By Jim Henry
Globe Sports Editor
The Webb City Cardinals were nothing short of perfect.
The Cardinals encountered little difficulty in marching to their third consecutive 15-0 season and Class 4 state football championship. They also extended their state-record, regular-season winning streak to 90 games.
“There was pressure this year (for us to win),” said John Roderique, the quarterback and head coach’s son. “But you know what they say — no pressure, no diamonds.”
Webb City’s three-peat — a new accomplishment in its highly decorated tradition — is the No. 1 sports story in the area during 2012 as selected by The Globe’s sports staff.
How dominant was Webb City this season?
• The Cardinals trailed only once the entire season — 7-0 after one quarter against Nixa on Sept. 21. The Cardinals, however, recovered to lead 13-7 at halftime, then tallied 36 second-half points for a 49-21 victory.
• The defense limited 10 opponents to seven points or less, including three shutouts.
• After averaging 45.3 points during the regular season, Webb City won its three district games by a combined 148-24 score and then romped in its state playoff games by scores of 35-6 over Sullivan, 47-7 over St. Louis St. Mary’s and 49-14 over Jefferson City Helias Catholic.
The Cardinal offense included two 1,000-yard rushers — Phoenix Johnson (1,478 yards and 24 touchdowns) and Cooper Smith (1,106 yards, 19 TDs and the son of defensive coordinator Mike Smith). Quarterback Roderique passed for 1,670 yards and 20 scores, and Kohl Slaughter led the receivers with 858 yards and 10 TDs.
Defensive leaders included Dalton Humphrey (108 tackles), Logan Williams (85), Jose Speer (83) and Kiante Hardin (seven interceptions).
Webb City became the sixth school to win at least three straight titles but the first one to go unbeaten and untied all three years. This year’s title was No. 11 for the Cardinals, tying them with Ste. Genevieve Valle for the most in the state.
“I realize what a special thing it’s been,” coach John Roderique said. “What’s amazing is how many hundreds of kids have been involved (over the years) in this whole process. (The streaks) say a lot about the players, the quality of the players and their work ethic.”
2. Two titles for Lamar
Fourteen months ago Lamar High School did not have a team state championship.
Now, it has three.
The Tigers’ football team, after many injuries and two losses during the first three weeks of the season, won its final 12 games and repeated as Class 2 state champion.
Once the regular season ended, the Tigers tallied 70, 69 and 62 points in their district games. In the playoffs Lamar rolled Liberty (Mountain View-Birch Tree) 55-14, Caruthersville 69-12 and Jefferson City Blair Oaks 69-41 after trailing 34-33 after three quarters.
Like the 2011 team, the Tigers’ rushing attack was dominant behind a big, strong offensive line, rolling up 6,417 yards and 89 touchdowns. Quarterback Levi Petersen had 2,137 yards and 35 touchdowns, and running back Jared Beshore had 2,093 yards and 27 TDs despite missing one game.
Linebackers Jade Morgan and Chad Rice logged 133 and 126 tackles, respectively, and Beshore picked off six passes.
Earlier in November the Tigers picked up the school’s second state title when the boys cross country team earned the Class 2 crown. Lamar scored 69 points, and perennial state contender Herculaneum was second with 108.
Lamar sophomore Kaden Overstreet finished second overall, followed by Zachary Ray (14th), Drew Buckner (20th), Zane Hull (26th) and Nicholas Ray (55th).
Like the football team, the cross country team received a warm welcome home.
“What was tremendous was there were a lot of football players at the pep rally when we got back,” Tigers coach Rodney Baldridge said. “That shows you the kind of school spirit we have.”
3. Pittsburg State reaches Elite Eight
Pittsburg State’s best women’s basketball season in school history began with a school-record 14-game winning streak and ended with an appearance in the Elite Eight.
The Gorillas, however, lost to Shaw (N.C.) 61-58 in San Antonio to finish with a 27-6 record. Shaw went on to win the national title.
The Gorillas finished second behind Washburn in the MIAA but were upset by Lincoln in the first round of the conference postseason tournament.
