It was nearly the perfect ending to a magical high school sports season.
Brown County was the sixth team in the Muddy River Sports area to play for a state championship during the 2021-22 school year when it took the field Saturday against Louisville North Clay in the Illinois Class 1A baseball state finals in Peoria.
North Clay ended the dream by breaking open a close game in the final two innings to secure a 12-4 victory, but Brown County still managed to establish a school single-season record for victories with 28 and take home the first state trophy in any sport in school history.
And in the process, the Hornets became the first team from the West-Central Illinois counties of Adams, Brown, Hancock and Pike to win a state trophy in baseball other than Quincy Notre Dame. The Raiders finished second in 1952 and 2004.
It was a season few in Brown County will soon forget, joining a long list of exemplary achievements since the 2021-22 school year began in August.
Quincy Notre Dame earned state championships in both girls basketball and girls soccer — the sixth titles all-time for both tradition-rich programs.
Behind incomparable junior guard Abbey Schreacke, the Raiders defeated top-ranked Winnebago in the Class 2A state championship game 63-56. Schreacke scored 35 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and had four steals in the title game, and later became the first QND player and the first from West-Central Illinois to be named the Champaign News-Gazette’s All-State Player of the Year. Schreacke is one of four starters who will return next season.
Not to be outdone, the QND soccer team shut out its final 10 opponents and outlasted Richmond-Burton in dramatic fashion in the Class 1A championship game. Junior midfielder Avery Keck scored the game’s lone goal off a feed from freshman Annie Eaton with 2 minutes, 8 seconds remaining in regulation — the team’s third consecutive 1-0 victory. The 23-win season came without a single senior on the roster.
Three teams other than Brown County came oh-so-close.
Southeastern nearly became the school with the smallest enrollment to win the Class 1A volleyball championship, falling to top-ranked Champaign St. Thomas More in three sets in November. The Suns finished with a school-best 39-3 record. Their second-place trophy tops the third-place trophy Southeastern won in 1981 and the fourth-place trophy from 2001.
The Hannibal football team, behind electric sophomore Aneyas Williams, who already has received scholarship offers from Oregon and Alabama, reached the Class 4 title game, losing to No. 1 Smithville 31-0. It was the second championship game appearance for the Pirates, the first coming in 2006.
Liberty pushed top-ranked Yorkville Christian deeper into a game than any other postseason opponent before falling 54-41 in the Illinois Class 1A boys basketball title game. The Mustangs had won their previous six postseason games by no less than 34 points and the average margin of victory was 44 points.
The Eagles finished with a 30-6 record to earn their fourth state tournament trophy to go along with two fourths (1981 and 2005) and a third (2016).
Individually, Palmyra junior wrestler Collin Arch completed his third undefeated season to win the 138-pound class in the Class 1 championships. He won the 120-pound class as a freshman and the 132-pound class as a sophomore. With a 108-0 high school record, he will try to become only the third wrestler in state history to finish his high school career undefeated next winter.
And Quincy High School sprinter Jettason Rose became the ninth individual state track and field champion in school history in winning the 200-meter dash at the Class 3A state championships. Rose also finished sixth in the 100 dash. He finishes his career with three state medals — he was sixth in the 200 in 2021 — and is tied for the third most medals in school history.
In addition, both the QHS and Southeastern boys basketball teams came within one victory of reaching the final four in their respective classes. And the QHS girls golf team reached the state tourney for the first time in 38 years, finishing seventh.
One more high school event remains on the docket. The inaugural Muddy River Showcase will take place June 18 at John Wood Community College’s Student Activity Center.
The two-game showcase will feature 40 of the region’s top senior basketball players with 10-player teams for both boys and girls in an Illinois vs. Missouri format. The girls game is scheduled to tip at 3 p.m. with the boys game to follow at 5 p.m. General admission tickets are $10.
June all-star basketball games hold a special place.
It was during the 1983 Illinois Class A state tournament in Champaign, while Liberty Coach Paul Kreke and I were staying in the same hotel, that Kreke brought up the idea of creating an annual high school all-star basketball game for seniors in our area.
There were a lot of good players who deserved the recognition and opportunities were few, Paul reasoned.
The result was the McDonald’s/Herald-Whig Classic, which, through a partnership initially spearheaded by Dick Shierling of the local McDonald’s restaurants, Frank Longo of Quincy University and The Herald-Whig, was played every June for 37 years until a pandemic and a newspaper ownership change brought it to an end.
Paul is gone. So are Dick and Frank. The memories they were instrumental in creating for so many high school seniors in West-Central Illinois and Northeast Missouri remain, however.
I will be thinking of them this June as new memories are made.
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