10 — EOU men’s soccer clinches first-ever NAIA national bid

Midway through the season, it seemed as if the Eastern Oregon University men’s soccer team wouldn’t even make it to the Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament.

But the Mountaineers got hot at the right time, winning their final five regular-season matches to clinch a bid to the CCC tourney on the final weekend of the regular season.

EOU men's soccer

Eastern Oregon University goalkeeper Max Rose leaps for a ball during an Oct. 5 match against University of Providence. Rose and the Mountaineers dropped this match but used a late-season seven-match unbeaten streak to reach the NAIA national tournament for the first time. 

Then, they did themselves one better — winning back-to-back shootouts to reach the NAIA national tournament for the first time.

The Mountaineers tied their opponent in the Cascade Collegiate Conference tournament in Springfield on consecutive days and won both shootouts to advance, first beating Oregon Tech in penalty kicks Nov. 12, 4-3, after the teams played to a scoreless tie. The next day, EOU battled to a 2-2 draw against Southern Oregon semifinals, then turned a perfect effort in the penalty kick round to win it 5-4 and reach the championship match against top-seed Corban and qualify for nationals for the first time.

All five players who took the penalty kicks for EOU — Javier Moran, Joaquin Bermejillo, Jack Rose, Elvis Pavon and Erik Mattice — were true on their attempts, with the final tally from Mattice serving as the winner.

Eastern dropped the championship match to Corban, 2-1, and a week later fell in its match at national, 2-0, to Baker (Kansas). The season, though, still was an unprecedented one for the Mountaineers, who a year earlier had won their first CCC tournament game. 

9 — EOU women’s soccer completes best-ever run, reaches NAIA quarterfinals

The Eastern Oregon University women’s soccer team continued to make history in 2019, as for the first time, the Mountaineers advanced to the NAIA quarterfinals.

EOU women's soccer

Eastern Oregon University’s Anna Hager (23) and Carroll College’s McKenna Payne (4) make a play on a corner kick Oct. 4 during a match. The Mountaineers turned in their best season ever in 2019, reaching the national quarterfinals. 

Josee Bassett connected on the winning penalty kick, and the Mountaineers topped No. 4 Central Methodist (Missouri) in a shootout, 4-3, Dec. 2 during the second round of the NAIA national championship tournament after the teams played to a 1-1 draw in regulation. 

The Mountaineers’ magical run ended two days later in the quarterfinals to eventual national runner-up Marian (Indiana), but EOU posted another historic season with its best-ever playoff run, a win total (16) that tied for second-most in program history, and a preseason run that saw Eastern earn its highest-ever national ranking at sixth. EOU fell from the poll midseason, but surged back to 10th following the conclusion of the season.

8 — Powder Valley volleyball, girls basketball take second

It didn’t end the way they hoped.

But the Powder Valley Badgers left the Class 1A state volleyball tournament with one of the best finishes in program history. 

For the second year in a row, though, St. Paul got the best of Powder Valley in a matchup of 1A volleyball powerhouses. 

The Buckaroos used a big run in each set and an 18-kill performance by Isabelle Wyss to top the Badgers Nov. 9, 25-13, 25-14, 25-16, in the 1A championship match in Redmond.

The loss dropped the Badgers (34-2 overall) to second place for the second year in a row and fifth time in program history. 

It was the second time in 2019 St. Paul kept Powder Valley from a state title. In March, the teams met for the 1A girls basketball championship, which the Buckaroos won, 49-32. The Badgers finished the basketball season with a record of 26-4, taking second in the state for the third time in program history.

7 — Joseph boys track team takes second, girls take third

When he was a freshman, Tyler Homan was the lone member of the Joseph Eagles boys track and field team to qualify for the state track meet, and he did so in the 1A boys 3,000.

Three years later, Homan came off the track at Western Oregon University in Monmouth as an individual champion in the 1A boys 300 hurdles — and, more important, as part of the best finish the Eagles have ever had.

Tyler Homan

Joseph’s Tyler Homan was the champion in the 1A boys 300 hurdles in May. 

Boosted by Homan’s win in the hurdles, an effort in the pole vault that saw three Eagles reach the podium and two additional top-three finishes, Joseph scored 48 points May 17-18 to take second place at the 1A state meet, a mere five points behind state champion Dufur.

The Joseph girls, meanwhile, earned three wins to claim third place behind only Adrian and St. Paul.

