By Rick Anderson
For the Grays Harbor News Group
For Twin Harbors female athletes in particular, 2019 was a year to remember.
Harbor male athletes had their share of highlights as well, such as Montesano’s unbeaten run to the state football quarterfinals.
But most of the year’s top accomplishments belonged to female athletes and teams.
Grays Harbor News Group takes a look back at the Top 10 sports stories of 2019, including Montesano’s 10th state softball championship, a national victory for the Grays Harbor College women’s wrestling team and the Elma girls basketball team earning some state hardware.
Prep Basketball: Elma girls nab state hardware
Long one of the area’s premier basketball programs, Elma’s girls shed a hard-luck postseason reputation to emerge with district and state trophies.
The Evergreen 1A League champion Eagles captured the District IV Class 1A championship with a 48-37 victory over King’s Way Christian.
Although they fell to state power Cashmere in regional competition, the well-balanced Eagles had a high-enough state RPI ranking to qualify for state regardless. They split their first two state contests, beating Overlake in a loser-out opening-round contest before falling to eventual state runner-up Lynden Christian in the double-elimination quarterfinals.
With Jillian Bieker sinking the go-ahead free throw with 14 seconds remaining in overtime, Elma rallied from nine points down in regulation to clinch a state trophy with a 50-47 win over Meridian. The Eagles settled for a sixth-place trophy following a concluding loss to Bellevue Christian.
Regional competition, in recent years, has been something of a no-fly zone for Twin Harbors teams. It was again in 2019, with area clubs winning only two of eight regional contests.
In addition to Elma, however, Willapa Valley’s boys and Taholah’s girls had high enough RPI rankings to notch state berths despite regional losses. Montesano’s and Ocosta’s girls and Taholah’s boys were eliminated with regional defeats.
The area’s two regional winners ended long state droughts in the process.
Only fourth place in the 2B Pacific League, South Bend caught fire in postseason play to make its first state appearance since 1993. With seniors Karley Reidinger, Jessica Sanchez and Hannah Byington leading the way, the Indians also won their state opener before falling one victory shy of a state trophy.
Willapa Valley’s girls ended a 16-year state drought. Brooke Friese scored 16 of her 18 points in the second half as the Vikings topped Lake Roosevelt, 44-35, at regionals.
Willapa Valley’s Matt Pearson, who averaged more than 18 points per game, was the area’s lone first team all-state selection.
College Wrestling: GHC women win national title
Both Grays Harbor College teams cut a wide swath through regional and national competition.
The Choker women captured the team championship at the National Collegiate Wrestling Association tournament in Texas. Individual champions included Ceci Saavedra at 101 pounds and Mariah Stewart at 191. Needless to say, those two earned All-American honors – as did teammates Jackie Castro, Audrey Bucher and Christie Hur.
Grays Harbor’s men also fared very well at nationals, placing seventh among 77 teams. Choker 125-pounder David Campbell became only the second national individual champion in school history and joined teammates Matt Alejandro and Octavio Alejandre on the All-American squad.
Earlier, the GHC men nabbed their fourth successive Northwest Conference crown — winning six individual titles and sending 15 to nationals,
This was a leaner-than-usual season for Twin Harbors prep wrestlers. Aberdeen’s Tatum Heikkila, second in the girls 190-pound division, was the area’s only state finalist. Snowy weather wiped out regionals and forced the state to adopt a 32-competitor state draw.
Aberdeen’s girls won their fourth successive district championship. Heikkila later placed fifth in the USMC nationals in Fargo, N.D.
College hoops: Choker women make history
Although they failed to collect a tournament trophy, Grays Harbor College’s women still attained a milestone at the NWAC Tournament.
With Sandin Kidder and Charleea Armstrong scoring 23 points apiece, the Chokers topped Whatcom, 76-65, in the opening round to earn the first tournament victory in school history.
That earned the Chokers a spot in the tourney’s Elite Eight, where they lost to Umpqua. The latter contest proved the GHC swan song for head coach Chad Allan, who resigned his position and subsequently returned to the high school coaching ranks at Hoquiam.
