Looking back on a Sweet 2010

The last year witnessed the addition of the Walla Walla Sweets wood-bat baseball team to town, as well as other local teams stepping up their games with memorable seasons.

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WALLA WALLA - Every season had its moments to remember in 2010.

From Walla Walla Community College's second women's NWAACC basketball championship in school history in early March to the school's second straight women's NWAACC soccer crown in late November, it was certainly a good year out on Tausick Way.

From the Walla Walla Sweets' gate-crashing inaugural wood-bat baseball season at Borleske Stadium to Weston-McEwen's rise to the top in Oregon Class 2A volleyball to near-miss campaigns by the Helix girls basketball team and the Touchet softball team, 2010 was a year saturated with success.

Where to start?

The WWCC women's basketball team's record-breaking campaign seems as good a place as any.

The Warriors began the 2009-10 season on a 14-game winning streak and finished it the same way, defeating East Region rival Yakima 75-72 in the NWAACC championship game in Kennewick to complete an amazing school-record 28-1 mark. The team avenged its only loss of the season in the title tilt after the Yaks defeated the Warriors in a regular-season game in Yakima.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the curtain in Kennewick's Toyota Center, the WWCC men's team was battling its way to a fourth-place finish in the NWAACC hoops tourney. The Warrior men's team, like the women, shared the East Region championship and finished off the year with a 71-66 victory over Mount Hood for a 22-6 overall record.

But WWCC wasn't the only school in the area to enjoy success during the basketball season. Far from it, in fact.

South of the border in tiny Helix, the Grizzlies fought their way from a third-place finish in the district tournament to the Oregon Class 1A state championship game in Baker City. The team couldn't quite finish its mission, however, losing to constant rival Imbler 66-37 in the finale for a 23-6 overall record.

Wa-Hi's boys basketball team captured the Big Nine Conference's Cascade Division title, battled its way through district and regional competition and earned a second straight trip to the Washington Class 4A state tournament. After winning their first game at state, the Blue Devils stumbled in their second but then recovered with back-to-back wins and earned the fourth-place trophy and a 25-6 record.

Another Oregon team, the Nixyaawii boys, also finished fourth at state. The Golden Eagles swept to the Big Sky Conference Eastern Division and district titles, then suffered a first-round loss at the Class 1A state tourney. But they won their next two games and finished with a 28-2 record.

The DeSales girls, the Waitsburg-Prescott boys, the Burbank boys and the Weston-McEwen boys also qualified for state basketball play but fell short of the trophy round.

Whitman College's women's basketball team qualified for the Northwest Conference playoffs and lost in the first round. And the Walla Walla University men's team was invited to the NAIA Division II Independent Colleges tournament and finished third.

Mac-Hi and Pomeroy made the most wrestling news in 2010.

The Pioneers won the Greater Oregon League district championship and sent 15 wrestlers to the Class 4A state tournament, eight of whom placed. Jesse Sargent, Ryan Bullock, Josh Rutherford, Lawrence Timmons and Angel Palacios all won individual district titles, but it was Wyatt Law at 145 pounds who brought home the top state finish by capturing third. And the Pioneers placed sixth at state as a team.

Pomeroy's mat team wound up second at the Washington Class B state meet, led by Matt Slaybaugh, who was second at 215 pounds, and Tyler Reisdorph and Tory Knebel, who each finished third in their weight divisions. Klyntin Bott, Justin Aldridge and Scott Wolf, each of them a regional champion, also wrestled at state for the Pirates as did Austin Moore, Jacob Moore and Ethan McGee, giving their school nine state qualifiers.

Wa-Hi's Eric Eastman finished third at the Class 4A regional meet and was the Blue Devils' lone state qualifier, where he finished fifth at 189 pounds.

Individual honors were also in store for Wa-Hi hoopster Gary Winston, who was a Class 4A all-state selection, and DeSales' Caitlin Duncan, a Class 2B girls all-state pick. Wa-Hi's Jamie Weisner was honorable mention for the Class 4A girls.

Springtime saw Touchet's softball teams battle all the way to the Class 1B state championship game. But the Indians lost to Southeast 1B District nemesis Colton in the title showdown to finish with a 23-4 record. All four of the Indians' losses came at the hands of the Wildcats: Once during the regular season, once at district, once in the regional playoffs and finally in the state championship game.

DeSales qualified for the Class 2B state tournament and finished third, and Weston-McEwen reached the Oregon Class 2A state semifinals before seeing its season draw to a close. The Irish won their final four games at state after losing in the second round to finish 21-7; the TigerScots' 16-13 season ended with a 5-0 loss to Irrigon after defeating Elgin, Lost River and Oakland to reach the semis.

Waitsburg-Prescott also found its way into the Class 2B state softball tournament but lost two of its first three games and was ousted before the trophy round. Dayton earned a trip to the Class 2B softball postseason but couldn't advance beyond district play, losing 6-3 to Garfield-Palouse in an elimination game. And Mac-Hi qualified for the Oregon Class 4A state playoffs but was eliminated in the opening round by Yamhill-Carlton, 5-1.