Ellyse Tingelstad claimed two of the Eagles’ three individual state titles. She won her family’s fifth consecutive title in the 1A girls 3,000 — her older sister, Isabelle, won three in a row and Ellyse has now won two — and repeated as champion in the 1A girls 1,500 to help lift the Eagles. Ella Coughlan also added a state championship in the 800.

6 — Union/Cove takes second in both boys and girls cross country

In a pair of strong performances at the 2019 OSAA Cross Country State Championship Nov. 9, Union/Cove’s girls and boys teams both brought home second-place trophies from Lane Community College in Eugene. 

In the 3A/2A/1A girls championship, the Bobcats finished with 110 points in a distant second from state champion Burns, which won with 43 points. Catlin Gabel was third and Bandon was fourth with 121 and 122 points, respectively. 

Union/Cove bested Bandon by just six points for second place in the 2A/1A boys race, finishing with 89 points overall. St. Stephens Academy ran away with the state title, finishing with 42 points and placing three in the top five. 

5 — Wallowa County cross country finally bests Burns, wins state

Wallowa County had been chasing Burns all year.

A year ago, Burns beat Wallowa County by two points to narrowly took home the 3A cross county state championship. 

Last week, the Hilanders won the Special District 3 championship over the Outlaws by way of tiebreaker after each team scored 32 points. 

At Lane Community College on Saturday, Wallowa County finally overtook Burns, winning the 2019 OSAA 3A Cross County State Championship as a team by three points, while sophomore Henry Coughlan took home the individual title with a time of 15 minutes, 58.9 seconds.

“With such a young team, they don’t run young,” Outlaws coach Dan Moody said. “It was in their mind the whole time, ‘we got to step up, we got to step up.’ And they all did.”

The state title is the third in program history and the first since winning back-to-back in 1995 and 1996. All three have come under Moody.

While Coughlan led the way and finished four seconds ahead of second-place finisher J.P. Friedrichsen, his teammates weren’t far behind. Sophomores Zac Knapp and Bayden Menton were third and fourth with personal-bests of 16:07.1 and 16:23.8, respectively. 

All seven Outlaw runners finished inside the top 30, but the difference on Saturday was John Paul Matthews and Ian Goodrich, who together outkicked Creswell’s Brandon Moehlmann and Taft’s Matias Vesma to finish 15th and 16th, respectively.

4 — Enterprise girls track team wins first state title in thrilling fashion

A state championship secured by a fraction of a second from an athlete who barely qualified for state. A Herculean effort from a second individual who had to overcome food poisoning just to compete. A crucial victory in a relay race over a district rival. Continued dominance in a second relay race. 

Enterprise girls

The Enterprise girls 4x400 relay team of Kyla Hook, Savannah Vaughn, Shelby Moncrief and Karli Bedard with the state title trophy May 18 after winning the 2A state title.

These are just a few of the myriad elements that fell in place for the Enterprise Outlaws girls track and field team to finally get what has eluded it for years — a state trophy. But the Outlaws didn’t just get any trophy. They grabbed the state title.

Enterprise swept the relays, added a vital win in the 100 and had numerous key efforts to edge Grant Union by a mere half point — 64.5 to 64 — to win the 2A girls state championship at Western Oregon University in Monmouth.

“They rose up for two days in a row,” longtime EHS head coach Dan Moody said. “I was hoping we would be in the trophies, and then everything started falling into place.”

And it all happened, no less, at Moody’s alma mater.

3 — EOU announces additions of baseball, women’s lacrosse

Howard Fetz has been feverishly advocating for baseball’s return to Eastern Oregon University.

Fetz, who coached the Mountaineers from 1967 to 1987, and several former EOU players have been imploring the university to bring back the sport, which was dropped 13 years ago.

“I believe in it,” Fetz said. “I love the game. I love the opportunity to reach kids and adults through the medium of athletics, and in this case baseball.”

The efforts have paid off — baseball is coming back to Eastern Oregon University.

The national pastime, which was cut from EOU in 2006, will be reinstated, President Tom Insko announced Oct. 12 at EOU’s alumni breakfast. The first season for Mountaineer baseball will be in 2021.

“We’re fortunate that we have the financial resources to bring men’s baseball back to Eastern Oregon University,” he said at the breakfast, making the statement with Fetz at his side. 

It’s not the only sport Eastern is adding, either. Insko said the university will also add what he described as a sport rising in popularity, women’s lacrosse. The inaugural season for the sport will also be in the spring of 2021.

