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2018: Top 10 local sports stories

In 2018, there were more candidates with a chance to make the top 10 than in any other year.

We also called on the most panelists — 16 in all — to vote on the stories that should be recognized.

They did so, and what resulted was 30 stories that received at least one vote, eight that received at least one first-place vote and two that nabbed firsts but didn’t have enough cumulative points to make the top 10.

Crater baseball, and the spectacular individual effort of pitcher Larson Kindreich, paved the way, followed by the sensational season Dante Olson had for Montana’s football team and the dominating performance of Ashland runner EJ Holland.

Remarkably, the 30 stories to receive votes represented 91 percent of the 33-story ballot.

The panel was made up of current and former sports staff members and other newsroom personnel. One sent in a ballot with this notation: “Tough list Easily could’ve had 20 different stories in top 10 and not felt bad about any of them.”

As opposed to 2017, when the top three stories — South Medford football, SOU football and runner Andy Monroe — appeared on every ballot, no story was on every card this year. In fact, No. 2 Dante Olson was on the most, with 13 mentions, followed by No. 1 Crater baseball and No. 3 EJ Holland on 12 each. No. 7 Mike Wilson made 11 ballots, while No. 5 South Medford baseball and No. 6 Eli Spence were on 10.

Here are the Mail Tribune’s top 10 sports stories of 2018:

Crater Baseball

1 -- Left-handed pitcher Larson Kindreich was a force rarely seen in high school baseball, leading Crater to the Class 5A state championship and earning numerous awards, including prep baseball player of the year at the Oregon Sports Awards banquet.

The senior pitched five no-hitters and strung together 37 hitless innings, believed to be the longest such streak in state history. He didn’t allow a run in his final 432/3 innings. He had a 9-2 record and 0.71 ERA, striking out 154 batters and allowing 17 hits for the season.

In Crater’s 2-0 state-title win over Crescent Valley, Kindreich allowed six hits and fanned 14 as the Comets completed a 25-6 season. Joining him on the all-state first team were senior shortstop Nick Bastendorff and senior third baseman Trae Frodge.

Dante Olson

2 -- The former Cascade Christian High football standout announced his presence in a big way during a breakout season as a linebacker for the University of Montana.

The junior earned multiple first-team All-American honors and is one of three finalists for the Buck Buchanan Award, which goes to the top defensive player in the FCS ranks. The award winner will be announced Friday in Frisco, Texas.

Olson, 6-foot-3, 237 pounds, this week also was named the GoGriz.com person of the year. He led all FCS teams in tackles with 151 and an average of 13.7 per game.

He shattered the former school record for tackles of 130, despite not having the benefit of additional postseason games, and was second in the Big Sky Conference in forced fumbles (three), fourth in sacks (six) and eighth in tackles for loss (11).

EJ Holland

3 -- From spring to fall, the Ashland junior did predominantly one thing: run away from people. Holland won three state championships spanning the track and cross country seasons and added victories in high-profile meets once the prep seasons concluded.

In the spring as a sophomore, Holland captured the 3,000 meters in a meet-record time of 8 minutes, 26.44 seconds, then followed with a victory in the 1,500 in 3:55.61.

On to the fall, where Holland was undefeated in the high school season, three times eclipsing the 15-minute barrier over 5,000-meter courses and comfortably winning state in 15:30. He added regional and BorderClash victories to his resume in ensuing weeks before finishing nationals in 16th. Holland ended the year ranked 10th nationally among juniors.

Danny Miles

4 -- The former Medford High and Southern Oregon University multi-sport athlete made a splash in one discipline, in particular, when he was voted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame following a legendary career at Oregon Tech.

The 1963 Medford High graduate entered in November with former players Otis Birdsong of Arkansas, Sean Elliott of Arizona, Sidney Moncrief of Houston, Sam Perkins of North Carolina, Marvin Webster of Morgan State and Paul Westphal of USC, along with former Charleston coach John Kresse.

In 45 years with OIT, Miles took the Owls to NAIA Division II national crowns in 2004, ‘08 and ‘12. He earned his 1,000th win in 2014 and completed his career with 1,040 victories, the fourth highest total among all NCAA and NAIA coaches.

South Medford Baseball

5 -- South Medford endured a season of highs and lows, stringing together wins in what shaped up to possibly be the program’s best campaign, only to have turmoil reign when ninth-year coach Ray Smith was placed on leave for drinking prior to a game.

The Panthers were ranked No. 1 in the state and had secured the Southwest Conference title when they faced North Medford late in the regular season. Smith was ejected in the third inning while arguing a call at third base. His drinking came to light soon after, and he was placed on leave. It was later determined he would not return to the school.

The Panthers went undefeated in the SWC and had the most regular-season wins in Smith’s tenure, but they lost in the second round of the state playoffs and finished 22-5.

Eli Spence

6 -- The North Medford senior played his first full season as a running back and had a campaign unlike any other in Black Tornado history. The 6-foot-5, 220-pounder set a school record with 1,991 rushing yards, breaking the former standard of 1,743 yards in 2005 by Ryan Folsom.

Spence led the state in rushing in the regular season and was first-team all-Southwest Conference.

His combination of size, speed and agility had him, in previous seasons, sharing time at tight end, receiver and running back, in addition to playing linebacker, defensive end and on special teams.

