1. Behind a pitcher, batter and coach recognized by Class 5A coaches as the best at their level, the Pendleton Buckaroos softball team rolled to its first state softball championship in June.

The Bucks, who finished 23-7 and outscored their five postseason opponents 40-3, beat Silverton 6-1 at the Oregon State Softball Complex in Corvallis on June 2. It was the school's first state title since the boys' basketball team won one in 1939.

Pendleton also made the state championship final in 2011, losing to West Albany.

All three Pendleton graduates from this team have moved on to play collegiate sports. Class 5A pitcher of the year Kristen Crawford will throw for Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham this spring while her Bucks teammate Jory Spencer will also be on the Saints' softball field. Spencer was also part of the Mt. Hood CC volleyball team this fall.

Graduate Courtney Schumacher-Sweek played for Pendleton's Blue Mountain Community College team that ran the table for an NWAACC volleyball championship in November (see Page 2B for more). Now senior Rayne Spencer, sister to Jory, will join the college-sports ranks at Concordia University in Portland. She signed her letter of intent to play softball at the NAIA school in December.

The Bucks will return the heart of their lineup, which includes sophomore third baseman Darian Lindsey, last year's 5A co-player of the year for a repeat run this spring. Six starters back should help alleviate some of the stress in the search for Pendleton's pitching heir.

"Obviously, in the circle will be our biggest change," said coach Tim Cary, 5A's top coach last season. "We don't know who will be in the circle this year and that's a real key. ... Kristen shouldered most of the load for us last year."

Crawford finished with 183 1/3 innings pitched, or more than 90 percent of Pendleton's innings.

The Bucks will also be without assistant coach Steve Cary, who passed away this fall in Pendleton at age 65. Steve had served in an assistant role to his son, Tim, since 2007.

Blue Mountain rolls to NWAACC volleyball title

2. After putting together the most dominant sports season in Blue Mountain Community College history in any sport, the Timberwolves capped off their volleyball season in November with back-to-back victories over Spokane Community College to clinch their second NWAACC championship in three seasons.

Blue Mountain, which finished at a mind-boggling 43-4, won all five NWAACC tournament games at Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham before the clincher, a straight-set victory over Spokane 25-18, 25-17, 25-12 on Nov. 18.

Of the Timberwolves' four losses, two came by forfeit because of BMCC violations and two came against the College of Southern Idaho, the 2012 NJCAA national champions.

BMCC loses seven sophomores from last fall's roster, including NWAACC player of the year Robyn Schirmer, but coach Dave Baty said his team will still be plenty of fun to watch in 2013.

"The more success that our program has had since 2008, the easier it is to recruit kids," said Baty, who also won the NWAACC's top coach award. "We've been able to really enjoy the fruits of these kinds of seasons since we've really got things going."

Schirmer and fellow sophomore Kassi Howarth, a right-side hitter, will continue their volleyball careers at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande next season.

Heppner Mustangs win first softball state title

3. The afternoon before Pendleton won its first softball state title, the Heppner Mustangs triumphantly did the same. The Class 2A Mustangs finished a 23-4 season by beating Glendale 4-2 on June 1 at the?Oregon State Softball Complex in Corvallis.

Heppner's run to the top came after the Mustangs had held the No. 1 ranking, per the OSAA, for much of the second half of the season. Yet it still doesn't seem real, said coach Petra Payne, who helped start the school's softball program 15 years ago.

"Sometimes I have to go back and watch the video or read the articles to make sure that it was," she said. "The girls are still proud. The community still congratulates the girls on their accomplishments."

Heppner only lost two girls to graduation, first baseman Natalie Rauch and third baseman Cassi Day. The latter, a Special District 5 first-teamer, will play softball for South Mountain Community College near Phoenix, Ariz., this spring while Rauch is out of the sports world, studying at Eastern Oregon University.

Heppner returns senior Baily Bennett, a second-team All-American selection by www.MaxPreps.com on its small school list. Bennett, a pitcher, blew through the 2A ranks last spring with a 0.44 ERA.

Condon/Wheeler track coach asked to step down

4. Two weeks after Melissa Bowerman, a volunteer assistant track coach for the Condon/Wheeler Knights, took a team member to the Condon High School prom in April, the Condon and Fossil school districts dismissed her from the program. An investigation in June by Gilliam County Sheriff Gary Bettencourt, who received a complaint from a prom chaperone, found no evidence that Bowerman, 41, broke any law or had any criminal intentions.

In August, the contract of her husband, Jon Bowerman, 74, the son of Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman, was not renewed.

Jon Bowerman was allowed to re-apply for the head coaching opening this fall and after only two applicants were interviewed, Condon athletic director Jan Zarate said the position was offered to the former coach in December. But when Melissa was not allowed to accompany her husband back to the program as a volunteer, the Bowermans declined.

As of the New Year, the coaching pair has decided to walk away from the program they helped build. The couple were influential in helping Condon High obtain a state-of-the-art track made of recycled athletic shoes, which was dedicated April 28. In four years under the Bowermans' watch, the program grew from six athletes to more than 30.

