State championship victories, new facilities opening and heart-breaking losses filled the sports slate of the high schools in Umatilla and Morrow Counties in 2017. Here is our Top 10 stories of the year:
1. Hermiston wins final 5A football title
The Hermiston Bulldogs’ final season competing in football in the OSAA was a memorable one. In fact, several players at the end of the season described their triumph as a storybook ending or even something from the movies, which in a way, it did.
Ever since it was announced in late spring that Hermiston High would depart the OSAA after the 2017-18 school year to join the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association, the Hermiston football team knew it wanted to complete its ‘OSAA Farewell Tour’ on top. And after 13 weeks of play, the Bulldogs followed through. Following a slow start to the season, Hermiston went on to win 10 consecutive games and capped it off with a 37-34 victory over Churchill to bring home the school’s second-ever football state championship in front of a large contingent of Bulldog fans on Nov. 25 at Hillsboro Stadium.
Head coach David Faaeteete improved his squad from a 9-11 combined record and two straight playoff one-and-dones in his first two seasons into the best team in Class 5A and picked up an Oregon Coach of the Year award from the USA Today for it. The Bulldogs had five all-state selections, with quarterback Andrew James, running back/linebacker Jonathan Hinkle, wide receiver/defensive back Dayshawn Neal, offensive lineman Beau Blake and defensive back Joey Gutierrez being chosen by the state’s coaches, with Neal as the state’s offensive player of the year and James as the East Oregonian player of the year.
2. Hermiston announces jump from OSAA to WIAA
The rapid growth in Hermiston’s enrollment ensured a move up to the largest classification in the OSAA beginning in 2018, and with that brought placement into a league with Portland and Bend-area schools.
Those placements would have meant upwards trips that totaled 400 miles round-trip for each of Hermiston’s school-sponsored teams, resulting in numerous hours of missed class time for the student-athletes. The school decided to look for alternative options and found one north of the state border, and petitioned to join the WIAA beginning with the 2018-19 school year.
The petition was approved in June by the WIAA’s executive board, allowing Hermiston to become the first out-of-state school to join the association, and one of only a few schools across the country to compete across state lines.
So after years of competing in leagues with the likes of Pendleton, Hood River Valley, The Dalles, Redmond and the Bend-area schools, Hermiston will join a league with Tri-Cities-area schools as well as Walla Walla in the Mid-Columbia Conference.
3. Nixyaawii girls rule the state
There might not have been a basketball team that was more dominant last season than the Nixyaawii Golden Eagles’ girls team. Powered by 1A Player of the Year Mary Stewart, who averaged 27.7 points, 5.9 assists, 4.8 rebounds, and 6.4 steals, and guard Milan Schimmel (12.8 points, 8.2 assists, 6.7 rebounds), Nixyaawii went a perfect 27-0 and captured the 1A state championship with a 68-39 victory over Country Christian on Mar. 4. It was the second state championship in school history, with the first coming in 2011.
The Golden Eagles were not challenged many times in its 27 games, winning by an average of 27.8 points. Their up-tempo offense scored an average of 57.6 points per game only won three games by 10 points or less.
4. Riverside boys soccer wins state championship
Just as the Nixyaawii girls were dominant in basketball, the Riverside Pirates boys soccer team was by far the best in the Class 3A/2A/1A classification in 2017 and they proved it with a state championship trophy.
Riverside compiled a 17-0-1 record in 2017 where it oustscored opponents by a whopping 116-16 margin. The only blemish on the season was a 2-2 draw with Catlin Gabel on Oct. 28, the same team that the Pirates defeated 4-1 in the state championship game just two weeks later.
Six Pirates earned all-state honors and senior Quincy Castillo was voted as Player of the Year for the state and 3A Special District 4.
5. Stanfield comes up short thrice
It was quite the school year for the Stanfield Tigers’ boys athletic teams in the traditional sports of baseball, football and basketball.
Led by a special group of seniors including Dylan Grogan, Thyler Monkus, Ryan Bailey, Tony Flores, Jose Garcia, Noe Sanchez and junior Brody Woods, the Tigers put together an unfathomable combined record of 58-7 in those three sports with two state runner-up finishes.
With a 2016 3A baseball championship in their back pocket and a Class 2A runner-up finish in football, the Tigers put together an incredible stretch in basketball by winning 21 consecutive games, winning the Columbia Basin Conference, and running through the 2A state tournament before falling short 57-54 to Santiam to finish as runner-up again.