But PSU bounced back in grand style by winning the South Central Regional in Topeka by beating Central Missouri for the third time, Northeastern State for the second time and Emporia State for the third time.
“To do what we did in regional, that says a lot about our basketball team’s toughness,” coach Lane Lord said. “We’ve had some games where we struggled down the stretch, but we didn’t do that in the regional. The Lincoln game was a huge wake-up call for all our kids. We probably had some of our best practices, our most-spirited practices after the MIAA Tournament, and it paid off in the regional.”
4. Governor’s Challenge
To help rebuild from the May 2011 tornado, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon issued the Governor’s Challenge to the St. Louis Cardinals, Kansas City Royals, Kansas City Chiefs, St. Louis Rams, St. Louis Blues, Missouri Tigers and NASCAR.
Each team is responsible to help in the construction of five houses. Homes were completed in the Chiefs neighborhood in November and the Mizzou neighborhood in December.
NASCAR donated 100 maple trees that were planted along an eight-block stretch in November.
And in July, two houses were framed near Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City as part of the All-Star Build. One frame came to Joplin, and the other went to Tuscaloosa, Ala., another tornado-ravaged community. The frames were autographed by MLB players — present and past, including Hank Aaron — and commissioner Bud Selig.
5. Carthage soccer reaches state final
Carthage won a soccer district tournament championship for the fifth consecutive year.
But this time, the Tigers continued their postseason march all the way to the Class 2 championship game where they lost to St. Dominic 2-1.
Down 1-0 at halftime, the Tigers tied the game midway through the second half. But St. Dominic scored the game-winner with five minutes left.
Carthage finished 22-9, the best record in school history.
“I thought the team had good potential,” coach Jacob Osborne said. “It was the first part of October when it started clicking for us. I thought we’d have a good chance to be real dangerous late in the season.”
6. MSSU returns to NCAA Tournament
For the first time in school history, Missouri Southern made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
The Lions, who fell one game short of repeating as MIAA champion, received an at-large bid to the South Central Regional in Wichita Falls, Texas, and lost to second-seeded Tarleton State 69-52.
The Lions trailed 33-30 at halftime, but the Texans’ defense — ranked first nationally at 56.2 points per game — limited the Lions to 32 percent shooting in the second half.
The Lions finished 22-8. Center Keane Thomann was named player of the year in both the MIAA and South Central Region.
7. Mount Vernon claims state title
Mount Vernon beat southwest Missouri foe Stockton 52-48 to earn its second Class 3 girls basketball state championship in the last three years.
The Mountaineers, who finished 26-7, also avenged a regular-season loss to the Tigers.
Mount Vernon’s boys also reached the state semifinals but lost 58-56 to eventual champion Charleston in the semis and 61-43 to Lutheran North in the third-place game.
8. No. 600 for Elbert
Thomas Jefferson basketball coach Cleo Elbert notched victory No. 600 when the Cavaliers defeated Northeast (Arma, Kan.) 39-34 in the second round of the Tony Dubray Classic in Liberal.
Elbert retired as the Cavaliers’ coach after the season, finishing with a 610-317 record in 35 seasons as head coach — five with the East Newton boys, 19 with the Monett girls and 11 with the Thomas Jefferson boys.
9. No. 500 for Cichon, Watt
St. Mary’s-Colgan coaches Wayne Cichon and Mike Watt registered milestone victories about two months apart — and both came against rival Frontenac.
Cichon, the Panthers’ basketball coach the last 29 seasons, picked up his 500th victory on Feb. 10 with a 57-42 decision at Frontenac.
Watt, Colgan’s baseball coach for 27 years, won his 500th game when the Panthers beat Frontenac 3-2 at JayCee Ballpark in Pittsburg.
10. Frontenac wins baseball crown
The Raiders captured the school’s first baseball state championship with a 12-2 victory over Wellsville in Manhattan.
Frontenac, which finished 24-2, downed unbeaten Humboldt 5-1 in the semifinals and defending state champion Silver Lake 5-2 in the quarterfinals.
Sports writers Anvil Welch, Ryan Atkinson, Richard Polen and Mark Schremmer and news writer Kevin McClintock contributed to this story.