PENDLETON — There are countless games played, thousands of memories made, and even more photos taken during the course of the year when it comes to covering sports in Umatilla and Morrow counties.
Titles were won, tears were shed — happy and sad — records broken and history made along the way.
The East Oregonian has compiled a list of the most memorable moments of 2019, from basketball to rodeo, starting with Heppner’s run to the 2A state football title.
1. Heppner wins 2A football title
One of the most dominant teams in the state at any level, the Mustangs held nothing back from start to finish.
Ranked No. 3 in the state poll most of the year, the Mustangs cut through the Blue Mountain Conference like a hot knife though butter, outscoring league opponents 196-26.
Once the playoffs rolled around, Heppner held its ground.
The Mustangs topped Bandon (49-0) and Warrenton (32-7) on their home field, then beat Knappa 55-18 in the semifinals in Hillsboro to earn a date with top-ranked and defending state champ Kennedy in the title game.
Quarterback Jayden Wilson ran for two touchdowns, and Jace Coe had two interceptions in the championship game as the Mustangs held on for a 12-7 victory at Kennison Field in Hermiston.
“A championship game is a lot of emotion and a lot of effort,” Heppner coach Greg Grant said after the game. “There were two pretty good teams out there. My team outfought them. I don’t think there is any other simple way to put it.”
The Mustangs finished the playoffs with 17 forced turnovers in four games, and outscored opponents by an average of 37-8.
Heppner finished the season with a 13-0 record and allowed 98 points (7.5 per game). The title was Mustangs’ third, joining the ones from 1992 and 2015.
Wilson, who was a first-team all-state quarterback, was named the EO Player of the Year.
2. Nixyaawii boys win first 1A basketball title
Led by junior Mick Schimmel, the Golden Eagles brought home the first boys state title in school history after they beat Trinity Lutheran 59-42 in the 1A state title game in March.
Schimmel led the Golden Eagles with 17 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots in the championship game.
“Shoot, he was everywhere,” Nixyaawii coach Shane Rivera said after the game. “We needed every bit of effort he had. He saved his biggest performance for the biggest game of the year.”
Nixyaawii opened the state tournament with a 66-44 victory over Horizon Christian, then beat Prairie City 71-49 in the semifinals.
Schimmel and Moses Moses were named to the all-state first team.
On the season, the Golden Eagles were 28-2, losing to Washington powerhouse Kittitas, and Umatilla. They were 12-0 in Old Oregon League play, and scored 2,111 points — more than any other 1A boys team in the state.
Schimmel was named EO Player of the Year, along with Pendleton’s Tyler Newsom.
3. Heppner girls grab 2A state basketball title
Winning a state basketball title by one point is getting to be a habit of the Mustangs.
Thirty-three years after beating Corbett 51-50 for the state 1A title in 1986, Heppner topped Coquille 41-40 for the 2A state crown in March.
The Mustangs trailed 33-26 after three quarters, then used a 15-7 run in the fourth to pull ahead and hold on for the win.
“I’m speechless,” Heppner coach Robert Wilson said after the game. “It’s amazing how the girls came out and fought back. They stuck it through till the very end. That just goes to show the grit and determination of my team.”
Heppner beat Santaiam 59-47 to reach the final eight, then had wins over Oakland and Enterprise to reach the championship game.
Jacee Currin and Sydney Wilson were named to the all-state first team.
The Mustangs won their last seven games of the year to finish 18-8.
4. Calgary Smith lassoes Pendleton Round-Up title
Every cowboy wants to win his hometown rodeo, no matter the size.
Calgary Smith of Adams is no different, but his hometown rodeo is the legendary Pendleton Round-Up, and those titles are hard to come by.
Smith teamed with veteran roper Jason Stewart of Heppner to win the team roping title with a time of 17.1 second on three runs.
Smith broke down in his father Chad’s arms after taking his victory lap around the arena.
“It could not have worked out better than it did,” Smith said a couple of weeks after the win. “Running out and going over the rails was quite amazing. I’ll never forget that.”
For Smith, a 2017 graduate of Pendleton High School, it was his first win at a pro rodeo.
The duo earned $8,788 apiece — not to mention a treasure trove of items that are handed out to the winners of each event.
With the title, Smith also had his childhood dream come true — his name on the champions wall on the back wall of the historic arena.
5. Gathering gold at state track
Hermiston’s Jazlyn Romero became the first Oregon athlete to win a gold medal at the Washington 3A state meet.
The junior threw 144-11 to win the state javelin title in May. Her best mark of the spring was 151-9.
Earlier this month, Romero signed to throw the javelin at Oregon State University.
