The 2017-18 prep sports season in Eastern Oregon was memorable on many different levels.
School and state records were broken, numerous state championships were earned and winning streaks as well as streaks of misery all came to an end this year. So, let’s take a look back and re-live some of the best moments and stories of the unforgettable season.
It’s something most athletic programs build its success on: the rise, or fall, of its football program.
For the Hermiston Bulldogs, the 2017 football season marked more than the start of the athletic year that would end in heartbreaking fashion nearly nine months later with the softball team’s loss in the state quarterfinals. It also marked what would be the final year as a member of the OSAA. The storyline was followed in almost every sport, and the self-titled “Farewell Tour” had an impressive first stop.
The most memorable performance of the year goes to the football team after the Bulldogs defeated Churchill 38-35 on November 25 for the school’s second Class 5A state football title and first since 2014, and for the first time ever the state champions won’t be defending their title come next season. Instead, Hermiston will move into a league with WIAA’s Class 4A football champions, Richland, and 3A playoff contender Kamiakin.
And the Bulldogs also won the final rivalry matchup with Pendleton to continue the decade-plus of dominance after getting pushed around by the Buckaroos for more than half a century.
“We did have a good year,” Hermiston athletic director Larry Usher said. “I know there are some other programs that probably had some higher expectations and would have liked to have done a lot better but overall, it was a good year and you say it was a good year mainly because you won a state championship in football, which is kind of the crown jewel.”
There was no stopping the Riverside boys soccer team in the fall. The Pirates went unbeaten with a 17-0-1 overall record and defeated Catlin Gabel 4-1 to win the 3A/2A/1A state championship for the second time in school history. They also scored double-digit goals in five separate games, shut out their opponents nine times and ended the season with 100 more goals scored (116) than goals allowed (16).
Then just last week, the Pendleton softball team capped off its own dominant season on the softball diamond by defeating Putnam 7-0 to win its third state championship in school history. With a lineup boasting firepower at every spot the Buckaroos scored the third-most runs in the state (313) and with starting pitcher Lauren Richards and a solid defense they allowed only 2.3 runs per game. Oh, and they had a 22-game win streak as well.
The 2018 OSAA state track and field championships marked the last time high schools would get to compete at the Historic Hayward Field as its been known for decades. With a construction for a remodel in the works to prepare for the 2021 World Championships, prep standouts got one last chance at make their mark on the legendary grounds. The local athletes did not disappoint.
Weston-McEwen’s Jacob Speed had an incredible performance in Eugene as he brought back four state championship medals in all four of the events he competed in — the 100-meter dash, 200 meters, 400 meters and 4x100 relay. Also winning gold in 1A-3A schools was Helix’s Hannah Christman in the 1A girls 800 meters, Weston-McEwen’s Katie Vescio won the 2A girls 800 meters and Umatilla’s Patty Burres in the 3A girls 400 meters
On the final day of state competition, Hermiston’s Tyler Rohrman won gold in the 5A boys 110-meter hurdles with a new state meet record of 14.09 seconds. And Pendleton’s Emanuela Casadei — a foreign exchange student from Italy — recorded a personal best in the 5A girls javelin throw, a mark of 145 feet, 4 inches, which was at least six inches better than the rest of the field.
In the 2A/1A softball and baseball state championships, teams, fans and practically all of Pilot Rock made the four-hour drive west to watch the Rockets in both games. The softball team made its fourth straight finals appearance — an unprecedented feat for the 2A level — and the boys made their first since 2000. However both had to settle for silver medals, which is still a tremendous accomplishment.
The Rocket baseball team, behind ace Levi Thieme, lost only three games in 2018 — including the 7-1 loss in the final round, breaking a 15-game win streak. The girls were shut out for the first time all season, dropping the title game 10-0, but closed out the season 23-4.
On the golf course this year, Riley Lankford of Pilot Rock won his fourth consecutive district golf title for the Nixyaawii boys golf team. Lankford finished the two-day tournament shooting 152 — carding a 77 on Day 1 and a 75 on Day 2. He followed that with a career-best third-place finish at state with a 36-hole score of 142.
On the girls side, the Heppner Mustangs set a school record at districts after finishing with a 720, good for the district team championship.
The girls team finished state in second place with a 36-hole score of 737. The Mustang boys followed with a trip to state, their second-ever appearance, and placed fourth (712).
Perhaps the No. 2 moment of the year for Hermiston athletics, behind the football state title, is the softball team’s 5-4 win over Pendleton on May 15. The win, which came on a walk-off single from Bailee Noland, snapped a 24-game losing streak for the Bulldogs against the rival Buckaroos which dated back to May 8, 2012.
But that wasn’t the only notable streak to come to an end. The Nixyaawii girls basketball team’s incredible two-year run ended in the 1A championship game with a loss to Country Christian, ending the Golden Eagles’ 56-game win streak. Pilot Rock boys basketball ended a nine-year drought by winning the district championship, and a five-year drought of missing the playoffs. And Pendleton’s boys basketball team’s three-year reign as conference champs ended with Hermiston bringing home the trophy.
It is no stretch to say that the Heppner football program is one of the best and most consistent in the state. This past fall, the Mustangs went 6-4 overall to win the conference championship and secure a spot in the playoffs for the 21st consecutive season, which ties them with 6A school Jesuit for the state record.