Spence settled in at tailback under first-year coach Steve Turner and, in the season opener, set single-game school rushing records with 343 yards and five touchdowns against McNary.

Mike Wilson

7 -- The Central Point professional boxer ran his record to 19-0 early in the year, then got the biggest fight of his life in November, taking on World Boxing Association champion Denis Lebedev, of Russia.

Wilson, 35, and his team, trainer Jimmy Pedrojetti and consultant Joe Pedrojetti, traveled to Monte Carlo, Monaco, for the 12-round bout against the left-handed Lebedev. Lebedev, 39, won a unanimous decision, 117-111, 119-109 and 119-109, getting much mileage out of his veteran ring skills. He raised his record to 32-2 but didn’t add to his knockout total of 23.

A victory would have earned Wilson a world title fight. It was his biggest payday as a pro, bringing in $115,000. Afterward, he announced his intention to continue to fight and promote his own cards.

SOU Softball

8 -- Under coach Jessica Pistole, Southern Oregon had its best season, led by NAIA player-of-the-year Harlee Donovan and second-team All-American Kelsey Randall. The Raiders were third in the NAIA World Series, going 51-15.

Donovan, a senior catcher, batted .447 and had an on-base percentage of .593, which was helped by an NAIA-leading 62 walks. She set an SOU record with 12 home runs, and her 77 RBIs were second in the nation. At the World Series, she ws 6-for-11 with two homers, a double, nine RBIs and 10 walks.

Senior shortstop Randall dots the NAIA career record book: No. 1 in triples (31), No. 5 in hits (335), No. 6 in stolen bases (154) and No. 7 in runs (235), each a conference record. The four-time Gold Glove winner batted .368 this year, with three homers, 12 triples and nine doubles, leading the nation in triples and runs (73).

Aldrick Rosas

9 -- The former Southern Oregon place-kicker had a breakout season in his second year in the NFL with the New York Giants and was rewarded by being named the NFC’s starting kicker in next month’s Pro Bowl.

Rosas was one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL heading into Sunday’s season finale against the Dallas Cowboys. He converted 30 of 31 field goals through 15 games and was on pace for the team record for field-goal percentage. He was 28 of 29 on PATs.

He also set the record for the longest field goal in the history of the 93-year-old franchise, drilling a 57-yarder in a 30-27 win over Chicago on Dec. 2.

Rosas, the third former Raider to ever appear in the NFL, was on the 2014 national championship team. He was 25 of 32 on field goals in two years with SOU.

Prep Wrestling

10 -- Led by 160-pound Logan Meek, one of three seniors to capture Class 5A individual state championships for Crater, the Comets placed second in the team race.

Meek became only the second Crater wrestler to win three state crowns, matching the accomplishment of Shane Webster from 1999-2001, and was a two-time state wrestler of the year. Meek, who signed to compete at Oregon State, won in the finals with a 13-4 major decision over Putnam’s Giovanni Hernandez. The Comets’ other champions were Zeth Brower at 120 and Beau Crawford at 220.

Sophomore Gabe Vidlak became Cascade Christian’s first state champ, taking the 113 title. In the girls exhibition competition, North Medford junior Kyleigh Lopez triumphed dat 110 for her third title, and Phoenix sophomore Emma Truex won at 125.

OTHERS RECEIVING VOTES

* Dylan Wu finishes Northwestern career, qualifies for the Web.com Tour.

* Wildfire smoke plays havoc with local athletic schedules.

* Medford Mustangs win an appeal to capture their fifth straight state championship.

* Medford’s Dick Fosbury is celebrated on the 50th anniversary of his Olympic heroics.

* St. Mary’s girls golf team, led by freshman individual winner Baylee Hammericksen, claims third straight state crown with record score.

* Ashland’s Sam Gaviglio draws 24 major league starts with Toronto, going 3-10.

* SOU runner Jessa Perkinson is an All-American for the 14th time.

* The Medford Rogues get a new league and a new owner.

* Crater’s Kiefer Edwards is 5A boys basketball player of the year.

* SOU’s athletic facility, Lithia Motors Pavilion, opens for use.

* Jason Atkinson of Central Point heads the Portland Diamond Project.

* Ashland’s Jasper Weatherby is taken in the fourth round of the NHL draft.

* Crater’s Nate Bittle emerges as one of the nation’s leading basketball recruits.

* The Oklahoma City Thunder waive Medford’s Kyle Singler.

* The SOU men’s and women’s cross country teams claim the combined national title.

* Crater garners its third straight boys cross country state championship.

* Steve Turner returns to North Medford as head football coach.

* Cascade Christian advances to the 3A football state championship game.

* SOU’s men’s soccer team advances to second round of nationals.

* SOU’s women’s basketball team make the national tournament.

IN MEMORIAM

Three notable local sports figures passed away in 2018 and were remembered through stories in our pages:

* Kevin Towers, 56, was a 1979 Medford High graduate who went on to become general manager of the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks.

* Harry Mondale, 86, started the Phoenix High wrestling program and led it to seven state championships and seven state runner-up finishes over 39 seasons.

* Dan Bulkley, 101, was a pioneer in Southern Oregon University’s track and field and physical education programs and a masters athlete of world repute.

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