Prep Softball: No. 10 for Montesano
If there’s ever a program that has mastered the art of peaking at state, it is the Montesano softball team.
The Bulldogs have won state championships as the district’s first, second, third and fourth seeds. In 2019, they were second at district — and, for the 10th time, first at state.
This one may have been particularly satisfying for Pat Pace, the coach of all 10 of Monte’s title teams. His daughter, Lindsay, was the winning pitcher in all four state contests and also contributed heavily with her bat.
A few days after nailing down their 22nd consecutive state berth, Monte was upended by Castle Rock, 4-1, in the district 1A title contest. But the Bulldogs took their game to a higher level thereafter, beating eventual state 2A champion Woodland in a non-league contest Coach Pace annually arranges between district and state.
Monte took revenge on Castle Rock, 5-4, in the 1A state game. Matti Ekerson and Emma Jensen backed Lindsay Pace’s pitching with two hits apiece and center fielder Lexi Lovell contributed a critical seventh-inning catch.
Earlier in the day, Pace spun a two-hitter as the Bulldogs nipped East County rival Elma in the semifinals.
Ironically, the state Class 2B tournament followed a similar script to that of the 1A tournament.
Pe Ell-Willapa Valley rode the two-hit pitching of Olivia Matlock to a 7-0 thumping of Adna in the District IV 2B title contest. But it was the Pirates who gained the upper hand, 9-7, in the all-Southwest Washington state final, despite a home run from PWV’s Britney Patrick.
Elma, Ocosta and Wishkah were the area’s other state softball qualifiers. It was Wishkah’s ninth straight state appearance in the 1B class.
Lindsay Pace was later named the state Class 1A Player of the Year. Monte’s Ekerson, PWV’s Patrick, Kamryn and Katie Adkins, Grace Hodel and Katelyn McGough and Ocosta’s Kaylee Barnum also earned first-team all-state recognition.
Prep Baseball: Near-misses for Dogs, Cats
Montesano and Ocosta fell barely shy of berths in the state’s Final Four in baseball.
Blessed with excellent pitching, the Bulldogs had the makings of a state title contender for much of the campaign. With Ben Wills throwing a two-hitter, Monte blanked rival Hoquiam, 6-0, in the district 1A championship game at Olympic Stadium.
Wills tossed another two-hitter as the Bulldogs opened regionals with a 6-1 win over College Place. But Monte was unable to overcome a shaky defensive start and fell to Seattle Christian, 4-3, in the regional title contest.
Ocosta not only captured its third successive Pacific 2B title but for the most part held its own against representatives of the perennially powerful Central League in district competition.
Cesar Martinez’s walk-off single in the bottom of the seventh inning gave the Wildcats a 4-3 win over Crosspoint in their regional opener. An 11-run outburst by Kalama in the fourth inning of the regional final proved Ocosta’s undoing in a 13-1 season-ending loss.
Hoquiam also qualified for regionals.
At the youth baseball level, Montesano won district Little League titles in the 8-10 and 9-11 age groups. Larch Mountain, from the Rochester-Tenino area, denied Monte a district sweep by taking the Little League Major League crown.
Part two of our ‘Year in Review’ feature will be included in Saturday’s edition of The Daily World.
Track & Field: Vikings soar.
Willapa Valley, whose track program was seemingly jeopardized by the addition of softball and baseball as part of its combine with Pe Ell a few years ago, emerged as the area’s biggest success story at state in 2019.
Brooke Friese and Hallee Layman each won gold and silver medals as the Vikings earned a third-place state girls 2B team trophy. Friese cleared 11 feet to take the 2B pole vault, while Layman captured the girls discus with a mark of 128-3.
Twin Harborites harvested their customary share of state individual titles.
Hoquiam’s Tyara Straka won the Class 1A girls shot put at 41-10. North Beach’s Lorin Cox nabbed the girls 2B 100 meters in 12.91, while Raymond’s Kyra Gardner went 5-6 to take the girls 2B high jump.
