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Christian takes over for Clark at D-B, McClung-led Gate City title top sports stories

Jeff Birchfield and Kevin Mays • Dec 30, 2018 at 7:24 PM

A new era began in Dobyns-Bennett football. Gate City basketball and internet sensation Mac McClung thrilled overflowing crowds on their way to the school’s first state championship. Those intriguing narratives were the Kingsport Times News’ top sports stories for Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia in 2018.


1. Christian takes over for Clark at D-B

A new era in Dobyns-Bennett football was guaranteed on March 6 with the announcement that longtime coach Graham Clark would be retiring after 233 wins and 25 years as the Indians’ coach.

Six weeks later, Dobyns-Bennett officially named Joey Christian, an assistant with the Indians since 2003, as the new head coach. Facing a brutal schedule, Christian went 4-6 in his first season.

There were some highlights, including the Tribe snapping a six-game losing streak against rival Science Hill on Aug. 31. Ian Hicks ran in the winning touchdown with just over a minute remaining in the 24-21 victory. A week later, the Indians annihilated Sevier County 55-0 on homecoming.

D-B struggled through the middle part of the season, losing to Farragut, Alcoa and Bearden. The Indians finished strong and sent the senior class out as winners with victories over Morristown West and Jefferson County.

2. Neglia DQ leads to Hutchins winning state

Dobyns-Bennett’s Sasha Neglia was leading Science Hill’s Jenna Hutchins nearing the final stretch of the TSSAA Large Schools girls cross country championships when controversy ensued.

With spectators in the way close to the home straightaway, Neglia cut in front of a tree she was supposed to go behind. She got back on course after having cut 20 meters or so then crossed the finish line in 17:25, appearing to win a third straight state championship. Neglia was later disqualified after a lengthy discussion among officials resulted in Hutchins, who completed the course in 17:37, winning the state title.

Neglia, the Times News Female Athlete of the Year for Northeast Tennessee, nevertheless had a terrific track and cross country season overall. Her year included winning a state championship in the 1,600 meters and earning All-America honors at the Nike Cross Nationals.

3. ETSU football wins share of Southern Conference title

East Tennessee State’s football team began the year with modest expectations.

A new coach was brought in, and although Randy Sanders had an impressive resume, the general feeling was that he’d need some time to build the program into a winner.

As it turned out, his predecessor Carl Torbush left behind some pretty impressive talent.

In Sanders’ first season, he coached the Bucs to a share of the Southern Conference championship and the school’s first playoff appearance since 1996.

ETSU went 8-3 in the regular season before losing 34-27 to Jacksonville State in the first round of the FCS playoffs.

Along the way, the Bucs earned some impressive individual accolades. Sanders was chosen as the coach of the year in the Southern Conference. Center Matt Pyke and safety Tyree Robinson were named first-team All-Americans by The Associated Press, and several other players earned mention on other All-America teams.

4. Sullivan Central ends 36-game losing streak

Sullivan Central’s senior football players had never won a varsity game heading into the 2018 season. Still, the attitude was not if, but when they would finally break a three-year losing streak.

The answer came on Oct. 5 when the Cougars defeated Sullivan East 51-42 to earn a victory for the first time in 1,435 days. Fans stormed the field for a celebration of the school’s first win since October 2014.

Joey Byrd’s 63-yard touchdown run gave Central a 43-42 lead with 4:35 to play and after an East fumble, Byrd scored again with 1:13 left. Jackson Harrison ran in a 2-point conversion to put away the game.

5. K-Mets reach Appalachian League playoffs

The Kingsport Mets made the Appalachian League playoffs or the first time since 2015.

The Mets were one win away from playing for the championship before a 5-2 loss to the Elizabethton Twins in a deciding Game 3 sent them home.

Kingsport finished 33-35, but that was good enough to claim the West Division’s second playoff spot by two games over Johnson City and Bristol. Luis Santana hit .348 to lead the way.


1. Internet sensation McClung leads Gate City to state title

Gate City romped to the first state basketball championship in school history and star guard Mac McClung became an internet sensation.

McClung became the leading scorer in Virginia high school history, his 2,801 points eclipsing the former record of 2,770 held by 2001 NBA Most Valuable Player Allen Iverson.

In the Class 2 state championship game, McClung scored 47 points in the Blue Devils’ 80-65 victory over R.E. Lee of Staunton. It wasn’t just the points; it was the way McClung scored many of them. His exciting array of dunks, steals and off-balance shots made him an internet darling.

He hasn’t slowed, scoring 38 points on Dec. 24 for Georgetown in a win over Little Rock, which earned him national freshman of the week honors. The Blue Devils also have continued to roll this season: Zac Ervin scored 49 points recently in a win over Northeast Tennessee powerhouse Science Hill.

2. Wise Central girls continue championship tradition

Wise Central continued its dominance of VHSL Class 2 with its second straight girls basketball state championship and fourth in the past five seasons.

The Lady Warriors took a decisive 64-43 win over Buffalo Gap in the title game behind Brook Porter’s 20 points and Dee Cvetnich’s double-double of 16 points and 12 rebounds.

The championship game was indicative of the power Central has shown under coach Robin Dotson. The Lady Warriors never trailed, holding the Lady Bison to 26.7 percent from the field with just one field goal in the first quarter. In addition, they pulled down 24 offensive rebounds.

3. Union wins school’s first state golf championship

The Union golf team finished 23 strokes better than runner-up Wilson Memorial to win the VHSL Class 2 championship in October at Lonesome Pine Country Club.

Not only was the win the first state golf championship for Union, but it also was the first state title of any athletic team in the school’s eight-year history.

The victory also marked the first time a Wise County school won a state championship in a boys sport since the county school system consolidated its six high schools to three in the 2011-12 school year.

Four Union golfers kept their scores below 80. Austin Schlobohm carded a career-best 73 at LPCC to tie for the lowest score of the tournament. Other scores included Evan Blanton with a 74, Wes Slagle with a 77 and Cole Stanley with a 79.

4. Mitchell begins football career at Virginia Tech

Former Union star James Mitchell started his college career at Virginia Tech, seeing action in all 12 regular-season games and starting at tight end in the home finale against Marshall.

Mitchell played on both offense and special teams in his first year with the Hokies. His role is expected to expand next season after a high school career in which he was named all-state for four years and included a state semifinal appearances in 2017.

In June, Mitchell joined Avery Jenkins, Dakota Owens and Ty Cockerel on the Bears’ state championship-winning 4x100-meter relay team.

Mitchell and the Hokies are scheduled to close out the year against Cincinnati in the Military Bowl on Monday at noon.

5. Eastside has most successful season ever

Eastside’s boys basketball team came within three points of bringing a state championship back to Coeburn in March.

Lancaster ended the Spartans’ dreams in the VHSL Class 1 championship game focusing on containing Eastside star Luke Lawson. The strategy worked, although Lawson still managed to get 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Colyn Sturgill, who along with Lawson made the all-state team, led the Spartans with 18 points and Adam Ketron scored a dozen.

Eastside, which reached the final by beating George Wythe in an overtime thriller, ended the season at 26-4 — the best record in school history.

That mark could already be in jeopardy. With key returners like Nick Livingston, the Spartans have gotten off to another strong start to the 2018-19 season.

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