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Top 10 sports stories of 2021 in the Lowcountry

Raven Saunders, of the United States, poses with her silver medal on women's shot put at the...
Raven Saunders, of the United States, poses with her silver medal on women's shot put at the 2020 Summer Olympics, Sunday, Aug. 1, 2021, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)(Francisco Seco | AP)
Published: Dec. 23, 2021 at 7:50 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - 2021 was another busy year for sports in the Lowcountry. Before the new year, take a look back at some of the biggest moments we covered in the past 12 months.

#10. Stingrays make run to Kelly Cup Finals

Our list begins with the Stingrays who, despite barely squeaking into the playoffs, went on an big postseason run to reach the Kelly Cup Finals. The Rays, who had to push their home games to the ice palace because of a scheduling conflict at the North Charleston Coliseum, would upset the conference’s top seed Florida in the first round and take out their rivals from Greenville in the semifinals. Three upsets in a row was just too much as the Rays would come up short in the championship round falling to Fort Wayne 3 games to 1. It was the 6th time the Rays reached the Kelly Cup finals.

#9. Battery fire Mike Anhaeuser

At number 9, the end of an era for the Charleston Battery as Mike Anhaeuser was let go as the teams head coach back in November. Anhaeuser had been a member of the organization in the Lowcountry since he came as a player back in 1994. He became an assistant coach in 1999 and took over as the head coach in 2004. In that time he led the Battery to championships in 2010 and 2012 and the US Open Cup finals in 2008. He was a 2 time USL coach of the year and was inducted into the league’s hall of fame in 2013. But the Battery missed the playoffs in 2021 for the first time since 2007.

#8. Earl Grant leaves CofC

Number 8, another coaching change in the Lowcountry. Earl Grant leaving the college of Charleston after 7 seasons. The North Charleston native, who helped the Cougars get back to the NCAA Tournament for the 1st time in 2 decades back in 2018, left CofC to become a head coach in the ACC and took over the job at Boston College. Grant won 127 games and made 2 postseason appearances in his tenure. The College replaced Grant with former Winthrop head coach Pat Kelsey.

#7. Trevor Lawrence goes with top pick of the NFL Draft

Number 7 is the number 1 pick of the NFL Draft…Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence became the first Tiger to go first overall when he was selected by the Jacksonville Jaguars in April. Lawrence put together one of the greatest careers in Clemson history leading the Tigers to a 34-2 record as a starter. 3 trips to the college football playoff and a national championship in 2019. The move to the NFL hasn’t been so smooth as Lawrence has already lost more games this season than he did in college and high school combined.

#6. Raven Saunders wins Silver Medal in the Olympics

At number 6, a silver medal for Raven Saunders. The Burke alum finished 2nd in the shot put at the Olympics in July with a throw of 19.79 meters in Tokyo. For Saunders, who was competing in her 2nd Olympic games, it was her first Olympic medal. Styled with green and purple hair, Saunders became one of the lasting images of the games when she made the symbol of an X on the medal podium which she said represented the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet. But tragedy would strike Saunders just days later, as she had to return to the Lowcountry after the death of her mother.

“My thing is, especially when thinking about my mom and how concerned she was for my mental (health), is making sure that I show people that despite everything you can always, always, always keep fighting, you can keep pushing, you can keep striving, you can keep surviving.” Saunders would say.

#5. Jasmine Camacho-Quinn wins Gold Medal in the 100m hurdles in the Olympics

We continue at number and another Olympic medalist from the Lowcountry. Fort Dorchester alum Jasmine Camacho Quinn took home the gold medal in the women’s 100 meter hurdles at the summer games in Tokyo back in August. Camacho-Quinn who was running for her mother’s native Puerto Rico, set an Olympic record running in 12.26 seconds, the 4th fastest recorded time in history. She would return home in October and was honored at halftime of a Patriots football game.

#4. RiverDogs win 1st pro baseball title in Charleston in almost 100 years

At number 4, the Charleston RiverDogs…it had been almost 100 years since a team from Charleston had won a professional baseball championship. The Dogs changed that in 2021 winning the Low-A title by beating the Down East Wood Ducks in 5 games. The win was the first championship in the history of the club as well. The clincher game in the deciding game of the series at the Joe in September which the Riverdogs earned by having the best record in all of minor league baseball this season. Ben Brecht won the clincher on the mound for Charleston going 6 scoreless innings and allowing just 2 hits.

#3. Khris Middleton wins NBA title and Olympic Gold Medal

Number 3, a dream season for Khris Middleton. The Porter-Gaud alum’s career resume got a lot more impressive in 2021 as Middleton added not only his first NBA Championship in July, he followed that up a few weeks later with an Olympic gold medal as part of the USA national team in Tokyo at the summer games. Middleton helped the Milwaukee Bucks win the NBA title scoring 17 points in their series clinching win over the Phoenix Suns.

#2. Clemson beats South Carolina in the return of the Palmetto Bowl

At number 2, the return of the rivalry. After not playing during the 2020 season because of the pandemic, the Clemson-south Carolina rivalry game was renewed in November for the first time in almost 2 full years. The result though was the same has it’s been most of the last decade. The Tigers dominated the Gamecocks, 30-0 to win their 7th straight Palmetto Bowl. It ties the record for the longest win streak in the series history. Unlike past seasons that saw Clemson throw the ball all over the field, this time, the Tigers did their damage on the ground rushing for 265 yards and 3 TD’s while the defense gave up just over 200 yards of total offense.

#1. Phil Mickelson wins PGA Championship at the Ocean Course

And at number 1…a new king on Kiawah…Back in May, the PGA Championship was held at the Ocean Course for the 2nd time. The best players in the world gathered in the Lowcountry to battle for one of the sports major titles. But it was Phil Mickelson, one of the sports all-time greats, who shocked everyone by ending the weekend atop the leaderboard. With the 2 stroke win, Mickelson became the oldest major winner in tour history and also the first player to win a major championship after the age of 50. In a tournament that was almost dominated by the course, Mickelson shot 6 under to beat Brooks Koepka and Louis Oosthuizen.

“Certainly one of the moments I’ll cherish my entire life.” Mickelson said. “I don’t know how to describe the feeling of excitement and fulfillment and accomplishment to do something when -- you know, of this magnitude when very few people thought that I could”

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