Sports Flashback 1971: Linden wins last County Tourney

In 1971 the small county schools participated in the last Montgomery County Tourney before consolidation. Bragging rights were on the line as Ladoga, New Market, New Ross, Waveland, Waynetown, Coal Creek, Linden and Darlington were determined to claim the last county tourney trophy. Linden, with the county’s leading scorer, Daryl Warren, averaging 29 points a game, and Darlington, with the county’s second leading scorer, Terry Cain, averaging almost 26 points per game, were considered the favorites. The Bulldogs and Indians had outstanding records and well-balanced teams with considerable talent. Waveland was the only other team with a winning record, and their top scorer, Ron Bruner, averaged almost 20 points per contest.

In the first round, Linden had a scare as New Ross, with Joe Carter and Dave Kreps leading the way, almost tied the game in the last quarter before the Bulldogs won 80-71. Daryl Warren led all players with 38 points, while Keith Airey and Carl Binford combined for 29 points to seal the victory. Darlington easily defeated the Coal Creek Bearcats 87-54, as all 10 players scored in the contest. New Market downed Waynetown 84-76, with Bill Craig and Bill Ray each scoring 19 points. The Glads were led by Don Pittman who scored 25 points, with Mike Strickler adding 16 points and 17 rebounds. But 25 turnovers spelled doom for the Waynetown boys. Waveland had a scare as they edged out Ladoga 75-71. Ron Bruner scored 27 points, and Roger Gooding 26 points, to lead the Hornets, while Paul Houston tallied 25 points and Paul Blix added 16 points for the Canners.

In the much anticipated semifinals, Linden faced off against Darlington. The Bulldogs had beaten the Indians 73-69 in the Holiday tourney at Waynetown, and Darlington was out for revenge. The Indians built a 10-point lead in the first half, but Linden hung in there and stepped up their defense and rebounding in the second half. Keith Airey hit a basket near the end of the third quarter to put the Bulldogs up 57-56, and the team never relinquished their lead, winning 73-70. Warren scored 28 points and grabbed 21 rebounds, while Carl Binford got hot and hit nine field goals. Terry Cain led Darlington with 18 points, with Jim Tribbett, Charlie Warren and Steve Apple scoring in double figures for the Indians. Waveland defeated New Market 82-66 in the second semifinal game. All five Hornet starters scored in double figures to lead the team to victory, with three of the Purple Flyers fouling out of the game.

The championship game was set . . . Linden against Waveland. The Bulldogs were on fire in the first half and raced to a 42-26 lead at halftime. But Waveland coach Dick Bruner gave the Hornets “a little talk” at intermission, and Waveland outscored the Bulldogs 23-11 in the third quarter to cut Linden’s lead to 53-49 . . . and then scored the first basket in the fourth quarter. But, you guessed it, Daryl Warren took over, scoring nine of his game leading total of 33 points in the 4th quarter. Clay Cunningham also had a tremendous game, scoring 20 points and grabbing 17 rebounds. As Linden coach Tom Speaker said, “When someone stopped hitting, someone else was always there to pick up the slack. It was a team effort, and everyone did an outstanding job.” Ron Bruner had 22 points and Rick Petrey 17 points to lead the Hornets. Coach Bruner stated, “I am very proud of my kids. I thought they did a tremendous job after being so far down. But Linden deserved the championship . . . they have a fine team.”

The Linden Bulldogs became the last County Tourney champion. As promised, the team threw Coach Speaker in the shower (after allowing him to remove his nice sports coat). A fire engine took the team members to the baseball diamond, where a giant bonfire and hundreds of fans awaited. Later on, in the tiny Linden gym, each player was cheered as they made short speeches to the enormous crowd. The championship trophy and County Keg were held high for all to see. It was a celebration to always remember. After 40 years, the tradition of a Montgomery County tournament for the small hometown schools came to a close on that January evening in 1971.

John “Butch” Dale is a retired teacher and County Sheriff. He has also been the librarian at Darlington the past 30 years, and is a well-known artist and author of local history. He writes a general column that appears in The Paper on Fridays and a local sports column on Tuesdays.