2011 End Of The Year Awards From SB Nation Arizona

SB Nation Arizona is awarding the best of the best from Arizona Sports in 2011. Starting with Coach of the Year and ending with Team of the Year on New Years Day.

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2011 End Of The Year Awards From SB Nation Arizona: Pro Game Of The Year

The game of the year for Arizona sports was actually somewhat anti-climactic. The Arizona Diamondbacks had already locked up the NL West Division title and were bound for the postseason. The celebration had taken place at home at Chase Field, and the D-backs were playing out the string.

Of course, home-field advantage for at least the divisional round still hung in the balance. And the 2011 Diamondbacks had long since shown that they weren't the kind to roll over and let up on the gas. Not with Kirk Gibson at the helm.

And so it was that on Sept. 27, the rival Los Angeles Dodgers were in town trying to close out the season above .500 (they eventually did). It was the opener of the final regular-season series, and the game went to extra innings tied at 1.

That night, rookie Jarrod Parker made his big-league debut for Arizona and lasted 5 1/3 innings.

The Dodgers weren't about to roll over. But the D-backs had something to play for.

Nevertheless, L.A. put the game away with five runs in the 10th inning. Or so everyone and their dog thought. The Dodgers pounded reliever Micah Owings, whose own throwing error kept the inning going, and to make matters worse, a triple by the Dodgers' A.J. Ellis bounced off right fielder Justin Upton's head, causing him to pause in a crouch to shake off the pain. Gibson removed Upton at that point, as a precaution.

The triple drove in two runs and the Dodgers led 6-1. By the end of the inning, plenty of fans had already left their seats at Chase Field and were headed to the exits.

And then the magic happened.

Reliever Blake Hawksworth got two outs and had Cole Gillespie down to his final strike. Gillespie reached base when Hawksworth failed to cover the bag on a grounder.

A single, a walk and and error gave the D-backs a run to make it 6-2 with the bases loaded. Exit Hawksworth, enter L.A. close Javy Guerra.

A walk to Aaron Hill made it 6-3, bases still loaded. Up came Tatman, aka Ryan Roberts.

The first pitch was driven on a line over the left field wall, 382 feet in distance. Roberts rounded second base with the Gibson-esque fist pull-and-pump, shrieking as he circled the bases and into the arms of celebrating teammates at home plate.

Game over. Diamondbacks 7, Dodgers 6. A season of comebacks topped by the greatest of them all.

Honorable mention: Arena Bowl XXIV -- Jacksonville Sharks 73, Arizona Rattlers 70.

In the Arena Football League championship game at U.S. Airways Center on Aug. 12, the home team came up short when 40-year-old Aaron Garcia threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jeron Harvey on the final play of the game.

Jacksonville stunned the Rattlers 73-70.

The Sharks led 32-21, and then the game turned into a back-and-forth battle of offenses, which is what sells arena football.


2011 End Of The Year Awards From SB Nation Arizona: Moment Of The Year

2011 was far from a banner year for Arizona sports. While the failures and disappointments from across the professional and collegiate level outweighed the positive, yet there were still several outstanding moments. From the unexpected division title for the Arizona Diamondbacks to the Elite Eight run by Arizona to the national title by Arizona State softball team, Arizona residents were treated to some great times.

Yet there was one moment that outshined them all, one that transcended sports and became one of the rare moments that exemplified the best qualities of the human will.

Through his first three seasons, ASU wrestler Anthony Robles had already put together a great career in Tempe. By his second year, he was named an All-American and won the Pac-10 title at the 125-pound weight class. He then repeated as conference champion the next season and finished seventh overall in the NCAA as a junior.

Those accomplishments alone were more than enough to solidify Robles as one of the best wrestlers in Arizona State's prestigious wrestling history. But there was one thing that made Robles' story more than just that of a great athlete.

Robles only had one leg.

Born without his right leg, Robles had already lived a life in which he turned that disadvantage into an advantage through tremendous determination and a strong will.

Robles continually strengthened his upper body, honed his technique and outworked his opponents. He went far beyond the "never give up cliche", which set him apart from all competitors. After two conference titles, he was already an amazingly inspirational story.

