The 2018 sports season brought championships and a change of venue for one school in Eastern Oregon.

The Pendleton softball team won its first state title since 2014, and individual titles were earned on the track, but the most impactful event of the year was Hermiston moving into the Mid-Columbia Conference in Washington and severing ties with the Oregon School Activities Association.

That move leads the East Oregonian‘s top sports moments of 2018, along with nine others that rose above the rest when all was said and done.

1. OVER THE RIVER AND INTO THE MCC

Word came down in June of 2017 from the OSAA and WIAA, which governs high school sports in Washington, that Hermiston would be competing in another state. But that change did not take effect until the start of the 2018-19 school year.

With the move to the MCC came changes for the Bulldogs. Boys soccer now is in the spring, and girls swimming is in the fall. Hermiston also was able to add girls bowling and girls wrestling, both of which are WIAA-sanctioned sports.

But the biggest benefit to Hermiston has been keeping students in the classroom. No MCC school is more than an hour away, reducing travel time and lost time in the classroom for students and teachers.

“I think overall, it’s what’s best for the kids,” Hermiston boys basketball coach Casey Arstein said, “They are in school more, and they don’t get home late. We had a 7:30 p.m. game in Kennewick and I was home by 10. The JV kids, with their games starting at 4, miss about an hour of school, but the varsity kids haven’t missed any.”

The Bulldogs also face a different level of scheduling in the MCC. The football team played each league opponent once, and though they finished 5-3 in league play, they missed the playoffs because they lost to two of the other 3A teams in the league.

The Hermiston girls and boys basketball teams play on the same night at the same venue, no longer splitting fans and families. They play each team in the league twice, home and on the road.

“We get to play two or three times a week,” Arstein said. “I’ve never had a kid who would rather practice than play. Every team has talent you have to prepare for. It’s been a blessing for the community, and it brings fans to Hermiston for games. I have heard so many positive things from the community.”

With Hermiston jumping leagues and states, it takes away the Bulldogs’ annual games against rival Pendleton.

“People who coached enough know the rivalry wasn’t really a rivalry anymore,” Arstein said. “We have grown so much and they haven’t. Things started to dwindle the past five years.”

The Hermiston School District also is saving money. How much yet is to be determined.

“By this time last year, we had already spent four nights in a hotel,” Arstein said. “We have always had a good budget, but the athletic budget as a whole has to look pretty good right now.”

2. BUCKING THE TREND: PENDLETON FOOTBALL HAS BEST YEAR SINCE 1977

It was a season to remember for Pendleton, which enjoyed its first trip to the state semifinals since 1977.

The Bucks (10-2) rolled through the Special District 1-East with a 6-0 record. Their only blemish heading into the playoffs was a 53-7 nonleague loss to Wilsonville.

Pendleton beat Crescent Valley 27-14 in the first round of the 5A playoffs, then edged Scappoose 21-14 in the quarterfinals.

“This is unbelievable,” Pendleton coach Erik Davis said after the Scappoose win. “These kids and coaches deserve it. We have looked at this team for a long time — that they were special — and they are proving me right.”

The last time Pendleton played in a state semifinal was in 1977, a 13-7 loss to Medford in Class 3A, the highest classification at the time.

The semifinals did not go as planned for the Bucks, who were looking for the school’s first trip to the title game.

Thurston used a potent run game to beat the Bucks 51-30 in Hillsboro.

“This is the furthest the program has been in 41 years,” Davis said. “The kids can hold their heads high. Obviously, we’d love to play next week, but it’s not in the cards.”

Pendleton had 11 players earn all-state honors, with four — center Everett Willard, running back Aiden Patterson, defensive lineman Beau Skinner and linebacker Kirk Liscom — named to the first team.

3. BIG DAY ON THE DIAMOND FOR PENDLETON SOFTBALL

Not only did Pendleton beat Putnam 7-0 in the 5A title game in Corvallis, but the seniors also picked up their high school diplomas in a special ceremony after the game — including caps and gowns.

The Bucks, who also won 5A titles in 2012 and 2014, put together a 28-2 record, with an early loss to Hillsboro (9-0), and a league loss to Hermiston (5-4).

In the playoffs, the Bucks beat Sandy 19-3, Ridgeview 8-3 and Marist Catholic 20-10 in the semifinals.

Marist had a 7-3 lead in the third inning, but the Bucks came back with seven runs in the bottom of the third and never looked back.

In the title game, Lauren Richards struck out 12, while Aspen Garton hit a solo home run in the bottom of the second inning.

Richards was named the East Oregonian Player of the Year for the second year in a row.

4. TREVOR BRAZILE LASSOS 6TH PENDLETON ROUND-UP TITLE

The King of the Cowboys won his record sixth all-around title in September, surpassing the legendary Yakima Canutt, who has five trophies.

Brazile is a fan favorite at the Round-Up, where he won his first title in 1999.

“That’s what I love about this rodeo — its history,” Brazile told the EO after his win. “It is so well documented. You’ve got to respect the rodeo with its tradition and heritage. It’s so neat. I just love it. It’s unapologetic of what we do here. A lot of stuff changes, but the Pendleton Round-Up doesn’t.”

Brazile’s performance may have been his last at Pendleton. In early December, he announced he was scaling back his performance schedule to spend more time with his family.

5. NIXYAAWII’S WIN STREAK ENDS AT 56

The girls basketball team lived up to the Golden part of their name for two-plus seasons, winning 56 consecutive games and looking for its second state title in as many years.

The Golden Eagles, who gave up an average of 33 points a game, let Country Christian break free for 56 as the Cougars beat Nixyaawii 56-54 for the 1A state title in March.

