CCU baseball headlines list of 2016’s top sports stories

ccubase-trophyIn more than two decades of covering sports on the Grand Strand, it’s safe to say 2016 was the best year I’ve ever seen on the local sports scene. An NCAA national title, a major golf championship, a U.S. Olympic record, and more baseball banners than you can swing a bat at – those are among the long list of accomplishments by local athletes over the past year.

Yet despite all the amazing feats, 2016 is also the easiest year I can remember picking the No. 1 sports story. It’s a sports story that played out on national television over the course of an otherwise slow period for American sports. It’s also a story that put the Grand Strand on the national sports map and made the rest of the country believe in miracles like we did:

1) CCU baseball wins CWS: Six months later, it still doesn’t seem real. The tale of how a little team from Conway, SC, took the college baseball world by storm and captured hearts around the country is not only the top sports story of the year locally, but it’s also one that made a major impact nationally. And it’s not only the fact that the Chanticleers won it all, but how they did it, that added to the drama. Rain delays, extra-inning games, clutch plays, dugout antics and a crazy cast of characters made so many memorable moments that local sports fans stayed glued to the TV and made unscheduled trips to Omaha to cheer for the Cardiac Chants. Coastal passed every elimination test with a gutsy pair of one-run victories in the title series to bring the big trophy back to the Strand.

2) Dustin Johnson makes major breakthrough: After years of flirting with a major championship, DJ finally pulled the trigger in the U.S. Open. The former All-American at CCU and Myrtle Beach resident put his troubled past behind him with a breakout year both on and off the course. The 32-year-old won the Jack Nicklaus Award as the PGA Tour Player of the Year, and showed that his best years might still be ahead of him.

3) Hunter Renfrow Shines in National Title Game: They say big-time players show up in big-time games, and the former Socastee star did just that for Clemson on college football’s brightest stage. Going toe-to-toe with powerhouse Alabama for the national championship, the former walk-on showed he belonged with all the blue-chip recruits by catching a pair of touchdown passes in the Tigers’ 45-40 defeat. Clemson and Renfrow are in line for another shot at the title.

4) Amber Campbell Drops the Hammer in Rio: The former CCU All-American and Myrtle Beach resident posted her best showing ever at the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Campbell’s sixth-place finish in the women’s hammer throw, and her toss of 73.09 meters, are the best in U.S. Olympic history.

5) Lady Sharks Win Fin-To-Fin Titles: There’s a state powerhouse growing on the South Strand – the St. James High girls golf team. After winning the school’s first state championship in 2015, the Lady Sharks went back for seconds in 2016 to successfully defend their title. Individual medalist Smith Knaffle shot back-to-back rounds of 69 to win by 10 strokes and lead her team to a 38-stroke victory.

6) Sandlot Successes: It had been more than a half-century since a 12-year-old Majors team from Myrtle Beach reached the Dixie Youth World Series, and a tough little team from Pepper Geddings Rec Center did just that. They won the state and regionals to go to the big one in Mississippi. Just up the Strand, the North Myrtle Beach girls U-12 team also made a deep run to the Dixie Youth World Series, capturing second place to cap a strong season. Meanwhile, the Myrtle Beach Pelicans captured back-to-back Carolina League championships in the same year their parent club, the Chicago Cubs, snapped their 108-year streak without a World Series win. Lovable winners, indeed.

7) Ex-Chants Reach Super Bowl 50: The Carolina Panthers’ surprising run to the Super Bowl was extra special for CCU fans, who got to see two former Chants play in the NFL’s biggest game. Josh Norman played his final game as a Panther with Mike Tolbert, but it was the Denver Broncos who stole the show and the trophy.

8) Chiefs Win Big, Lose Coach: The North Myrtle Beach High football team won a school record 11 games and reached the third round of the playoffs under third-year coach Blair Hardin, who left the Chiefs after the season to go to River Bluff. Whoever his replacement is will have a solid squad to try to build on his work.

9) CCU’s Henderson Rushes into Record Books: In a transition season that basically didn’t count, CCU’s 2016 season will be remembered for De’Angelo Henderson. The two-time finalist for the Walter Payton FCS Offensive Player of the Year set an NCAA Division I record by scoring at least one touchdown in 35 consecutive games. Attaboy, Hop!

10) Coastal Joins Sun Belt Conference: This story may be ranked even higher in the future, but it was still pretty big news when CCU made it official shortly after winning the College World Series. The Chants left the Big South Conference it helped create for greener pastures in the Sun Belt, making the move to the FBS level in football.

Photo courtesy of NCAA

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