The second decade of the 21st century begins Friday. Before taking down that old calendar, however, these 10 stories from 2009 are worth revisiting:

The second decade of the 21st century begins Friday. Before taking down that old calendar, however, these 10 stories from 2009 are worth revisiting:

1: TWICE AS NICE - It's been said that staying on top is harder than getting there in the first place. That was the challenge facing the Lakewood High School softball team as it began the season as the defending Division III state champion.

Fortunately for the Lancers, they returned much of their lineup after winning Licking County's only state title in the sport a year earlier.
That group included senior pitcher Alissa Birkhimer, who already signed to play at Akron.

Eventually, Birkhimer's leadership and a wealth of experience playing behind her proved to be enough.

The Lancers defeated Youngstown Ursuline 5-0 in the state final June 6 in Firestone Stadium, with Birkhimer leading the way with a three-run homer in the bottom of the fifth inning on the same field where she'll play in college. She also pitched a four-hitter, striking out nine with no walks.

The victory capped a 30-4 season, and it gave the Central District a state championship in Division III for a fourth consecutive season after Bloom-Carroll won back-to-back titles in 2006 and '07.

"On the bus ride home last year from Akron (following a 5-3 victory over Wellington in the state final), I remember saying to her, 'Alissa, you're going to have to be even better next year,'" coach Criss Nadolson said. "And she was."

Birkhimer fashioned a 22-2 record and 0.29 ERA last spring with 192 strikeouts. She also was a force at the plate, batting .462 with nine home runs and 39 RBI. She was named ThisWeek's Player of the Year for a third time, and she graduated with a 93-12 career pitching record and 759 strikeouts.

According to the OHSAA's Web site, Birkhimer's career win total is tied for third all-time with Akron Springfield's Alanna Barker (1992-95) and Sidney's Laura Watkins (1986-89).

Topping that list is Molly Binz, who won a record 108 games but no state titles playing for Springfield Kenton Ridge from 1999-2002, and Jamie Wonderly, who won 95 games and three state championships with Gibsonburg from 2000-03.

"She's been a once-in-a-lifetime player for a coach," Nadolson said. "She's a special kid, no question, but she never acted that way. I can't remember any time when she was not willing to accept criticism and accept coaching. That's why she kept getting better from day one."



2: MORE PITCHING FEATS - Pataskala's Eric Arnett, a 2006 Watkins Memorial graduate, had only one season to speak of while playing at Indiana University, but it sure did pay off.

Arnett, who was named the Big Ten's co-Pitcher of the Year as a junior last spring after he posted a 12-2 record and 2.50 ERA with six complete games and 109 strikeouts. He was selected in the first round of the Major League Baseball draft on June 9. Taken by the Milwaukee Brewers with the 26th pick overall, Arnett reportedly received a signing bonus of more than $1 million.

"At the beginning of the season, I had a good feeling and I was hoping that I'd end up getting drafted," he said after his name was announced, bringing a collective cheer that nearly shook the rafters at Ziggy's Bar & Grill, where about 200 friends and family members gathered with him to watch the event on television. "It wasn't until the last three or four weeks that I thought I could be in the first round. It's been a fun experience, and I've enjoyed it."

Despite throwing 108 innings at Indiana, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound right-hander still made nine starts and appeared in 14 games overall pitching last summer for the Helena (Mont.) Brewers in the Pioneer League. He went 0-4 with a 4.47 ERA, striking out 35 batters in 34 2/3 innings.

And while Arnett's professional career was just getting started, 2005 Newark graduate Derek Holland's moved into full swing as he became a starting pitcher in the Texas Rangers' rotation.

He made his big-league debut by throwing 2 1/3 scoreless relief innings during an 8-7 loss on April 22 at Toronto, and he completed his rookie season with an 8-13 record and 6.12 ERA. Holland won three consecutive starts at one point beginning with a three-hit shutout to defeat the Los Angeles Angels 7-0 on Aug. 9.

A 25th-round pick in the 2006 amateur draft, he had been named the Rangers' Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2008.



3: PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT - Although a strong tailwind hindered most of the contenders, Newark Catholic's Clay Harris used it to his advantage as the discus finals played out during the Division III state track and field meet June 5 at Ohio State. His winning throw measured 166 feet, 7 inches, and that effort enabled the junior to better a stellar field headlined by defending-champion Nate Bratka of West Liberty-Salem.

Even better, Newark Catholic teammate Luke Webster joined Harris on the podium after Webster placed fifth at 160-8.

"It's just the opposite of what you want," Green Wave throwing coach Jim Harris, Clay's father, said of the tailwind. "It's like a plane taking off into the wind, which helps it get airborne. It's the same principle at work. A tailwind will actually knock the discus down, and I knew from watching the Division II girls (competition) earlier that day that they were having trouble with it.

"But at our school, we have the pit set up so that we're usually throwing with a tailwind, and having that experience really helped our guys. The wind can affect the discus 5 to 15 feet, but it this case it worked to our advantage."

Clay Harris, who is weighing scholarship offers in both track and football, became Newark Catholic's first boys state champion since Dan Webb won the 800 meters in 1996. His state title was the county's only one in an individual sport during 2009.



4: UNBEATABLE DOWN THE STRETCH - The Newark Generals began the New Year with a 4-1 loss on Jan. 4 against their long-time nemesis, the PRPC Ice Prowlers.

That dropped Newark's record to 5-5 overall, but it would be the last time it tasted defeat for the rest of the season. The Generals closed with a spectacular 28-0-4 run that was capped by a 4-1 win over the Ice Prowlers in the title game at the fifth-annual Buckeye Cup Ohio High School Club Hockey State Championship Tournament on March 8 at Chiller North.