But he was far from done.

In his final season, Robles dominated one opponent after another, posting an undefeated record. He finished off a three-peat as conference championship, and now set his sights on the elusive national championship.

He advanced through the NCAA tournament to face the defending 125-pound champion, Iowa's Matt McDonough. Robles made quick work of the champion, defeating McDonough 7-1 and capping his incredible story with a national championship, as well as being named the tournament's Most Outstanding Wrestler. The Disney movie now had its ending.

As his arm was raised in victory, Robles stood not just as a champion, not just as a Sun Devil, but as a real personification of what a person can accomplish and what obstacles they can overcome if they have the will and the want.

SB Nation Arizona is proud to salute Anthony Robles for his inspirational triumph.


2011 End Of The Year Awards From SB Nation Arizona: Collegiate Game Of The Year

It wasn't a marquee season for Arizona's sports scene. While the BCS National Championship Game between the Auburn Tigers and the Oregon Ducks, a pivotal battle in the history of NCAA football, was played in Glendale, it did not feature an Arizona team and thus did not impact us in the same way.

First, we must eliminate teams that did not play in hugely significant games in 2011. That removes the Arizona State Sun Devils (both in football and basketball) and the Arizona Wildcats football team. Clearly, we're left with the 2010-2011 Wildcats basketball team, led by superhero Derrick Williams.

Amongst the games that took place in 2011, none is more significant than the Elite Eight showdown between the Wildcats and the NCAA champion Connecticut Huskies. Sure, Arizona threw a grenade in Duke's chicken coop, blowing them out 93-77 in their Sweet Sixteen matchup. But no game meant more to the fanbase than that heart-wrenching loss on March 26, 2011.

Derrick Williams got into foul trouble in the first half, unable to catapult his team to a strong start. Trailing 32-25 at halftime, Arizona was able to rally and take a one-point lead in the second half before it all came down to the final possession, trailing 65-63.

Both Williams and Jamelle Horne missed wide open three pointers, sealing the game for the Huskies (who went on to win the worst NCAA championship game ever against Butler) while securing a spot for Arizona back among the nation's elite basketball schools.

Below you will find highlights from that fateful game.


2011 End Of The Year Awards From SB Nation Arizona: Breakout Player Of The Year

One of the more interesting stories of any sports year is the ascension of players from the rank-and-file to stardom. Whether they are top prospects who finally tap into their vast potential or a fringe player making a major leap, these developments are always enjoyable to follow. Arizona sports saw a number of such players, but there was one clear-cut winner in this category.

The Winner: Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks

Kennedy was the prized piece that the Diamondbacks acquired in the December 2009 three-team trade involving the New York Yankees and Detroit Tigers. He was perennially listed as one of the Yankees' top prospects, but only managed one win over three seasons of scant major league service time from 2007 through 2009.

His debut season in Arizona was promising, as he made 32 starts and posted a solid 3.80 ERA and WHIP of 1.20. At age 26 and with four generally underwhleming seasons under his belt, Kennedy seemed destined for a nice career as a No. 2 or 3 starter.

Then came the magical 2011 season.

Kennedy got the nod as the team's Opening Day starter, but after three starts he had a 1-1 record and a bloated 6.88 ERA after getting shelled by St. Louis on April 13th.

However, his season--and career--turned around two starts later, when he pitched a masterful complete game shutout win over the Phillies in which he struck out 10. By the Fourth of July, Kennedy was in the midst of a great season, as his 8-3 record and 3.38 ERA was helping to lead the surprising Diamondbacks, who refused to relent in the NL West division race.

Over the season's final three months, Kennedy's status as a legitimate ace was secured. From July 8th through the end of the season, Kennedy was dominate, posting a 13-1 record during that span and lowering his ERA to 2.88 thanks to 11 starts of two earned runs or less.

His impressive finish resulted in a fourth place finish in the National League Cy Young Award voting, and his .840 winning percentage was a team record.

For the first time since the Randy Johnson and Curt Shilling days, the Diamondbacks have an ace in the fold.

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