There were plenty of celebrations among local sports teams in 2018.
Oregon State and the Eugene Emeralds captured baseball championships. A resurgent Oregon football team had fans buzzing about the Ducks again. And local women stepped up big with four collegiate teams reaching as far as the Elite Eight in their respective sports — Oregon and Oregon State basketball in the NCAA Tournament, the Ducks' softball team advancing to the Women's College World Series and UO getting one win away from the NCAA's Final Four in volleyball.
In addition, a couple of high schools filled their trophy cases with state championship hardware.
But headlines in 2018 also were notable for things that disappeared — Hayward Field's iconic East Grandstand, an NCAA Tournament berth for men's basketball, and a successful softball coach and a passel of his players.
Here are The Register-Guard's top-10 local sports stories of 2018:
1. Oregon Football
There was collective sigh of relief in and around Autzen Stadium this football season after Oregon coach Mario Cristobal seemingly put the Ducks back on a positive track. An 8-4 regular season and a spot in next week's Redbox Bowl is helping to erase the memories of the past two years when Oregon struggled to regain a semblance of its former winning self. The Ducks finished 4-8 in 2016, which led to the dismissal of coach Mark Helfrich and his staff less than two years after Marcus Mariota won the Heisman and the team played for a national championship. The Ducks were 7-5 under Willie Taggart, who spent roughly 367 days as Oregon's coach before fleeing to Florida State. But this year's success also revealed the inconsistency of a building program — for instance, a signature 30-27 overtime win against eventual Pac-12 champion Washington weighed against a baffling 44-15 loss to Arizona two weeks later. But the improvement of 2018 are just the beginning, Oregon coaches and players promise. One huge sign the Ducks are headed in the right direction? Cristobal last week signed the No. 5-ranked recruiting class in the nation — the most highly touted in school history — featuring a handful of four- and five-star players punctuated by defensive end and No. 1 prospect Kayvon Thibodeaux.
2. Women's Basketball
The greatest season in the history of Oregon women’s basketball included the program’s first regular-season conference crown in 18 years, its first-ever Pac-12 Tournament title and a second consecutive Elite Eight appearance. However, the Ducks' dream season ended one win away from the Final Four when second-seeded Oregon lost 84-74 to No. 1 Notre Dame in the Spokane Regional final on March 26. The Ducks, who finished the season 33-5, were led by Sabrina Ionescu, the Pac-12 Conference player of the year and Oregon’s first Associated Press first-team All-American. Ionescu and honorable mention All-American Ruthy Hebard are among four starters who return off that team, which had Ionescu thinking ahead in the wake of that loss to Notre Dame: “We’re going to come back, we’re going to learn from this, we’re going to come back better and hunting this Final Four next year.” The Ducks are off to a positive start this season with an 11-1 record and boasting a No. 5 ranking in this week's Associated Press women's basketball poll. In addition, up the road in Corvallis, a Marie Gülich-led Oregon State team followed a similar path to the Elite Eight, for the second time in school history, and finished the season 26-8.
3. Hayward Controversy
Efforts to save Hayward Field's East Grandstand from the wrecking ball ended June 22 when demolition of the nearly 100-year-old structure took place. The razing was the first visible step of a project to reconstruct a new Hayward Field for the International Association of Athletics Federation's World Outdoor Track & Field Championships in 2021, the first time the event will be held on U.S. soil. The new stadium must accommodate a minimum of 30,000 fans a day during that meet, as well as 2,000 athletes and countless members of the media. A group opposed to the demolition, which was hoping on last-ditch efforts to save the East Grandstand, failed to gather enough support or navigate a legal avenue in time to stop its destruction. The new facility is expected to be completed in time for Eugene to host the 2020 Olympic Track and Field Trials, which was awarded to the city in August.
4. UO Softball
A national championship eluded Oregon's top-flight program once again, with the disappointed Ducks going home early from the Women's College World Series for the fifth time in the past seven years. Oregon, the nation's No. 1 seed, opened the eight-team double-elimination tournament with an 11-6 win over Arizona State before back-to-back losses to rival Washington (6-2) and Florida State (4-1). The loss to the Huskies was particularly painful after UO had swept UW in Seattle en route to the program's fifth Pac-12 title in six years. But the Ducks made just as many headlines in the offseason after coach Mike White left Oregon to take the head coaching job at Texas in an apparent disagreement over compensation. Six players have since transferred from Oregon, including four who have followed White to Texas. Among the losses are co-aces Miranda Elish (now at Texas) and Megan Kleist (now at Louisiana-Lafayette). New coach Melyssa Lombardi, who was a longtime top assistant at Oklahoma, will have only three starters remaining from the 2018 WCWS team.