Along the way, the once-downtrodden Generals posted two other program firsts. They finished 13-5-2 with 28 points to win the Greater Columbus High School Club Hockey League's regular season title, and they also posted 4-3 and 3-1 victories over PRPC in consecutive games to win the league's Blue Jackets Cup.

Overall, the Generals went 6-1-1 against rival PRPC, becoming the GCHSCHL's first team to sweep the three championships in the process.

"I never expected to see PRPC eight times," fourth-year coach Don Jennings said, "and six wins against one of the best teams in the league since it started (in 1999) is phenomenal."



5: STORMED BY THE BLUE ACES AGAIN - With Central District career rushing leader Storm Klein playing on special teams as a true freshman at Ohio State, the Licking Valley football team finally let up on the stranglehold it had on the MSL-Ohio Division.

After weathering an upset bid by Heath two weeks earlier, the Panthers were subdued 35-12 on Oct. 2 at Granville, which ended Licking Valley's 34-game league winning streak that dated to 2004.

The Panthers eventually finished 5-5 overall and shared fourth place in the MSL-Ohio with Newark Catholic at 4-3 each. Granville and Columbus Academy shared the title as both went 6-1, and Heath finished third at 5-2.

"It's an awesome feeling," said Granville's Austen Harrison, who anchored the defensive effort against the Panthers with 14 solo tackles, nine assists, an interception and fumble recovery. "Those guys have been so good for so long."

Coincidentally, it also was Granville that ended the Panthers' 44-game regular-season winning streak back in 2003, when it won at home 35-33.

Still, Licking Valley clearly was Licking County's best team over the course of the decade. The Panthers went 105-23 overall, qualifying for the playoffs eight times while advancing to two state finals.



6: SEEING DOUBLE - Led by 1,000-yard rushers Charles Gresham and Nelson Scott, the Heath football team qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1990 to conclude Licking County's longest postseason drought.

Gresham rushed for 1,729 and 29 touchdowns during the regular season despite missing parts of three games down the stretch because of an ankle injury, and he set the single-game school record with a 404-yard effort during a 47-27 home win over Columbus Academy on Oct. 9. Nelson contributed 1,037 rushing yards as one of 28 central-Ohio players to surpass 1,000-yard barrier during the regular season, but the Bulldogs were the only team to have two players accomplish the feat.

"I'm sure both those guys will tell you they owe an awful lot to the offensive line," said coach Mark Collier, whose team posted a 9-3 overall record and won the school's first home playoff game by blasting Chillicothe Zane Trace 48-9 in a quarterfinal as the third seed in Division IV, Region 15.

Gresham finished with a single-season school-record 1,998 rushing yards while scoring 35 touchdowns, earning ThisWeek's Player of the Year honor.

Utica, which hasn't been to the playoffs since 2000, now owns the county's longest postseason drought.



7: COMING BACK FOR MORE - Following a one-year hiatus, it was announced Sept. 22 that the Babe Ruth 16-18-years-old World Series will be returning to Newark in 2010.

The event will be held Aug. 4-12 at Don Edwards Park.

The effort to bring back the World Series, which was held last summer in Puget Sound, Wash., was spearheaded by Dan DeLawder, Pat Jeffries and Eschol Curl. They helped secure $50,000 in new funding to help offset the estimated $125,000 it costs to put on the event.
Newark most recently played host to the World Series from 2004-08. The city also staged the event in 1979, '80, '83, '88 and '93.



8: RENEWED HOOPS DREAMS - The Lakewood boys basketball team went 17-4 overall under second-year coach Zach Parr, and it was 11-3 in the MSL-Ohio to earn its first league title since 1980 in the old Licking County League.

The Lancers were 9-1 at home during the regular season, which included a key 62-50 second-round victory over Newark Catholic on Feb. 4. The Green Wave went 10-4 in the league and had to settle for second place, but that disappointment proved to be short-lived as it eventually won a Division IV district championship while finishing 21-5 overall under third-year coach Drew Meister, earning a spot in the regional tournament for the first since 1976.

Moreover, the Granville girls team went 17-4 overall under first-year coach Sue Borchers and was 12-2 in the MSL-Ohio to share the title with Newark Catholic.

The Blue Aces had finished 4-17 in 2007-08.



9: SHINING AT THE SHRINE - Vaughn's Barber Shop defeated Park National Bank 7-1 in the final to win the Licking County Shrine Tournament's Varsity Division Tournament on July 16 at the Mound City Little League Complex.

Pitcher Cory West's bid for a third consecutive no-hitter ended when he allowed a first-inning single, but he struck out 15 as Vaughn's finished the summer with a 36-0 record.

"It's an excellent way for most of these guys to end their Little League careers," coach Mark Spivey said.

Slagle-Kiser Dental survived a furious six-run rally by Unum Insurance in the bottom of the sixth inning to win the Farm Division title with a 10-9 victory.



10: IT'S GOOD! - Jordan Spurlock, who would later say he entertained hopes of trying out for the Columbus Destroyers before the Arena Football League decided not to play the 2009 season, made his final prep kicks quite memorable as his team rallied for a 13-7 victory in the 28th-annual Licking County-Muskingum Valley All-Star Game on July 24 in Zanesville.

Spurlock, a Newark spring graduate, forced a tie at 7 with an extra-point during the third quarter.

He then added two field goals before the quarter ended, the first of which came from 51 yards out for a 10-7 lead with 5 minutes, 39 seconds remaining.

He also kicked a 32-yarder as Licking County scored on all three third-quarter possessions to pull even in the series at 14 wins apiece.

"I knew I hit it really solid," Spurlock, who was named Licking County's Player of the Game, said of the 51-yard field goal. "Then I looked up and saw the ball going through the posts. It's an awesome feeling, especially on one that long."