Heppner’s Hunter Nichols won three gold medals at the Oregon 2A state meet, taking top honors in the 3,000, 800 and 4x400 relay.
While the individual medals were nice, his favorite race was the relay — the Mustangs ran a 3:30.94, obliterating the school record.
“It’s a crazy race,” Nichols said. “I like the pressure of the anchor leg. I can hold off most people. It’s my senior year, my last race, I wanted them to give it (the baton) to me.”
At the 5A state meet, Pendleton’s Lane Maher did not let the pouring rain ruin his day.
He won gold in the 300 hurdles with a personal best and school record time of 38.75 seconds. Earlier in the day, Maher finished second in the 110 hurdles in a personal best time of 14.73.
6. A driving force on the course
Led by senior Megan George, the Pendleton girls golf team captured the 5A state team title in May.
The Bucks finished with a two-day 769, nine strokes in front of runner-up Crater (776).
It was the first state title for the Bucks, who finished second in 2016 and 2017.
George, who led after the first day of competition, finished second overall with a two-day 158 — one stoke out of first place.
George also was the top golfer in the Intermountain Conference this season (based on average number of strokes per event).
Also competing for Pendleton at state were Rylee Harris, Makenzie McLeod, Gracie Broadfoot, Chelsea Kendrick and Sarah Powell.
7. Bucks run out of magic in title game
The Pendleton baseball team had one of its finest seasons in years, but once the Bucks got to the 5A state championship game, they lost their edge.
Central got off to a hot start with four runs in the first inning and never looked back in handing Pendleton an 11-4 loss in the title game.
For the Bucks, it was the fifth time they placed second. The other years were 1992, 1985, 1975 and 1963.
Pendleton (18-9), which won the Intermountain Conference title, opened state play with a 4-3 win over Wilsonville, then shut out Crescent Valley 6-0 in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, the Bucks eked out a 4-3 win over West Albany.
Bucks pitcher Ryan Stahl was selected to pitch in the 5A/6A State Metro All-Star Series.
8. Knights season fit for a king
Each day was a new adventure for the Irrigon baseball team.
The Knights won the Special District 5 regular-season title with an 11-1 record, then won the the district title before dropping a 5-3 game to Taft in the first round of the 3A state tournament. They finished the season 20-5.
That was just the tip of the iceberg for the Knights.
Pitcher Zack Henrichs threw a perfect game April 9 against Umatilla, striking out 12 as the Knights cruised to a 26-0 victory. He also tossed a no-hitter May 3 against Burns, striking out seven in a 10-0 victory.
“I just got rolling in the zone,” Henrichs said after the Umatilla game. “I knew I had a no-hitter going, but as soon as I struck out the last guy, I thought, ‘I just threw a perfect game.’”
During the season, Henrichs was 10-0 on the mound with a 1.42 ERA. He struck out 89 in 53 innings of work. At the plate, he hit .478 with 12 doubles, 29 RBIs and 32 runs scored. He also led the team with 25 stolen bases, and was named the EO Player of the Year.
Henrichs, who has signed to play at Blue Mountain, also played in the 3A/2A/1A All-Star Baseball Series, where he was named the Outstanding Player of the Series.
Adding more flavor to the season, Irrigon High School named the baseball field after coach Randy Henrichs, who retired at the end of the season.
9. Hermiston softball makes waves in spring and fall
After reaching the 3A state fast pitch tournament in May, the Bulldogs did the same in the fall when the slow pitch season rolled around.
With pretty much the same lineup as the spring, Hermiston boasted an 18-3 record and finished second to Mt. Spokane at the 3A/2A state slow pitch tournament in November.
“I am so proud of this group of kids, with how they played, how they acted, and how they represented the community of Hermiston,” Bulldogs coach Kate Greenough said at the end of the fall season.
Bailee Noland was named the Mid-Columbia Conference Player of the Year, while Greenough was named Coach of the Year.
In the fast pitch tournament, the Bulldogs (17-10), who were the No. 2 team from District 8, opened state with a 5-0 loss to top-ranked Bonney Lake. They then beat Holy Names Academy 8-5, and finished with a 4-2 loss to Snohomish.
0. Stanfield volleyball on the rise
The last time the Stanfield volleyball team went to state was 1990. That drought ended this year after the Tigers earned the No. 2 seed from the Blue Mountain Conference to the 2A state tournament.
Led by freshman Zuri Reeser, the Tigers (19-9) took on Vernonia in the first round of state.
The host Loggers beat the Tigers 25-20, 25-10, 25-16, leaving Stanfield without a state win in four tries (1990, 1988 and 1978).
“They were disappointed, but I think they realize a lot of good teams stayed home,” said Stanfield coach Blaine Ganvoa, whose team returns a wealth of talent for next season.