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Here are five memorable moments for Joe Dooley at Florida Gulf Coast University. Wochit

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The Southwest Florida sports scene saw a lot of success in 2018. There were gold medals and championship trophies collected aplenty as well as great individual and team accomplishments as stars rose to the fore.

With so much to choose from, the Naples Daily News looked at the stories that received a lot of attention from readers on our digital and mobile platforms, the reaction they generated on social media and assessed the weight of stories and their impact on the community to narrow a list down to 10 topics. So here are the stories that had Southwest Florida buzzing over the past 12 months. 

1. All Hail Sale

FGCU alum and Boston Red Sox pitcher Chris Sale had the privilege of throwing the first and last pitches of the World Series as Boston beat the Los Angeles Dodgers in five games. Sale started Game 1 against Clayton Kershaw and allowed three runs in four innings. The Naples resident was then summoned out for the ninth inning in Game 5 and struck out all three Dodgers batters he faced — dropping Manny Machado, the final batter, to one knee as he feebly offered at strike three — to secure the Red Sox's 5-1 victory and clinch Boston's fourth championship in 15 seasons.

More: Chris Sale of FGCU and Naples finishes off Dodgers as Red Sox win World Series

 

2. Eagles go for Fly

Just days after Joe Dooley ended his five-year stint as the FGCU men's basketball coach to take the top job at East Carolina, the Eagles named seven-year assistant men's basketball coach Michael Fly as the program's fourth head coach. Dooley was 114-57 in five FGCU seasons, leading the Eagles to all three of their Atlantic Sun regular-season titles and to two NCAA tournament berths. Fly joined FGCU in 2011-12 with coach Andy Enfield as a video coordinator and worked his way up to earning a chance to run the program.

More: FGCU names longtime assistant Michael Fly as new men's basketball head coach

 

3.  Nothing minor about these teams

The Florida Everblades were close to raising another banner as well, leading 2-1 in Game 7 of the Kelly Cup Finals, but the Blades fell 3-2 at then-Germain Arena to the Colorado Eagles, missing a chance to win a second cup in their 20th season.

Blessed with a collection of top Minnesota Twins prospects like Royce Lewis and Alex Kirilloff, the Fort Myers Miracle won their second Florida State League title by downing Daytona 3 games to 1 in the championship series.

4. Gridiron still king for high schools

High school football is always a big deal in Collier County, and local fans had plenty of talent to watch in 2018. Naples High School senior Chez Mellusi, ranked the seventh-best running back in the country by ESPN, committed to Clemson in the spring then was named to the All-American Bowl in San Antonio, Texas in the fall. Mellusi then led Naples to its third regional championship in four seasons under head coach Bill Kramer, who was inducted into the Florida High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame in April.

Golden Gate senior Jouvensly Bazil (who dropped the “e” from his name) signed with Washington State in December. St. John Neumann quarterback Jensen Jones, who accounted for an astonishing 48 touchdowns, was named the Class 2A Player of the Year.

The year started with two Collier kids playing in the 2018 All-American Bowl in January – Gulf Coast tight end George Takacs, now at Notre Dame, and Golden Gate long snapper Oscar Shadley, now at Virginia Tech.

More: Prep Football: U.S. Army All-American Bowl is last hurrah for Naples' Takacs, Shadley

5. Golf capital remains strong

The only metropolitan area with three professional tour events on the PGA (QBE Shootout), LPGA (CME Group Tour Championship) and PGA Tour Champions (Chubb Classic) did it again in 2018.

Joe Durant held off part-time Naples resident Steve Stricker to win what turned out to be the final Chubb at TwinEagles back in February. The tournament will be back at The Classics at Lely Resort, which hosted it in 1996, this coming February.

More: Chubb Classic: Joe Durant closes strong to beat Steve Stricker

Lexi Thompson exorcised some 2017 demons by winning the CME Group Tour Championship. She missed a short par putt last year that could've won the tournament. Ariya Jutanugarn finished off the $1 million Race to the CME Globe, as Thompson and Ariya swapped the two titles from 2017.

More: CME Group Tour Championship: Lexi Thompson, Ariya Jutanugarn big winners again in Naples

Patton Kizzire and Brian Harman weren't originally partners. And even when the two friends normally play together, they're on opposite teams. But in December, the two won the QBE Shootout over Graeme McDowell and Emiliano Grillo as Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort once again pulled off hosting two professional tour events in a matter of weeks.

