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.
In the first of The Daily World’s two-part series on the top 10 sports stories of 2019, we take a look back at 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.