5. OSU Baseball
The Beavers pulled off one of the most dramatic runs in College World Series history to claim the program's third national championship with a 5-0 victory over Arkansas in the final. Along the way they won six elimination games and endured frustrating weather delays before OSU rallied, after being down to the final strike in the ninth inning, against the Razorbacks. With Arkansas leading 3-2, Cadyn Grenier hit a foul pop up that looked to be the game's final out. Instead, the ball landed between three Razorback fielders. Grenier then knocked a game-tying single into left field and Trevor Larnach followed with the game-winning two-run home run. The Beavers also won in 2006 and 2007. The coach who took Oregon State to the promised land three times, Pat Casey, retired from his coaching job in September after 24 years in Corvallis and 31 college baseball seasons. He'd won 900 games at OSU and led his team to the College World Series six times. Casey will remain at Oregon State as a senior associate athletics director.
6. UO Men's Basketball
After five straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, including a spot in the Final Four in 2017, the Oregon men's basketball team figured it would be a challenge getting back to the Big Dance while it restocked its roster. Not many, however, figured the Ducks would fall short. Oregon was maddeningly inconsistent and finished the regular season 20-11 overall and tied for sixth in the Pac-12 at 10-8. With postseason hopes hanging on a thread, a loss to USC in the semifinals of the Pac-12 Tournament kept the Ducks out of the NCAA and put them into the National Invitation Tournament. Oregon beat Rider in the opener but fell to Marquette in the second round. That had Duck fans looking ahead to 2018-19 when a much heralded recruiting class would infuse new talent. However, what began as a promising season will certainly be another challenge after Oregon had to play without the talented Louis King for the beginning of the season because of injury, and has since lost starters Bol Bol (foot), Abu Kigab (ankle) and Kenny Wooten (broken jaw) for an unknown amount of time.
7. Year of the Colt
Thurston shined on two of high school's biggest stages, winning state championships in both boys basketball and football against the same school, Wilsonville. In basketball, the No. 3-seeded Colts breezed through the first two rounds of the Class 5A state tournament that included an upset of No. 2 Crater before taking on the two-time defending champion Wildcats in the final. Thurston made the championship game look easy, too, winning in a 54-36 rout to claim its first state title in boys basketball. Football was a different matter. Gavin Levesque's 24-yard field goal with 36 seconds remaining put the Colts ahead, and then Thurston twice blocked potential game-tying field goals with no time on the clock as the No. 7 seed held on to defeat No. 1 Wilsonville 30-27. It also was the Colts' first state title in football. Also in 2018, Thurston's Tyler Garner won the individual title at the state golf tournament.
8. Olympic Trials Return
USA Track & Field announced in early August that it was bringing the 2020 U.S. Olympic Track & Field Trials to the new Hayward Field, giving Eugene the meet for the fourth straight Olympic cycle and seventh time overall. The announcement ended a tumultuous few months after bidding for the meet was reopened in May when USATF determined its original selection, Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif., was no longer a suitable site because of ongoing litigation surrounding its stadium construction. Eugene, despite the fact its own stadium had been razed, was picked over competing bids from Sacramento and Austin, Texas. Hayward Field recently hosted the Olympic Trials in 2008, 2012 and 2016. The 10-day meet will be held June 19-28, 2020, one year before Eugene becomes the first American city to host the IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships in 2021.
9. Eugene Emeralds
After sporting the worst record in the regular season at 31-45, the minor-league Ems won five straight playoff games to capture their second Northwest League baseball title in three years. The playoffs looked out of reach for much of the season, but Eugene went 17-21 in the second half to claim the second spot out of the South Division. The Emeralds trailed in four of their five playoff games but won each of those four games by a 3-2 score. In a finish that seemed fitting for such an unexpected title run, Eugene clinched the championship on a walk-off balk to defeat Spokane 3-2 at PK Park. With the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of a 2-2 tie, Spokane reliever Emmanuel Clase stumbled off the mound and dropped the ball to bring in Yonathan Perlaza with the winning run. "Unbelievable ... ," first-year manager Steve Lerud said after the victory.
10. Year of the Spartan
Marist High claimed four state championship titles during the calendar year across both boys and girls programs. First, the Spartan girls basketball team ended years of disappointing close calls and upsets at the state tournament with a 59-44 victory over La Salle in the Class 5A championship game. Top-ranked Marist was led by Midwestern League player of the year Emma McKenney, who scored 19 points in the title game. Next up was the Spartan boys golf team, with John Pollock finishing second individually as all four scoring golfers landed in the top 12 to easily win the title. In the fall, the Marist boys and girls swept both cross country titles with Joey Peterson earning a win in the boys race. Oh, the Spartan boys also finished second at the state track and field meet.
Aaron Wise is the PGA Tour's rookie of the year; Jonathan Smith takes over the football program at Oregon State, his alma mater; Portland Timbers reach the MLS Cup under first-year coach Giovanni Savaarese; UO baseball plays through another disappointing season; Jakob Ingebrigtsen shatters American high school record in the mile during the Prefontaine Classic; Duck volleyball team advances as far as the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament; Sprinter Jenna Prandini and hurdler Devon Allen, former Ducks, win national track championships; NCAA imposes penalties on Oregon's men's and women's basketball programs, and on UO's track and field programs for self-reported violations.