More: QBE Shootout: Brian Harman/Patton Kizzire win by 1 over Graeme McDowell, Emiliano Grillo

6. College Football Success

South Fort Myers grad Antwan Dixon played his first football in two years and became Kent State's leading receiver as a junior after finally getting past aplastic anemia, a rare blood disorder. Dixon — who received a bone marrow transplant from his father, Anthony, an assistant at Lehigh, in 2017 — was named one of the Mayo Clinic's three Comeback Player(s) of the Year. He'll be honored on the field of the Fiesta Bowl during the Tuesday night game.

Former Naples High quarterback Michael Walker had a big last season as a wide receiver and, more important, return specialist for Boston College. For the second straight season, Walker led the nation in combined kickoff and punt return yardage, his 1,294 yards more than 300 past Isaiah Wright's 976 for Temple. He was named a second-team, All-ACC selection as a kick returner. Walker was seventh nationally in punt returns with an average of 13.7 years and 22nd in kickoff returns at 25.5.

More: College football: Michael Walker, Naples all over Boston College's field last Saturday

Jeshaun Jones of South Fort Myers was named the CBS Sports National Freshman of the Week after an amazing debut for Maryland during which the wide receiver scored on a reception, run and pass in the season-opening upset of Texas.

More: College football: South Fort Myers' Jeshaun Jones on his historic debut with Maryland

7. Buggies to pickleball 

Naples continued its phenomenon with sports a bit out of the ordinary.

Swamp buggy racing, Naples' original sport, bounced back from a natural disaster and celebrated a big anniversary in 2018. Florida Sports Park, which houses the “Mile-O-Mud” where the swamp buggies race, sustained enough damage from Hurricane Irma that the Fall Classic was canceled in 2017. Drivers and fans came together to repair the park, and racing resumed in January. Dan Greenling won the Bud Cup for the 2018 season, which crammed three races into three months to avoid another fall rainout. Then in November, the Swamp Buggy Races celebrated the start of their 70th season, dating back to when local hunters would parade their buggies through town on their way to hunt in the Everglades each fall.

 

Meanwhile, the Minto U.S. Open Pickleball Championships continued to grow — like the sport itself across the country — in its third year at East Naples Community Park, with over 2,000 participants, with ages from 10 to 91, in April.

More: Swamp Buggy Races: Barefoot Bobby Williams wins Fall Classic when Greenling's buggy stalls

More: All ages, from 10 to 91, compete at U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in Naples

 

8.  FGCU women with upsets

China Dow scored 21 points and played stingy defense as the No. 12 seed FGCU women's basketball team pulled off an upset in the Lexington Regional with an 80-70 win against fifth-seeded Missouri. It was the second NCAA tournament win for the Eagles, who made their fifth NCAA appearance in just seven eligible seasons. They lost to fourth-seeded Stanford (23-10) in the next round.

More: College basketball: FGCU women upset Missouri in NCAA tournament at Stanford

The FGCU volleyball team made its first NCAA appearance and knocked off its region’s top seed UCF in five games. The Eagles couldn't advance beyond that, losing to Florida in the region final.

More: College volleyball: FGCU upsets UCF in first-ever NCAA tournament match

9. State Champions -- again

Gulf Coast High School had the best boys soccer team in the state – again --- in 2018. The Sharks won the Class 4A championship in dramatic fashion, in an overtime goal from Sebastian Joffre to beat Neptune Beach-Fletcher. The state title completed Gulf Coast’s red-hot finish to the year. The Sharks started the season 7-6-1 but went unbeaten in their final 15 games. Alan Scott, a 2006 Gulf Coast alum in his 10th season coaching his alma mater, was named 4A Coach of the Year.

More: Prep boys soccer: Sebastian Joffre lifts Gulf Coast to 4A state title in overtime

​10. From Fridays to Sundays

The elite group of Collier County graduates to make it to the NFL expanded this season. Immokalee High alumni Deadrin Senat and J.C. Jackson made big contributions in the pros as rookies.

Senat was drafted in the third round by the Atlanta Falcons this spring and has played in 15 games, starting two, and making 30 tackles. Jackson was signed as an undrafted free agent by the New England Patriots, where he has played in 13 games, starting five, and is tied for 17th in the NFL with three interceptions.

Senat, Jackson and Minnesota Vikings cornerback Mackensie Alexander (15 games this season with six starts with 40 tackles, 10 passes defensed and 4 sacks) all played on the 2012 Immokalee team that went to the state finals.

More: NFL Draft: Former Immokalee teammates Senat, Jackson, others hope to see dreams come true

Carlos Hyde, a 2009 Naples High grad, joined the Cleveland Browns for his fifth NFL season but was traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars midseason. Barron Collier graduate Jeff Heuerman, in his fourth season, was having the best year of his career – 31 receptions for 281 yards and two touchdowns – before breaking three ribs in the Denver Broncos’ 12th game and missing the rest of the season.

 

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