In one of the spring's most remarkable seasons, the Wa-Hi softball team returned from the Class 4A state tournament with a 27-2 record. The Blue Devils were undefeated (20-0) during the regular season and claimed a fourth consecutive Big Nine Cascade Division title, then lost to Richland 2-1 in the district championship game.

But Wa-Hi bounced back to win the regional championship and its first two games in a rain-delayed and what turned out to be single-elimination state tournament. The Blue Devils' season ended with a 1-0 loss to Heritage in the state semifinals, which left them with a share of third and fourth places at state.

West side rain also played havoc with the NWAACC softball championships. Walla Walla, by finishing second in the East Region, qualified for what turned out to be a single-elimination tournament at Portland's Delta Park, and the Warriors lost to Everett 8-5 in the first round for a 28-19 final record.

The highest individual softball accolades went to Wa-Hi's Hope Klicker, a pitcher and first baseman, who was the Big Nine's Most Valuable Player, a Class 4A all-state selection and the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Washington. Klicker later accepted a scholarship offer to play softball at College of Charlston.

Another Blue Devil softball star, Vicki Reardan, was selected first-team all-state as a catcher, and Wa-Hi's Andrea Hamada was a second-team all-state outfielder.

On the baseball side of the spring equation, DeSales, as usual, made it the furthest. But the Irish's bid for a 17th state championship hit a snafu in the Class 2B semifinals with an 8-2 loss to Colfax and they had to settle for third place after beating Mossyrock 9-3 in the consolation finals. DeSales finished its year 21-4.

Touchet also qualified for the postseason but was derailed in the first round of the Class 1B district playoffs when Colton ambushed the Indians 15-9. Touchet finished with an 18-3 record.

And Waitsburg-Prescott's baseball team survived district tournament play but was eliminated with a 5-4 loss to Concrete in its regional opener to finish 9-15 for the year.

WWCC's Dona Dunovant upheld WWCC's growing golf reputation by capturing the women's medalist honors at the NWAACC Championships during a year in which the men's team failed to play up to its normal standards. Marcus Kilthau tied for fifth place to lead the Warrior men's effort.

Over at Whitman College, however, the Missionaries got an outstanding effort from Brian Barton, who tied for second place in the Northwest Conference Championships.

In prep golf, Wa-Hi's Drew Reinland was the Big Nine boys medalist, went on to finish 38th at the Class 4A state meet and is now playing golf at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston. And DeSales' Brian Baumgart led a large contingent of small-school golfers to the Class B state tournaments and finished ninth among boys. Dayton's Dain Henderson placed 37th in the boys tournament and the Bulldogs' Molly Payne was 19th among Class B girls.

Track and field saw Wa-Hi's boys team win a fifth straight Big Nine dual-meet title, and the Waitsburg-Prescott boys team claimed a fourth consecutive Southeast B District championship.

The Blue Devils' Jamie Weisner captured the girls Class 4A state javelin crown with a throw of 135 feet, 1 inch, and Wa-Hi hurdler Garrett Gerling placed third in the 110 highs and sixth in the 300 lows. Mac-Hi's Emily Childers won the Oregon Class 4A state title in the 400 meters in 59.26 seconds and was second in the 200. And Waitsburg-Prescott's James Lehr finished second in the discus and third in the shot put in the Washington Class 2B state competition.

Summer is usually a slower-paced, laid-back time in the Walla Walla Valley, with American Legion baseball teams and a variety of younger youth baseball and softball teams occupying most of the headlines. But in 2010 there was a new game in town.

The Walla Walla Sweets of the West Coast League moved into Borleske Stadium and introduced area fans to a different brand of college-level wood-bat baseball and a fun-filled ballpark atmosphere that hadn't been experienced in Walla Walla in decades.

The Sweets opened their season on June 8 before a sold-out crowd with Walla Walla native Mike Richard on the mound and lost to the defending champion Wenatchee AppleSox 7-0. The opener proved to be a season-long theme.

Walla Walla's WCL expansion franchise wasn't a success on the field, finishing 18-30 and in last place in the league's Eastern Division. But at the box office, the team was a smashing success.

Guided by general manager Zachary Frazier, the Sweets set a league attendance record by averaging 1,451 fans over 28 home dates. The Sweets, in fact, finished 23rd in attendance among all teams playing in wood-bat leagues nationwide, and Frazier was selected the WCL's executive of the year for his efforts.

In other summer goings on, Rob Broadhead won his second Walla Walla All-City golf title by knocking in a 50-yard wedge for a birdie on the first hole of a sudden death playoff at the Walla Walla County Club. Broadhead defeated Jeff Neher after the duo had matched 2-under-par 142 scores for 36 holes of regulation play.

And in its second year of operation, the Wine Valley Golf Course west of town hosted the 54-hole Northwest Open. Brian Thornton of Kent was the winner with a 204 score, 11 strokes under par on the par-72 links layout.

Fall brought football, soccer, volleyball and cross country back into the sports spotlight. And two area teams treated us to ultimate success at their respective levels.

