Mid-Columbia: 2012 in review

December 29, 2012 

The year 2012 will be remembered in the Mid-Columbia for really strong minor-league franchises, from the Americans to the Fever and Dust Devils. There were some great high school and community college performances too, on the fields and in the pool.

The region’s biggest annual sporting event, the hydroplane races, saw a new champion.

We watched some of our athletes shine in the national and international arena, and we said good-bye to people we all know and love. Here are the Herald sports staff’s top stories of 2012:

1. The Tri-City Americans: The team had a magical run during the 2011-12 season.

They won 50 games, earned their fourth U.S. Division banner in five years and had three players with 100 or more points, but the season ended a little sooner than expected after being swept by the Portland Winterhawks in the Western Conference finals.

The Americans swept Everett in the first round of the playoffs, then beat rival Spokane in the Western Conference semifinals to reach the Western Conference finals for the third time in five years.

The Americans’ 50-18-2-2 record and 104 points marked the second-best record in franchise history. Along the way, Brendan Shinnimin (134), Adam Hughesman (116) and Patrick Holland (109) each scored more than 100 points. It was the first time since the 1991-92 season that Tri-City has had three players with 100 or more points.

Shinnimin’s point total earned him the Bob Clarke Trophy as the league’s leading scorer. By the time all of the awards were handed out, Shinnimin also won the Four Broncos Memorial Trophy (WHL Player of the Year), was named CHL Player of the Year and won the CHL scoring title with 58 goals and 76 assists in 69 games.

Shinnimin had a brilliant February with 23 goals and 20 assists in 14 games. He signed a three-year free-agent contract with the Phoenix Coyotes on March 2.

Coach Jim Hiller was named WHL and CHL Coach of the Year.

Goalie Ty Rimmer (31-12-1-1) was named Western Conference Goalie of the Year after posting a league best 2.43 goals against average, a .922 save percentage and five shutouts in 46 games.

The start to the 2012-13 season wasn’t as stellar as last year. The Americans had a 20-12-1-2 record at the holiday break, winning their last two games before Christmas to mark the fifth time in six years they had 20 wins at the midseason break.

2. Tri-Cities Fever: For the second consecutive season, the Tri-Cities Fever won the Indoor Football League’s Intense Conference title.

But also for the second consecutive season, the Fever fell in the league’s championship game on the road to the Sioux Falls Storm, this time 59-32.

Still, it was a great season for the franchise, which finished with a 14-3 record (all three losses were to the Storm).

The Fever was named the IFL Franchise of the Year by the league.

Defensive lineman Jake Killeen and defensive back Lionell Singleton were first-team all-leaguers, while quarterback Houston Lillard, wide receiver Steven White-head and center Will Falakiseni were named to the second unit.

3. A great spring for Kamiakin: Kamiakin High School athletic director Don Schumacher intended to retire at the end of June this year. It just so happened the Braves decided to send him out on a winning note.

The school’s baseball team won the 3A state championship at Gesa Stadium in Pasco, edging Eastside Catholic 3-2.

Meanwhile, over in Lacey, the Kamiakin softball team was busy doing the same thing — winning the 3A state title — when it handcuffed Everett 6-1 in the championship game.

And further up I-5, the Kamiakin girls track team won the 3A state championship in Tacoma, with Ellie Heiden winning two individual titles and anchoring two relay teams grabbing crowns.

4. Columbia Cup: Jimmy Shane, driving the U-5 Graham Trucking, edged J. Michael Kelly in the 88 Degree Men by just a few feet to win the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup in July.

It was one of the closest victories ever in unlimited hydroplane racing, and it wouldn’t have happened if Steve David, in the U-6 Oh Boy! Oberto, hadn’t crossed the score-up buoy line too soon.

H1 Unlimited officials penalized him a lap, but instead of holding back to save his equipment, the veteran driver cut loose and stayed ahead of the field.

It didn’t matter, though. Shane passed Kelly on the final turn and picked up his first unlimited victory.

5. Area swimmers: Let’s start with the state high school championships. In February, Richland’s Nick Connors won a 4A state title in the boys 500 freestyle. In November, Richland’s Lisa Bratton won 4A crowns in the 200 IM and 100 backstroke.

In between, though, Bratton, Othello High graduate Natilee Ruiz and Richland High grad Cody Roberts all competed in the United States Olympic Trials (200 IM, and 100 Back).

While none of them made the Olympic team, they performed well — especially Bratton, who placed 13th out of 186 competitors in the 200 backstroke. It was continuing proof that the quality of swimming in the Mid-Columbia is improving.

6. CBC women win NWAACC crown: It took every second of the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges championship game to get there, but when it was over the Columbia Basin College women edged Yakima Valley 70-69 for the crown in March at Toyota Center.

CBC coach Cheryl Holden’s crew went 29-2 and won in front of the home crowd. Freshman point guard Katherine Samuels was named tournament MVP. Teammates Tiffany Idler and Jennifer Noon also were named to the all-tournament team.

7. Liberty Christian state football champs: For much of the regular season, Mike Olson’s Liberty Christian Patriots had little trouble winning their 8-man football games as they blasted each and every opponent.

So the head coach at the Richland school may have been a little nervous when the post-season began because his players had never been in a close game.

Not to worry, though.

The Patriots edged Cusick 34-32 in the state semifinals, then won the title 34-28 over Neah Bay in the Tacoma Dome on Dec. 1.

In that championship game, freshman John Lesser ran the ball in from 2 yards out as time expired to win the game, and the Patriots finished with a perfect 14-0 record.

8. Ben Jacobs retires: It was time, Jacobs felt, to go watch his son Brett play baseball at Washington State University.

So after 24 seasons as the head baseball coach at Richland High School, Jacobs retired in the fall.

He finished with a 433-155 record, averaging better than 20 wins a season over the final 14 years. His four state championships are more than any coach at the 4A or 3A level. He led the Bombers to 10 state semifinal appearances — including an unheard of six in a row.

9. Hope Solo: The Richland High graduate just doesn’t lead a dull life.

First, the goalie helped the United States’ women’s soccer team win the gold medal at the Summer Olympics in London.

Right after that, she released an autobiography that was well-received.

In the fall, she surprised everyone when she married former Seattle Seahawks tight end Jerramy Stevens.

Even her grandma, Alice Shaw, got some fame when she starred in a short soccer film that should air on Bravo TV within the next year.

10. Tri-City Dust Devils: What better way to spend a summer evening than out at Gesa Stadium in Pasco, watching the Dust Devils play in the Northwest League?

Fans didn’t get to see as many wins — the Colorado Rockies’ minor-league affiliate missed the playoffs with a 32-44 record — but plenty of them came out to see anyway.

The franchise set its single-season attendance mark, as 85,953 came through the turnstiles.

And there were some good players: outfielders Francisco Sosa and Kyle Von Tungeln were both named to the NWL All-Star team.

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