Then in baseball, Stanfield steamrolled through its schedule and through the first two rounds of the 3A state playoffs and seemed destined to repeat as champs. However, just like football and basketball, the Tigers fell just short again as they lost a 3-2 heart-breaker to St. Mary’s in the state semifinals.
6. Farm-City Pro Rodeo opens new arena
For the first 29 years, the Farm-City Pro Rodeo grew from a small-time pro rodeo into a top-notch event on the PRCA circuit in its home at the Umatilla County Fairgrounds in Hermiston.
Now the rodeo has more space to continue to grow as it moved, along with the county fair, to its brand-new arena on the outskirts of town at the Eastern Oregon Trade and Events Center. A slow bid process and harsh winter gave the rodeo committee a very short window to get the new arena built in time for the early-August rodeo, but it was completed just in time.
It debuted to grand reviews from the fans, who have more room on the concourses to move around and a bigger Chute 8 bar, to the cowboys who have more room to park their trucks and trailers, to the stock contractors, who are now able to keep the stock on-site for the week instead of having to truck in the animals from farms outside of town.
7. Pendleton boys basketball claims state trophy
The last time the Pendleton boys basketball team had earned a trophy at the OSAA state basketball tournament, the year was 1959 when Dwight. D. Eisenhower was President of the United States and Neil Armstrong was still 10 years away from stepping foot on the moon.
However, that drought finally ended this year. The Buckaroos’ finished off one of the best seasons in school history, a 17-5 overall record and its third consecutive league title, on Mar. 10 when they defeated Summit 50-42 to claim a fourth place finish in Class 5A.
It also marked the icing on the cake for senior star Caden Smith’s career, who finished as a four-year varsity starter, the program’s all-time leading point scorer and a three-time all-state player.
8. Pendleton girls basketball ends Hermiston’s decade of dominance
Since the mid-2000s, the rivalry between the Pendleton and Hermiston girls basketball programs has been heavily one-sided towards the Bulldogs. Going into the first meeting of the season between the teams on Jan. 31, Hermiston had won each of the previous 28 meetings dating back to Feb. 17, 2006.
However, in that Jan. 31 game, the Pendleton girls finally got some revenge as they defeated the Bulldogs 53-48 at Warberg Court. Then just three weeks later on Feb. 21, the Buckaroos bested the Bulldogs again 59-37 but this time the victory gave Pendleton its first league championship since 2005.
9. Pendleton Linebacker’s Club widens Hall of Fame scope
For the first 12 years of its existence, the Pendleton Linebacker’s Club Hall of Fame aimed to recognize the best individuals and teams of Pendleton’s storied football history.
However, as the school’s de facto athletic Hall of Fame, the Club decided to expand its scope for inductees outside of just football.
“We felt it was time to open it up,” Club president Tom Melton said in June. “We just feel like being inclusive now is very important for us. There are other sports and very impressive athletes from other sports we felt were due to be recognized.”
In early July, the Linebacker’s Club welcomed in a class of 16 individuals that included some of the best men’s and women’s athletes and supporters that Pendleton High had ever seen, including Kelli Chandler-Read Bullington, Cyd Cimmiyotti, Clarence Cowapoo, Mike Scheiwe, John Eggers, and Lew Beck.
10. Rockets fall short of threepeat
With a pair of state championships from 2015 and 2016 in their back pocket, the Pilot Rock Rockets softball team set out to do something only four other teams had done in OSAA history: win three straight championships.
The last time it had been done was Crater in Class 5A and Valley Catholic in Class 3A both winning three straight from 2007-2009. With most of the core from 2016 returned, Pilot Rock put together a 25-5 season to advance to the championship game yet again and were paired with a young North Douglas squad in its first title appearance since 2003.
However, the Rockets’ magic ran out at the OSU Softball Complex that day, as Pilot Rock could muster only one run and fell 3-1 to North Douglas. It brought the end to the careers of Rockets’ stars such as pitcher Tehya Ostrom and infielder Bekah Roe, who both played crucial parts in all three postseason runs.
Ladies breakaway roping added to Round-Up; BMCC men’s soccer team starts inaugural season; Clayton Hass wins 107th Pendleton Round-Up; Heppner gifted all-new, state-of-the-art football uniforms; Hermiston native Lee Fiocchi named head strength and conditioning coach with MLB’s Los Angeles Angels; Weston-McEwen boys win 2A track and field championship; Pendleton High School unveils lights, new track surface at athletic field.