The WWCC women's soccer team booted its way to an eighth straight Eastern Region championship and followed that by defending its NWAACC title. The Warriors finished the 2010 season with a 20-0-2 record for an astounding two-year tab of 40-1-2.

And Weston-McEwen's volleyball program produced its second Oregon Class 2A championship in school history. Led by Renee Baumann, who was selected Oregon's Class 2A Player of the Year, the TigerScots won the Blue Mountain Conference and district championships before cruising through four rounds of state play and a 30-2 final record.

Waitsburg-Prescott was the area's most successful gridiron team, winning the Southeast 2B District regular-season title with an undefeated record and then advancing to the state semifinals before losing to Colfax 21-14. W-P finished its year with a 12-1 record.

There were, of course, many other successful teams during the final months of the year.

Mac-Hi's boys soccer team finished the regular season undefeated and made it the Oregon Class 4A state semifinals before suffering its only loss of the season 1-0 at the hands of Yamhill-Carlton. The Pioneers finished 16-1.

Mac-Hi's girls soccer team also qualified for the playoffs but lost in the first round of the playoffs, finishing the year 12-2-2.

And soccer was introduced at Waitsburg-Presctt this year, and a co-ed team that consisted primarily of boys posted a 16-0 regular-season record and won its first postseason game before losing to Shoreline Christian 2-0 in the second round.

Dayton's volleyball team qualified for the Washington Class 2B state tournament and Pomeroy earned a ticket to the 1B state affair, although neither team returned home with a trophy.

DeSales, Dayton and Weston-McEwen all reached the postseason in football. The Irish were eliminated by Waitsburg-Prescott in the quarterfinal round of the 2B playoffs while Dayton lost to Colfax in the first round. The TigerScots lost in the first round of Oregon's Class 2A state playoffs at Gold Beach.

Individually, Wa-Hi's Aaron Nelson ran to a third-place finish at the Washington Class 4A state cross country meet in Pasco while Waitsburg-Prescott's Seth Deal placed fourth in the Class 2B meet on the same course, leading his W-P boys team to a seventh-place finish.

Whitman cross country runner Kristen Ballinger finished 11th at the NCAA Division III West Regional and then ran 139th at the Division III national competition.

And Wa-Hi swimmer Emma Timm-Ballard finished sixth at state in the 100-meter backstroke in a school-record time of 59.60 seconds. She placed 15th at state in the 300 freestyle.

In other 2010 news of note in Blue Mountain Country:

* ESPN radio arrived in Walla Walla on AM station KTEL (1490), which was already home to Wa-Hi athletics and quickly signed up to carry the Sweets games during the summer and Gonzaga men's basketball during the winter.

* A trio of Wa-Hi graduates - Eric O'Flaherty, Drew Bledsoe and Dean Derby - were the recipients of Big Blue Boosters Professional Athletics Awards. O'Flaherty is a current member of the Atlanta Braves bullpen; Bledsoe and Derby are retired National Football League stars.

* Former Walla Wallan Will Brandenburg earned a spot as a downhill skier on the United States Olympic team that competed last February in the Vancouver, B.C., Winter Games.

* DeSales baseball coach Kim Cox and his assistant, Rob Holtzinger, were inducted into the Washington State Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame. Cox has guided the Irish to 16 Class B state tiles in his long tenure at DeSales.

* Wa-Hi basketball stars Gary Winston and Michael Weisner received full-ride scholarships to the universities of Idaho and Montana, respectively. Winston later transferred to WWCC and intends to play basketball at Portland State next year.

* The Carnival of Speed was stormed out in Milton-Freewater last April, marking the first time in the track meet's storied 72-year history that it was not run.

* Wa-Hi's Garrett Gerling accepted a track and field scholarship at Washington State University.

* The area's two college baseball programs got new head coaches, with Jared Hollowaty taking over at Whitman College and Dave Meliah at Walla Walla Community College.

* Matt Hamlin, a 1999 Wa-Hi graduate, was named the Blue Devils' new head football coach, replacing Marc Yonts, who stepped down at the end of the 2009 season. But Hamlin then changed his mind, withdrew and longtime Wa-Hi assistant coach Mike Gobel took over the school's football program.

* Whitman College's cycling team won the USA Division II championships.

* Walla Walla Valley Academy sprinter Chinonsa Opara dominated the Southeast B District, winning the 100, 200 and 400. He had the best Class B time in the state in the 200, was third best in the 100 and ranked fourth in the 400, but he was unable to compete at state because of his school's religious restrictions.

* Former Touchet High and Walla Walla Community College baseball player Drew Heid was selected by the Los Angeles Angels in the ninth round of the June draft after finishing his outstanding collegiate career at Gonzaga University.

* Walla Wallan Nicole Aichele set a standard arena world barrel racing record at the TRAC in Pasco with a time of 16.643 seconds, overtaking Touchet's Courtney Frazier, who had set a new arena record with a 16.691 clocking on the previous run.

* Whitman College inducted five into its Athletic Hall of Fame, including former DeSales track and field star John Leier, a 1974 Whitman grad. The others were Pete Jonas (1938), Del Rankin (1970), Kristin Richel Goodwin (1988) and Keri Hall Greenheck (1988).

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