Taholah continued its strong tradition in Class 1B throwing events, with Jauvon James-Juneau prevailing in the boys javelin (176-3).
Earlier in the spring, Aberdeen’s boys and Elma’s girls won the team titles at the Ray Ryan Memorial All-County Championships.
Golf: Big win for Klein.
Hoquiam resident Gretchen Klein has piled up an impressive women’s golf record in recent years.
Her greatest triumph came last summer when she captured the Washington State Women’s Golf Association Amateur title at Walla Walla.
A member of Grays Harbor Country Club, Klein fired rounds of 75-76-80 and holed a clutch putt on the final hole to hold off Michelle Hood of Sammamish by one stroke in a tourney restricted to members of private clubs. Klein thus hoisted the Ann Swanson Trophy, named in honor of the Grays Harbor native who is a member of numerous Northwest golf halls of fame.
At the high school level, Montesano’s girls won the district 1A team title and Monte’s Mylaina Parker nabbed the individual crown.
Auto Racing: Raymond teen sets record.
Sixteen-year-old Devon Borden of Raymond made history at the Fred Brownfield Memorial Classic at Elma’s Grays Harbor Raceway.
By taking one of the main events in the sprint car extravaganza, Borden became the youngest-ever winner of a Lucas Oil American Sprint Car Series event. The previous record-holder was current NASCAR stalwart Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Season champs at Grays Harbor Raceway included Hoquiam’s Tyler Sundstrom in the outlaw tuners classification, Montesano’s Scott Fritts (street stocks), Shelton’s Jay Cole (360 sprint cars) and Seabeck’s Kyler Moore (modifiers).
Veteran Oklahoma driver Daryn Pittman prevailed in the annual World of Outlaws main event at Elma.
Football: Bulldogs dominate.
Few area football teams in Harbor history dominated regular-season competition more than Montesano in 2019.
The Bulldogs outscored their opposition 609-93 in 12 contests this season. Through the opening round of state, their closest margin of victory was 35 points.
After breezing to the Evergreen 1A League title and blowing away King’s Way Christian, 58-14, in a district crossover contest, the Bulldogs handily disposed of frequent nemesis Meridian (also by a 58-14 count) in their opening state 1A test. League co-MVPs Trace Ridgway and Sam Winter combined for four touchdown passes in that contest.
But Winter — Monte’s standout receiver and defensive back — suffered a torn ACL knee ligament in the early stages of a state quarterfinal test against similarly unbeaten Deer Park. When a second-half comeback fell barely short, the Bulldogs were eliminated, 20-17.
Although several Twin Harbors teams qualified for some type of postseason play, the district crossover round was largely a disaster for area clubs.
Only Montesano and Evergreen runner-up Hoquiam survived that round. The Grizzlies bowed to Mount Baker, 36-21, in their state opener.
Girls swimming: More titles for Bobcats.
Perhaps the year’s best feel-good story was authored by Aberdeen senior swimmer Annika Eisele.
After swimming the first two meets of her sophomore season, Eisele was diagnosed with a slipped disk in her back — an injury that she was first told would be career-ending.
But Eisele’s rehabilitation work paid off when she took the state 2A 100-yard butterfly as a junior in 2018 — prevailing in a race so close that neither she nor her coaches initially were certain of the outcome.
She repeated in less dramatic fashion this fall, winning handily with a time of 57.65. With Anna Weber (in the 100 breaststroke) and the 200 medley relay team contributing second-place finishes, Aberdeen placed sixth at state as a team.
During the previous week, the Bobcats made a seventh consecutive district championship look easy. Mixing their traditional depth with first-place punch, they amassed 436 points to finish nearly 200 points ahead of runner-up Tumwater.
Honorable mention: Elma resident Paul Roberts won the standing long jump in the 70-74 age group at the World Senior Games. Team Evolution of Grays Harbor took its second consecutive team title in the World Association of Bench and Dead Lift Weightlifting Championships. Hoquiam native Perry Crowell IV was a member of the American team that captured the Pan American Bowling Confederation championships in Lima, Peru.