This week (and next), a countdown of the sporting events I enjoyed most in 2010.
10) Tigers 24, MTSU 17 (September 18) — Most local football fans knew the 2010 season would be a long one for the U of M. But I’m not sure anyone leaving the Liberty Bowl after the season’s third game — and home opener — knew they’d seen the last time these Tigers would score as many as 20 points in a game. Or the last time these Tigers would win a game. Gregory Ray scored on a 9-yard dash early in the second quarter and freshman quarterback Ryan Williams connected with Jermaine McKenzie for a 22-yard score shortly thereafter. The Tigers led 17-10 at the half, then traded touchdowns with the Blue Raiders in the third quarter. With two touchdowns and 121 yards rushing, Ray had the starring role offensively in the only game to smile about last fall.
9) Redbirds 3, Royals 2 (July 20) — I love introducing baseball fans to AutoZone Park. On this night, a friend from Cincinnati — devoted to his Reds and their Great American Ballpark — joined me behind the home team’s dugout for a nail-biter with division-rival Omaha. St. Louis Cardinal rightfielder Ryan Ludwick — in his first at-bat on a rehab assignment — launched a home run over the centerfield wall to give Memphis a two-run first-inning lead. Also on the field was former Redbirds star Rick Ankiel. Like Ludwick, Ankiel was a member of the 2008 Cardinal outfield and, like Ludwick, was rehabbing an injury on his way back to the Kansas City Royals. (He went 0-4 with three strikeouts.) Lance Lynn struck out 11 Royals and Josh Kinney pitched the ninth to earn a save and send our Ohio visitor home suitably impressed.
8) Tigers 78, Arkansas State 71 (December 1) — A good scare can do wonders for a young basketball team. Playing their first game in a week (perhaps still stuffed with turkey leftovers), the 14th-ranked Tigers hosted the Arkansas State Red Wolves, winners of one of their first six games. Form held early, as Memphis stormed out to a 23-5 lead. But then the sloppiness took over. Turnovers, breakdowns on defense, lazy jump shots. Only a missed free throw by ASU’s Daniel Bryant allowed the Tigers to force the game into overtime. Freshman point guard Joe Jackson — benches for some of that defensive sloppiness — returned to the floor with the Tigers down four and 3:30 to play. Memphis scored 13 of the game’s final 15 points. The crowd of over 16,000 didn’t so much applaud as exhale.
7) Memphis 2, Southern Miss 0 (October 3) — Watch out, Josh Pastner. Women’s soccer coach Brooks Monaghan is building (or has built) an institution at the U of M. The Tigers won their fourth consecutive Conference USA championship this fall and earned their fourth straight berth in the NCAA tournament. And for the second straight year, Memphis suited up an All-America (senior midfielder Vendula Strnadova). On a bright, chilly Sunday afternoon at the Mike Rose Soccer complex, my family and I enjoyed a 2-0 Tiger win. The Tigers set a nice standard for my two daughters, already soccer veterans themselves. Taylor Isenhower and Emmaleigh Davis found the net to earn the eighth of 15 wins this year for Memphis.
6) Lakers 99, Grizzlies 98 (February 23) — All Kobe Bryant needs is an opening. On this night, in front of 18,119 — the third sellout of the 2009-10 season at FedExForum — the Grizzlies provided him two. Leading 96-92 with under two minutes to play, Memphis coach Lionel Hollins was given a technical foul for protesting an offensive foul called against the Griz. Bryant drained the free throw. Then clinging to a 98-96 lead with 18 seconds left, O.J. Mayo went to the foul line with a chance to ice the game. With 25 points, Mayo had been the offensive star as Memphis led most of the second half. But he missed both free throws. Bryant proceeded to drain a three-pointer with four seconds left to win the game for the NBA’s reigning champs. The fact that this was Bryant’s first game back after missing five with an ankle injury only seemed to sharpen his dagger. Way too many fans dressed in purple and gold, happy with the outcome.
Next week: The top five.