the year that was in high school sports.

Captain Crunch: It was a signature game for Essexville Garber, and Alex Neering had his name written all over it. The 6-foot-7. 240-pound defensive end thoroughly dominated – in one stretch knocking the quarterback on his butt on five consecutive plays — as the Dukes downed longtime nemesis Millington 25-6. Neering had three sacks, including back-to-back sticks that clinched a win which signaled Garber’s return to prominence in the TVC East.

Team of the Year: Long a powerful program, the Bay City Western baseball team went to new heights with a 42-2 record, a 35-game winning streak and its first state championship. Pitchers Brett Adcock, Connor Foley and unsung state quarterfinal starter Briton Ott allowed just seven runs in eight tournament games. The Warriors got a pair of game-winning RBIs from Grant Bridgewater and one from Brendan Harrison to win their final three games in one-run fashion, suggesting a season like this was just meant to be for the Team of the Year.

Game of the Year: Essexville Garber stood on the cusp of glory, trying to land the first boys soccer district championship in Bay County history. But the long-suffering program – winner of just 12 games over a nine-year stretch from 2003-11 – faced a 2-1 deficit to powerful Frankenmuth (22-2) with just four seconds left in the title game. Then something magical unfurled. Garber’s Lakin Radeka blasted a desperation kick toward the goal, where Drew Piotrowski tracked it down and knocked it into the net to force overtime. After two scoreless OT periods, the Dukes held a one-goal edge in the shootout, and keeper Garrett Irish made it stand with a lunging save on the final kick to stamp the Dukes as a history-making squad.

Upset of the Year: The Bay City Central girls basketball team is rarely given much chance against perennially strong Midland. Losing six straight games in the series by 35 or more points paints a grim picture. And when Central’s leading scorer Leah Humes sat out due to illness, things were expected to get ugly again. Instead, the Wolves hung within eight points heading into the final stanza – then pulled off the improbable. Freshman Addyson Tomczak, who had a coming out party with 16 points, knocked down a 3-pointer with 1.2 seconds on the clock and the Wolves danced off with a 54-51 shocker, their first win over the Chemics since 2005.

Tom Marter Award: Named in honor of my late, great colleague who never let adversity stand in his way, this award is in good hands with Reese’s Chad Gruber. Sports had to take a backseat for the three-sport athlete when he was diagnosed with cancer prior to his senior season. But after six months of surgeries, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, he made a triumphant return to the basketball court as the Rockets downed USA 56-42. Gruber’s starting assignment was the emotional highlight of the annual All for a Cure game, where each player honors someone who has battled cancer.

It Happened, I Saw It: Forrest Nagel isn’t the player Bangor John Glenn wants shooting 3-pointers. But the 6-foot-1, 260-pound post player was the right man in the right spot for one of the biggest wins in Bobcats basketball history. In a classic battle with Garber, before a rollicking crowd and with the Class B district championship in the balance, Nagel found the ball in his hands with 1.7 seconds left in overtime. He one-handed it toward the rim from 25 feet away – and watched as it banged off the backboard and through the hoop as the horn sounded for a 51-50 victory. The delirious crowd erupted in chants of “Nagel! Nagel! Nagel!” in perhaps the most heart-racing and heart-touching scene of the season.

Hey Now, You’re An All-Star: John Glenn’s hole-in-one golfer Shelby Sullivan, freshman 35-point scorer Kalle Martinez, and 14-time ISC swimming champion Kali Hartt, Garber’s four-time state tennis scorer Jeremy Morse, Central’s record-setting swimmer Madeline Martin, 100-goal soccer scorers Tara Blundell of Garber and Connor Windiate of Glenn and track state champions Clay Walderzak of Standish-Sterling and Kayla Deering of Laker. Players who made me go “Wow!”

Prime Time Players: The Bay City Western softball team was cool under pressure while rolling all the way to a state runner-up finish. Meredith Rousse and Hannah Batschke delivered walk-off RBIs in back-to-back 1-0 victories in the quarterfinals and semifinals, Kaylynn Carpenter slammed a home run in the state final and pitcher Hannah Leppek was simply phenomenal, firing an eye-popping 39 consecutive scoreless innings in the greatest tournament run in program history.

Best Win: Bay City Central sorely needed to put a positive spin on the end of its football season – and got it in a big, big way. Andre Houston rambled to school records with a 43-carry, 315-yard, five-touchdown performance, Russell Brown led a dominating effort by the much-maligned defense and the Wolves powered to a 43-20 victory over archrival Bay City Western to claim the long-lost Firefighter’s Trumpet.

Best Loss: The Caro baseball team had almost nothing to celebrate all season. The Tigers entered district play with a 1-18 record – then nearly pulled off what would have to rank as the biggest upset in state history. Caro took a 3-2 lead into the seventh inning against No. 1-rated and returning state runner-up John Glenn. But, just two outs away from completing the shocking story, Caro was burned by a two-run rally that sent it home with just a moral victory.

The Team, The Team, The Team: John Glenn softball wins its first district title. All Saints girls basketball goes 2-18 then wins three straight games to capture the district crown. Western volleyball claims its first Saginaw Valley League title in 10 years. Garber qualifies for cross country state finals for both boys and girls. Bay City Wolves win the program’s first regional hockey crown.

Stuff of Legends: Krissy Harmon wins the 500 freestyle, the first state title in Western girls swimming history, by a margin of 4-hundredths of a second. John Glenn sophomore Emily Reed slams 15 home runs, seventh most in softball state history. OwenGage’s Quinn Smith rushes for 2,941 yards and 54 touchdowns in eight-man football.

Best for Last: The most wondrous season could have no ordinary ending. And there’s nothing ordinary about Connor Foley. One part goofball and three parts gamer, the 5-foot-9, long-locked senior took the ball for the biggest game in Bay City Western baseball history. And though fireballing teammate Brett Adcock was ready if needed, the Warriors never made the call. Foley refused to allow mighty Brother Rice to score, fighting through one gut-wrenching situation after another for a stunning 1-0 shutout as Western claimed the Division I state championship in extraordinary fashion.

Follow Lee Thompson on Twitter: @LeeTsports

14th annual Lee T Awards (2012)

13th annual Lee T Awards (2011)

12th annual Lee T Awards (2010)

11th annual Lee T Awards (2009)

10th annual Lee T Awards (2008)

9th annual Lee T Awards (2007)

7th annual Lee T Awards (2005)

6th annual Lee T Awards (2004)

5th annual Lee T Awards (2003)

4th annual Lee T Awards (2002)

3rd annual Lee T Awards (2001)

2nd annual Lee T Awards (2000)

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