The Knights girls' track team won their first Class 1A state championship in May just weeks after Melissa's dismissal.

Weston-McEwen boys star in multiple sports

5. The Weston-McEwen baseball team wrapped up as successful a year of boys’ athletics as any school could hope for, just narrowly missing out on a state baseball title in June.

Weston-McEwen finished second in the Class 2A baseball playoffs, falling to Kennedy 10-4 at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer on June 1. The TigerScots were 22-5.

The deep playoff run followed a pair of equally impressive performances for the Weston-McEwen class of 2012 boys. In March, the TigerScots made the quarterfinals of the state basketball tournament in Pendleton. A loss to Vernonia on March 3 at the Pendleton Convention Center locked the Athenians into a sixth-place finish.

Just months before, Weston-McEwen football advanced to the semifinals of the state bracket before losing to Scio on Nov. 26, 2011.

"Those seniors left a winning tradition and a lot of those younger guys were able to be part of those successful teams," said T.J. Haguewood, head baseball and assistant football coach at Weston-McEwen.

Of the graduated class, only Dallas Reich is continuing his sports career. Reich now plays basketball at Walla Walla Community College.

Hermiston softball loses coach Tom Bequette

6. Less than one week before the Hermiston Bulldogs' softball season opener, head coach Tom Bequette, 53, died at Kadlec Medical Center in Richland, Wash.

The Bulldogs still played and won both sides of a doubleheader on March 16 under interim coach Saul Castro. Hermiston would finish second in the Columbia River Conference with a 15-10 record before a first-round playoff loss to Liberty in May.

"It was a little difficult," Castro said. "Even though he wasn't here with us, he was, you know in spirit."

Among the five graduated seniors from the 2012 squad, three will be playing softball collegiately. Infielder Gracie Flyg is at Eastern Oregon University in La Grande, catcher Courtney Howard is at George Fox University in Newburg and first baseman Cheyanne Lawson is playing at Walla Walla Community College.

Hermiston filled the head coaching vacancy in August by bringing in Kylee Nichols, the former first-year coach for McMinnville High. Castro's softball future is still undetermined, though he has discussed coaching a traveling summer team with Jessica Bequette Fitch, Tom's daughter.

Tommy Lane breaks Bucks' baseball records

7. By the time first baseman Tommy Lane graduates from Pendleton this spring, he may be one of the most decorated sluggers in Eastern Oregon baseball history. His resume is already impressive.

As a junior last spring, Lane set Buckaroos single-season marks for home runs (11)?and runs batted in (52) while hitting for a .477 average. He helped Pendleton to a 22-6 record and a No. 1 seed in the Class 5A state baseball postseason. The Bucks were upset 9-7 by eventual state champs Wilson at home on May 25, though.

Lane's power on the diamond has already payed off with a Division I baseball scholarship to St. Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. Lane signed his letter of intent to the Gaels of the West Coast Conference in November.

Now a senior, Lane is spending the baseball offseason staying in shape by playing varsity basketball for the Bucks.

Trevor Brazile wins all-around at Round-Up

8. Three months before the "King of Cowboys" Trevor Brazile won his 10th all-around title at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, the winningest cowboy in rodeo history was doing the same at the Pendleton Round-Up.

Brazile, of Decatur, Texas, won the all-around championship in Pendleton on Sept. 15, the final day of the 102nd Round-Up. Brazile, 35, took home $20,204 while in Eastern Oregon.

Brazile placed third in the tie-down and fourth in the team roping average with partner Patrick Smith.

In December, Brazile became a 17-time world champion by winning his seventh straight all-around gold buckle. With a $50,00 payday at the NFR, Brazile extended his season-earnings record to $1,505,697 and his career mark to nearly $4.6 million.

Three Dawgs in Top 5 at state cross country meet

9. At the OSAA 5A State Championship cross country meet on Nov. 3, the Hermiston Bulldog boys placed three runners in the top five as both teams finished third in the team totals.

Junior Alejandro Cisneros was third, senior Eduardo Juarez was fourth and Jose Macias was fifth. The boys' team was top heavy, though, as the next highest placer came in 24th.

Senior Maggie Coleman took fifth for the girls while Katie Markwick was seventh.

Coleman's college athletics path is still undetermined while she decides between pursuing cross country or soccer at the next level. Juarez is leaning toward attending Lane Community College, Hermiston coach Jake Puzey said, the site of the Oregon state cross country championship.

Pendleton native Straily called up to big leagues

10. After lighting up the Oakland Athletics minor league baseball system, pitcher and Pendleton native Dan Straily made his major league debut in Oakland on Aug. 3 against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Straily, now 24, would earn a no-decision in that game after six innings pitched and one run allowed. He'd make two stints with the big league club.

Straily, who played baseball in Pendleton before transferring to Thurston High in Springfield his junior year, finished the season with seven starts, 32 strikeouts and a 3.89 ERA. He was 2-1 in MLB games.

Straily struck out 222 between minor and major league games and is expected to compete for a rotation spot for Oakland next year.

       

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