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Trying to come up with a list of the top Anderson County sports stories of 2012 is not an easy proposition for several reasons.
First, the county is, for the most part, only home to scholastic sports. Second, no Anderson County team had a mega-season, as had been the case every year since 2007, when at least one local team vastly exceeded expectations or earned a berth in the Kentucky state tournament.
The year that ended Monday was one that saw a lot of Anderson County teams have very good years, but not the eye-poppers to remember.
It is also difficult because the county's sports allegiances are dominated by the University of Kentucky Wildcats. If you doubt that, compare the crowds at local high school games on the nights when they are being played at the same time UK basketball is on TV with other home dates.
To a much lesser extent, there is also a strong local following for the Cincinnati Reds, Major League Baseball's oldest franchise. Do we count the Wildcats and Reds as part of the local sports scene? We believe you do.
The stories picked are certainly not the only noteworthy happenings in Anderson County and they are selected on the basis of mass impact of the accomplishment.
So with that, here are the picks for Anderson County's five top sports stories of 2012.
1.The University of Kentucky wins the NCAA basketball championship.
John Calipari arrived in Lexington in 2009 with a charge to return a reeling, once-proud basketball program to the top. After seeing the Wildcats go through a perceived decline since winning its last national championship in 1998. The Wildcats had not been bad, routinely winning 20 games a year, but college basketball's winningest program had not made a return to the Final Four since. It was the longest drought in the program's history and things hit rock bottom in a two-year fiasco under former coach Billy Gillispie.
Calipari immediately turned things around, but his first two teams fell short of college basketball's biggest prize. Critics pointed to the fact that his teams were often loaded with freshmen – “one-and-dones” they call them – who would win many games but could not win a 68-team, single-elimination tournament when experience and veteran play would be at a premium.
Kentucky started three extraordinary freshmen and two talented sophomores, but the glue of the team might have been the most unsung, senior Darius Miller, of Maysville.
But the Wildcats stumbled just twice before the tournament version of the one-and-done, then won all six tournament games comfortably for the school's eighth national basketball championship.
Anderson County celebrated accordingly.
2.Anderson County Little League wins the district, then advances to the state semi-finals.
Anderson County had put together some strong Little League all-star teams over the years, but had often come up a hit or a putout away from winning a district crown.
With right-hander Luke Dowell shutting down Mercer County and a batting order that pounded the ball in the championship, Anderson County finally took the district title 10 years after the world's largest youth sports organization returned to Lawrenceburg.
The local team spent a week deep in the mountains at Prestonsburg, but eventually fell in the state semi-finals to Warren South, the eventual state champion.
3.The Cincinnati Reds win the National League's Central Division.
It happened 100 miles north of Lawrenceburg, but that did not mean it did not touch Anderson County. While the passion for the Reds does not match that shown to UK and other major league teams, most notably the New York Yankees, have many fans in the county, Lawrenceburg is still a part of “Reds Country.” Local baseball fans made repeated trips to Great American Ball Park and it was not uncommon to see Anderson County license plates in the parking lots around the stadium. Some were in attendance even as the Reds blew a 2-0 lead to go down in the first round of the playoffs to the eventual World Series Champion San Francisco Giants.
4.Anderson County girls' basketball falters in the regional tournament.
Normally, a team losing in a high school regional tournament is not a huge story. Upsets happen every year.
But it was no ordinary upset when Simon Kenton stunned the Lady Bearcats back on Feb. XX. Anderson had been ranked at the top of the Eighth Region all season. The Lady Bearcats had played a rugged schedule and looked to be hitting on all cylinders going into tournament play.
To add to expectations, the Lady Bearcats were playing the regional on their home court, where they lose about as often as the sun comes up in the west, for the first time ever.
Still there were subtle signs. The team truly missed sophomore point guard Destiny Stewart, who went down with an injury just after Christmas. The Lady Bearcats also had a maddening penchant for slow starts, falling far behind, then coming back to pull out the win at the end.
That formula was one basket short against Simon Kenton.
5.Anderson County football continues a young tradition of excellence.
No one expected Anderson County to return to the Class 5A state football championship game in 2012. The Bearcats were breaking in practically an entire new backfield and had some other holes to plug.
But the Bearcats rolled along. They finished the regular season at 8-2 with both losses being last-second defeats. (Anderson won two in the final minute as well.) It was unfortunate for the Bearcats that their worst game of the season came in the state playoffs against a Cooper team that eventually made it to this year's state final. Yet, the message was clear: Anderson County football will continue to be among the state's best 5A programs.
Other big stories: Anderson basketball wins 21 games in 2011-12, then opens at 6-1going into Christmas in 2012-13; Anderson County softball, girls' soccer and baseball all win 30th District titles; Kaitlyn Riley advances to the state golf tournament for the third straight year and Connor Duncan sets a state middle school record in the 300-meter hurdles.