Vancleave High’s loaded trophy case is the Sun Herald’s top sports story of 2018

The Vancleave community turned into the Mississippi Gulf Coast’s version of title town in 2018.

The Bulldogs claimed their first baseball state championship by sweeping New Hope in Pearl in May, finishing off a 29-7 campaign in Daniel Best’s first season as a head coach.

That trophy helped earn Sun Herald Player of the Year honors for senior pitcher/outfielder Bailee Hendon and Coach of the Year for Best. Hendon was 11-0 on the mound with a 0.67 ERA. At the plate, the Jones County Junior College signee hit .519 with five homers, 35 RBIs and stole 20 bases.

Under the direction of head coach Haley Chatham, the Vancleave volleyball squad repeated as state champions in October by putting together a 40-2 campaign. The Lady Bulldogs also used a sweep to claim the trophy, taking down Lake Cormorant in Oxford.

In swimming, Vancleave senior Cait Chandler earned individual championships in the 100-yard freestyle and the 200-yard freestyle, giving her eight individual titles in her career. She also helped lead the Lady Bulldogs to team championships in the 200-yard and 400-yard freestyle relays.

Best has moved on to take over the Brandon High School baseball program and Chatham is now the head coach at Pearl River Community College, but not before helping Vancleave land the No. 1 spot in the Sun Herald’s top sports stories for 2018.

The Sun Herald’s other top sports stories for 2018 are:

2. Ocean Springs senior wins homecoming queen and a football game on the same night: Kaylee Foster inspired girls across the nation on Sept. 7.

The senior kicker was named homecoming queen in a pregame ceremony before booting a pair field goals and the decisive extra point in overtime to beat George County 13-12.

Her story immediately went viral across all social media and landed her an spot on “GMA Day,” an ABC TV show co-hosted by Pro Football Hall of Famer Michael Strahan. The soccer standout also appeared on numerous other national broadcasts.

3. Saints clinch top spot in the NFC: The New Orleans Saints are the Super Bowl favorite after clinching the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

The Saints were a popular choice to contend before the season started and they’ve lived up to the expectations, wrapping up the No. 1 seed by beating the Steelers 31-28 on Dec. 23.

4. Mississippi State earns second consecutive Final Four bid: The MSU women’s basketball team is developing quite the tradition under head coach Vic Schaefer. The Bulldogs advanced to the national title game for the second consecutive season before falling 61-58 to Notre Dame on a late 3-pointer. The MSU women finished 37-2.

5. Mississippi State advances to College World Series: The 2018 campaign got off to a strange start with head coach Andy Cannizaro resigning after being sweeped in the season-opening series at Southern Miss. Cannizaro, who acknowledged making “poor decisions” in Starkville, was replaced by Gary Henderson after stepping down on Feb. 20.

The Bulldogs struggled for much of the regular season, but rallied late to earn a spot into the postseason. They managed to win the Tallahassee Regional and took two of three games at Vanderbilt in the Super Regional to land a bid to the CWS. MSU won its first two games in Omaha, but came up one victory short of the title series by falling in back-to-back games to Oregon State.

6. Southern Miss wins C-USA tournament in Biloxi: The Conference USA baseball tournament had a bumpy start at MGM Park thanks to the repeated threat of thunderstorms over the first couple of days, but the Southern Miss baseball team made this year’s event one to remember. After falling 7-4 to Charlotte on Saturday night, USM beat Charlotte 6-0 and FAU 12-3 on Sunday to win its second C-USA tourney title in the last three years.

7. Poplarville wins Class 4A South State: For the second consecutive season, Poplarville and East Central met for the Hornet Bowl in the Class 4A South State title game. This time, it was Poplarville coming out on top with a 33-17 victory in Hurley. Poplarville finished 13-2, dropping the title game 25-20 to Louisville in Hattiesburg the next week.

8. Bobby Hall leaves Biloxi in a fury: Bobby Hall, who is one of the most well-respected football coaches in the state of Mississippi, did not go quietly when he stepped down as the Biloxi head coach in February. He resigned at Biloxi after he and the school district had a disagreement over his contract.

Hall was critical of the state of high school football on the Coast at the time of his resignation.

“Down here (on the Coast), it’s like Conference USA or the Sun Belt. It’s not the SEC West,” Hall said.

Philadelphia hired Hall to take over its program, but he stepped down in August after just two games there.

9. Southern Miss AD leaves, USM misses out on bowl: Dec. 2 was a rough day for the Golden Eagle faithful. Despite being bowl-eligible at 6-5, USM was left out of the postseason. Also on that day, Southern Miss athletic director Jon Gilbert accepted the same job at East Carolina. Gilbert was hired in January of 2017, making his stint in Hattiesburg a relatively short one. USM is still in the process of finding a new athletic director and likely won’t have anybody in place for a while.

10. Shuckers roll to Southern League title series: The Biloxi Shuckers have produced strong teams since arriving in 2015 and the 2018 squad may have been their best yet. Biloxi finished the regular season with the Southern League’s best record at 81-59 and advanced to the Southern League title series, but fell 3-1 to the Jackson (Tenn.) Generals.

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Patrick Magee is a sports writer who has covered South Mississippi for much of the last two decades. From Southern Miss to high schools, he stays on top of it all.