Other Local Sports

Local fans had plenty to celebrate last year

Another year has come and gone. But great achievements in Mid-Columbia sports keep coming. The year 2010 was no different, from the Tri-City Americans' deep run in the Western Hockey League playoffs to Leilani Mitchell earning an award in the WNBA.

Here are the year's top 10 local sports stories, as voted on by the Herald staff:

1. Tri-City Americans.

The Americans went somewhere in 2010 that no other team in franchise history had gone -- to the WHL finals.

The Calgary Hitmen stopped Tri-City in the finals, winning the series 4-1.

But in time, all anyone would remember was how great a season it was.

To reach the finals, the Americans started by winning their third consecutive U.S. Division title and the Western Conference's top playoff seed, giving them home-ice advantage through the first three rounds.

Tri-City knocked off Chilliwack in the first round in six games.

The Americans then took out defending WHL champion Kelowna in five games to earn a date with Vancouver in the Western Conference finals.

The Giants won the first game of the series, but the Americans ended up taking the series in six games to earn their first trip to the WHL finals.

As 2010 ended, the Americans were winning again, this time sitting in third place in the U.S. Division.

2. Kamiakin, Connell football.

Kamiakin and Connell made great runs to the state football finals, only to fall short and finish second.

Kamiakin used a stout defense, a prolific offense and the great return game of Tim White to dominate the 3A ranks this fall. The Braves were 13-0, cutting through Southridge, Kelso, Mt. Spokane and Capital in the playoffs before Bellevue defeated them 38-0 in the state championship game at the Tacoma Dome.

Connell, led by standout running back Matt Hadley, entered the state 1A title game against Cascade Christian with a 12-1 record.

In a offensive shootout during which the lead changed hands numerous times, Cascade Christian pulled out a 42-35 victory -- foiling the Eagles from repeating as state champs.

3. Reclassification.

Every few years, the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association reclassifies the state's high schools, moving them into higher or lower divisions depending on their enrollments.

In the case of the Tri-Cities, every big school finished the school year in June as members of the Columbia Basin Big Nine Conference -- with only Hanford considered Class 3A.

But as the new school year started in September, Kamiakin, Kennewick, Southridge and Sunnyside joined Hanford in the 3A ranks.

More surprising, so did Pasco. The school board opted to allow Pasco to drop down, while Chiawana stayed in 4A.

4. Tri-Cities Fever.

The Tri-Cities' indoor football team moved to the Indoor Football League in 2010 after owner Teri Carr decided staying in the af2 would be bad for the franchise.

Because the team joined the league so late, new coach Adam Shackleford had just 21/2 months to put a roster together. Yet the team finished the regular season 7-7 and made the playoffs, where it lost to eventual champion Billings in the first round.

After the season, Carr signed Shackleford to a long-term deal and prepared for the 2011 season, which begins in February.

5. Leilani Mitchell.

The former Kennewick High School standout seemed to hit her stride in her third season with the WNBA's New York Liberty.

Mitchell was named the league's Most Improved Player after she increased her scoring average by almost seven points to 9.3 per game.

She was second in the league with 72 3-pointers and was the best at shooting them at 48.6 percent. She had 3.8 assists per game.

With the award, everyone seemed to realize Mitchell is a pretty good player.

6. Sun Downs.

The year didn't start so well for the horsemen and women of the Tri-City area as they remained locked out of the Benton County Fairgrounds by the Benton County commissioners.

Needing a good three months to train their horses for the upcoming Sun Downs meet, the trainers scrambled to find alternative locations for the workouts.

By the time the meet began in April, no one was sure whether it would be the end for the Tri-City Horse Racing Association. But the fans responded, coming out over the five weekends to wager on the races.

The TCHRA was so pleased, it announced it would come back for another season this spring.

7. Hydroplanes.

As the unlimited hydroplanes came to the Tri-Cities in July for the 45th running of the Lamb Weston Columbia Cup, it was two old veterans who again dominated the field.

Steve David, 55, drives the U-1 Oh Boy! Oberto. Dave Villwock, 53, drives the U-96 Spirit of Qatar.

David won his third consecutive Columbia Cup, but he didn't even know it until he got back to the pits. Meanwhile, Villwock thought he had won after crossing the finish line.

Before the final, Villwock's throttle stuck and he was not getting enough speed -- despite leading the field. David started reeling Villwock in slowly. And by the last lap, his deficit had gone from five roostertails down to a just a couple.

But David was having his own problems. His radio died five minutes before the race, so he was out there alone, trying to catch Villwock.

Then, as he closed in on Villwock entering the final turn, David entered in lane 2. Villwock was in lane 4, and he cut in at the apex, cutting David off in the process. Chief referee Mike Noonan had to give Villwock a one-lap penalty for an illegal lane change.

David returned to the dock, thinking he had finished second. But the roaring crowd told him otherwise, and the look of surprise on his face was priceless.

8. Richland baseball in state finals again.

It's getting to be a habit for coach Ben Jacobs and his Richland High School baseball team.

In May, the Bombers reached the state 4A semifinals for the fourth consecutive year and fifth in the last six.

Richland (20-6) defeated Shorewood 1-0 in the semifinals at Safeco Field to once again play for the state title -- something the Bombers had won three times in the previous five years.

Alas, it was not to be, as Kentwood charged to the title with an 8-0 win over Richland.

Still, Jacobs could be proud of a team that seems to reload every year and find itself a factor in the chase for the state championship.

9. Tri-City Dust Devils.

A new playoff format in the Northwest League that allowed two extra teams into the postseason meant nothing for the Tri-City Dust Devils.

A 30-46 record, helped by an eight-game losing streak in August, was the worst mark the franchise has had in its 10-year history.

Manager Fred Ocasio had the pitching. He just didn't have much offense with which to work. Starter Chad Bettis was named to the league's all-star team.

The starting staff had a combined 2.70 ERA but was just 16-23 because of lack of run support.

Still, there was good news. Fans still came out to Gesa Stadium and set a season attendance record for the fourth consecutive year. Also, the Colorado Rockies announced they were renewing their working agreement with the Devils for another two years.

10. Walla Walla Community College women's basketball and soccer.

WWCC showed it had women's sports, as the Warriors snared the Northwest Athletic Association of Community Colleges titles in basketball and soccer.

In March at Toyota Center, Kati Isham and Nancy Johnson each scored 20 points to lead the Warriors over NWAACC East rival Yakima Valley in a 75-72 nailbiter.

In November, Pasco High School graduate Chad Bodnar led his Walla Walla team past Clackamas 2-0 for the NWAACC soccer title.

Pasco High grads Kaylie Winston and Marianne Johnson, and Southridge grad Courtney Hancock were also members of the team.

Honorable mention

Othello's Natilee Ruiz wins 2A state swimming titles in 200- and 500-yard freestyle races; Hanford's Scott Kim is the top medalist at the 3A boys state golf tournament; Sunnyside Christian wins the 1B state boys basketball title; Tri-Cities Prep wins the 2B boys state cross country team title; the Hanford 200 freestyle relay swim team of Melissa Merrill, Stephanie Tixier, Christine Tixier and Kristen Bennett wins the 3A state title.

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