Nixyaawii let an eight-point lead slip away over the final 3 minutes of the game after Milan Schimmel fouled out.

“I don’t know if anything went wrong, really, they (Country Christian) just played really well,” Nixyaawii coach Jeremy Maddern said after the game. “It was a high-level game and it was back-and-forth. But obviously Milan going out in the fourth hurt.”

The Golden Eagles finished the season 28-1.

6. STRIKING GOLD AT HAYWARD FIELD

There was plenty of gold won by Eastern Oregon athletes, led by Weston-McEwen’s Jacob Speed, who lived up to his name, making a clean sweep of the 2A sprints, winning the 100 (11.41), 200 (23.11) and 400 (51.70). He also ran the anchor leg on the TigerScots’ winning 4x100 relay (45.03) along with Hadden Ball, Khai Robertson and Kelen McGill.

Hermiston’s Tyler Rohrman won the 110 hurdles in a time of 14.09, and was second in the 300s (39.22). Both times were personal bests.

Pendleton’s Emanuela Casadei won the 5A javelin title with a toss of 145-4, while Hermiston freshman Jazlyn Romero was third (134-3).

Hermiston’s Madi Wilson was second in the 100 hurdles (14.98), and was part of the 4x100 relay team, along with Elsa Torres, MaKaylee Young and Scout Reagan, that placed second (49.05). The Bulldogs finished third in the team standings.

In the girls 3A 400, Umatilla’s Patty Burres took home the gold in a time of 1:00.35.

Heppner’s Alex Lindsay won the boys 2A triple jump with a leap of 41-11, helping the Mustangs to second in the team standings.

The girls 2A 800 title went home with Katie Vescio of Weston-McEwen (2:31.78). Vescio also was second in the pole vault (9-6 1/4).

Hunter Nichols of Heppner was second in the 3,000 (9:05.20), and third in the 1,500 (4:14.80).

At the 1A level, Griswold’s Hannah Christman won the 800 in a 2:34.61, while Lucy Case was second in the 3,000 (11:19.32), and Sadie Wilson third in the shot put (33-4 1/2).

Griswold’s Sam Carlson was second in the boys shot put with a mark of 45-11 1/4.

7. THE PRIDE OF PILOT ROCK

The Rockets had a chance to become only the seventh school in OSAA history to win a baseball and softball state championship in the same season. But it wasn’t meant to be.

Pilot Rock’s baseball team fell to top-ranked Knappa 7-1 in the title game, while the softball team was shut out by Kennedy, 10-0 in five innings.

The Rockets’ baseball team, in the finals for the first time since 2000, took a 1-0 lead in the first inning, but that would be their only run of the day.

“Hats off to Knappa,” said Pilot Rock coach Shane Leasy, whose team finished the season 20-3. “They played a better and cleaner game than we did.”

The Rockets started state play with a 12-0 win over Western Mennonite, then followed with a 4-2 win over Sherman/Arlington/Condon in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, Pilot Rock beat Bandon 6-1.

Pilot Rock’s softball team had trouble with Kennedy pitcher Tressa Riedman, who recorded 11 strikeouts.

“She was a better pitcher than we’ve seen in a while,” Pilot Rock coach Darin Fitzpatrick said. “I’m not going to take anything away from her. We just came in flat. Our energy level wasn’t up where it should have been and it kind of showed in pregame warmups, and then when we got behind.”

The Rockets (23-4) put up a ton of runs leading up to the title game.

They beat Siletz Valley/Eddyville 19-3 in the first round, then followed with a 13-6 victory over Union/Cove. In the semifinals, the Rockets edged Toledo 11-10.

8. EYE OF THE TIGERS

The Stanfield baseball team has had a successful run at state the past few years, and this season was no different.

The Tigers opened state play with a 2-1, eight-inning victory over Blanchet Catholic, but lost a 13-12, 12-inning affair to Horizon Christian in the quarterfinals.

The Tigers, who won the 3A title in 2016, played in the quarterfinals for the fourth consecutive year.

Stanfield won the Eastern Oregon League title for the fifth year in a row, and won 36 consecutive league games over 2 1/2 years before dropping an 18-3 game to Joseph/Wallowa/Enterprise on April 27.

They finished the season 22-6.

9. QUARTERFINALS: THE BUCKS STOP HERE

The Pendleton baseball team eased into the quarterfinals with a 5-0 victory over North Eugene in the first round, as Daniel Naughton, Chris Large and Ryan Stahl combined for 13 strikeouts, three hits and one walk.

Churchill did not go as quietly in the quarterfinals. The Lancers beat the Bucks 2-1, ending Pendleton’s seven-game win streak.

The Bucks, who won the Columbia River Conference title for the first time since 2014, finished the season 18-9.

Naughton, a senior, was named the CRC Pitcher of the Year, and shared Player of the Year honors with Connor Coerper of Hood River Valley.

Pendleton’s T.J. Haguewood was the CRC Coach of the Year.

10. WESTON-MCEWEN VOLLEYBALL CARRYING ON THE TRADITION

The TigerScots have advanced to the 2A state tournament 13 of the past 14 seasons, and have brought home their fair share of hardware.

This year, Weston-McEwen finished sixth at the 2A state tournament.

The TigerScots lost their opening match to eventual champion Portland Christian. They finished the season 25-8.

“Our team played great in a really deep and talented tournament,” coach Shawn White said. “We capped off an outstanding year with a trophy.”

Bryce Thul, the East Oregonian Player of the Year, was named to the all-state second team, while teammate Emma Olson was selected to the honorable mention team.

The Irrigon Knights advanced to the 3A state tournament for the first time in school history. They dropped a three-set match to South Umpqua in the first round, failing to reach the main bracket.

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