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Year in review: Tampa Bay's top 10 sports stories of 2012

We had big-time hirings. And major firings. We had awards and historic runs and record-setting milestones. We even had a championship.

The 2012 year in Tampa Bay sports featured all these things. As the year draws to a close, we look back at its top 10 local sports stories, counting backward from No. 10 to the story of the year.

10. Rowdies win championship

Okay, so this is not the same kick-in-the-grass Rowdies we remember from the real NASL in the 1970s and 1980s. And maybe it's not the best soccer league in the country, let alone the world. But the Rowdies of the modern-day NASL are our Rowdies. They play at Al Lang Field before small but passionate crowds. Led by all-star goalkeeper and Clearwater's own Jeff Attinella, the Rowdies knocked off Minnesota in the final to give the franchise its first championship since the old Rowdies in 1975.

9. Steven Stamkos scores 60 goals

A season after reaching the Eastern Conference final and coming within a game of the Stanley Cup final, the Lightning struggled in 2011-12 and missed the playoffs. But the season wasn't a total loss. Stamkos, the league's No. 1 overall draft choice in 2008, put together the first 60-goal season in franchise history and the first in the NHL since 2007-08. Stamkos notched his 60th goal on the last night of the regular season, getting a rousing ovation from the crowd in Winnipeg. He became the 20th player in NHL history to reach 60 goals.

8. USF hires Willie Taggart

From the moment the Bulls fired Skip Holtz as football coach, they went in search of just the right replacement. Some called for a veteran, such as Houston Nutt, Tommy Bowden or Butch Davis. In the end, the Bulls went the young route, choosing the 36-year-old Taggart. Not only had Taggart turned around his alma mater, Western Kentucky, but he has strong local ties. He is from Palmetto and was an all-state high school quarterback at national powerhouse Bradenton Manatee.

7. Rays trade James Shields

After missing the playoffs despite having one of the best pitching staffs in baseball history, the Rays made a blockbuster trade in early December. They acquired four prospects from the Royals, including 2012 minor-league player of the year Wil Myers. But in order to get them, the Rays parted with the winningest pitcher in franchise history. Besides that, Shields was the staff's leader because of his work ethic, bulldog approach and even his willingness to throw a punch. (Right, Coco Crisp?) Shields helped bridge the days from the sad-sack Devil Rays to the championship-contending Rays. Also of note is that the Rays' offseason has featured the signing of Evan Longoria to a $100 million contract extension.

6. USF basketball makes NCAA Tournament

Before last season, the Bulls had not made the NCAA Tournament since 1992, and they had never won a tournament game. But last season under Stan Heath, the Bulls slowly began putting together a resume to make the dance. They beat Villanova and then Pitt. Then they beat those teams again. They also knocked off Louisville and Cincinnati, and when the season came to a close, the Bulls had a 22-15 record, including an impressive 14-6 in the tough Big East. The Bulls weren't done. They won an NCAA play-in game, beating Cal. Next up, a victory over Temple. Finally, a tough six-point loss to Ohio in Round 3 ended the best basketball season in university history.

5. Rays miss playoffs

After making the postseason in three of the previous four seasons, the Rays seemed like a good bet to make the playoffs in 2012, especially with Major League Baseball adding an extra wild-card team in both leagues. But the Rays didn't make it, in large part due to an injury that kept their best player, Evan Longoria, out for half the season. A late-season rally had fans thinking the Rays had a miracle like 2011's left in them. The Rays ended up winning 90 games, and it wasn't until the next-to-last night of the season that they were eliminated from playoff contention.

4. Bucs fire Raheem Morris

Too young. Too buddy-buddy with his players. Too inexperienced as a coach. Those were the prevailing thoughts at the end of Morris' three-year run as coach of the Bucs. The Bucs once had high hopes for the young coach, hired at 32 to take over for Jon Gruden. A 10-6 season in 2010 nearly won him NFL coach of the year honors. A year later, a 10-game losing streak cost him his job. Amid rumors his team lacked discipline and leadership, Morris was dismissed Jan. 2 after compiling a 17-31 record in Tampa Bay.

3. USF fires Skip Holtz

When Holtz took over the USF football program in 2010, he figured to be the coach who took the Bulls from a nice little eight-win team to one that won Big East titles and — cross your fingers — competed for a national title someday. No one figured he would be fired after three seasons. Holtz went a respectable 8-5 in his first season, including a bowl win. But then came a 5-7 record, followed by this season's 3-9 debacle. USF won only two of its last 14 Big East games under Holtz. The 2012 season went so wrong that he was fired five months after being given a contract extension.

2. Bucs hire Greg Schiano

When we went to bed on Jan. 22, we were convinced University of Oregon coach Chip Kelly was going to be the next coach of the Bucs. This is after the Bucs considered such candidates as Mike Sherman and several NFL coordinators. But overnight on that Sunday into Monday, Kelly had a change of heart and decided to stay at Oregon. A few days later, on Jan. 26, the Bucs named longtime Rutgers coach Greg Schiano the ninth coach in franchise history. Almost immediately Schiano lived up to his hard-nosed reputation, bouncing players Kellen Winslow, Brian Price and Tanard Jackson. After he was traded, Winslow even mocked Schiano's "toes on the line, blowin' the whistle'' approach. Schiano's reputation as a college guy was amped up even more when the Giants took issue with the Bucs going after the ball instead of giving up on a kneel-down play at the end of a game. It might take years before we know if Schiano was the right pick, but his first year has been interesting.

And the local sports story of the year …

1. David Price wins AL Cy Young Award

One of the most prestigious awards in sports, which goes to the best pitcher in his league, went to the Rays southpaw in what turned out to be one of the closest Cy Young votes ever. Price, who also pitched in the All-Star Game for the American League, went 20-5, tying for the lead league in victories and becoming the first Rays pitcher to win 20 in a season. His 2.54 ERA led the AL. And the 27-year-old did all that despite playing for an offensively challenged team in the AL East, the best division in baseball. He easily could have won 22 or 23 games. Price's performance goes down as one of the best individual season performances in Tampa Bay history.

Year in review: Tampa Bay's top 10 sports stories of 2012 12/25/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 12:21am]
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