“It’s an opportunity for EOU to lead in a new, exciting, emerging sport, bring that to La Grande and bring that to a rural community,” Insko said of the addition of lacrosse. “It’s got a rich history in the East and, to a certain extent, the Midwest.

“It’s an emerging sport in the West,” he added. “It’s the fastest growing youth sport in the nation and has been for a number of years.”

2 — La Grande softball repeats as state champions

The high expectations. The pressure. The target on their backs as being the defending state champions.

LG softball

The La Grande softball team celebrates after receiving the championship trophy June 1 following its 4-2 win over Henley in the state championship game in Eugene. 

None of that kept the La Grande Tigers from doing what they intended to do all season — repeat as state champs.

The Tigers scored four early runs to build a lead it would never relinquish and put a stop to a late rally on the way to a 4-2 win over the Henley Hornets Saturday in the 4A softball state championship game at Jane Sanders Stadium in Eugene.

“The expectation of us coming back (to the championship game) and to win motivated us to play well,” junior pitcher Allie Brock said after a 12-strikeout effort in the win. “We play really well under pressure, and I think that contributed to our performance today.”

The Tigers faced their share of pressure in Saturday’s title game rematch against the Hornets, but none tougher than when Henley made its final push at the lead in the sixth inning. Trailing 4-1, the Hornets opened the sixth with two straight singles and a fielder’s choice, then cut the deficit to two runs on an infield RBI single by Lilly Poe — with the top of their potent offense coming up, bases loaded and nobody out.

The infield met in the pitcher’s circle to regroup, shake off the rough start to the frame and — in the familial sense that has carried the team all year — encourage one another through the pressure-packed moment.

“We just wanted to let each other know we were all present there mentally, that we needed to stay calm and pull through, and we had a lot of confidence in each other,” Brock said.

Junior Jaiden Hafer, who had two RBIs in the win, said in that huddle they reminded themselves that they had one other’s backs and to take it one play at a time. Brock even said she had to focus on one pitch at a time. 

One by one, the Tigers’ ace navigated the top three batters to get out of the inning with the lead intact. Brock forced Paige Barnett to pop out to Jacie Howton at second base, struck out Kylie Melsness for the fourth time, then induced Kaila Mick to pop out to Howton to end the threat.

1 — La Grande football finishes perfect season for first state title since 1974

Eli Leavitt was like many La Grande Tigers the night of Nov. 30 — unable to find the words to express being part of a team that ended a 45-year championship drought.

La Grande v Banks

La Grande’s Spencer Gerst, center, kisses the OSAA trophy Nov. 30 in Hermiston, after the trophy presentation. La Grande defeated Banks in the 4A state championship game, 21-0, for its first football title in 45 years.

“I’m so speechless, man,” the senior defensive lineman said. “I want to thank the fans, my teammates, the coaches — we came in with a goal and we got it.”

La Grande used an elite defensive effort to force the defending Class 4A champion Banks Braves into four turnovers and held them to 167 yards — including just 50 in the second half — as the Tigers blanked the Braves, 21-0, Nov. 30 in front of a raucous pro-La Grande crowd in Hermiston to win their first state football title since 1974.

“It feels unbelievable,” said senior quarterback Parker Robinson, who threw two touchdowns in the title game win. “Especially to be with the group of guys that I’m with. They work so hard and put in the time. I’m so thankful to be with (this) group of guys.”

La Grande’s defense, which has been solid all season and even more so in the playoffs, perhaps saved its best effort for last. The Tigers (12-0 overall) flew around, confounding a Banks team (11-1) that had scored 56 points in the semifinals a week before and shutting down the Braves’ lethal passing attack.

“We’ve taken great pride in our defense all year, and I take great pride in my coaching staff and coach (Matt) Wolcott and the things he’s put together for this team,” head coach Rich McIlmoil said.

It was a new scheme, in fact, the Tigers drew up for the Braves, pressuring Banks quarterback Tanner Shook from multiple angles and forcing him to throw two second-half interceptions — one Nathan Reed took 27 yards for a touchdown and a 21-0 lead late in the third quarter — while also throwing in a heavy dose of nickel defense with five defensive backs to slow the Banks’ pass offense.

East Region Sports Editor

Ronald's primary beats are Eastern Oregon University, La Grande High School and the other eight high schools of Union and Wallowa counties. As an avid sports fan, he is primarily reading about or watching sports when he isn't covering a game.

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