As the calendar turns to 2020, it's time to look back at what has been a truly memorable year for East Idaho sports. There were banners won, trophies added to trophy cases for schools large and small, team and personal records set, and a lifetime of memories made. After exhaustive research and deliberation, the Post Register sports staff (OK, Allan and Marlowe) compiled the top-10 local sports stories for 2019. The list is labeled 1 through 10, with the top story being No. 1. A readers' poll is attached with the list. Like all end-of-the-year lists, final results are subjective. How'd we do? Comments or suggestions are welcome online at postregister.com/sports.
1. Bandits win American Legion World Series
On paper, the Idaho Falls Bandits entered the American Legion baseball season with seemingly enough talent to challenge for a state title. But the gritty, resilient team made up of players from high school state champion Bonneville and runner-up Idaho Falls, as well as top players from area teams, not only claimed the Area C Double-A championship and Idaho's state Double-A American Legion championship, the Bandits won the program's first Northwest regional title and advanced to the American Legion World Series. They didn't stop there, becoming the first team from Idaho to win the national title, setting off a local celebration that included a late-night welcome home party, a parade, and plenty of local accolades.
“It’s unbelievable," Bandits second baseman Bruer Webster said. "We did it for our state .. I love where I live. I love the state of Idaho. It means a lot to bring the title back."
2. Rigby wins first state football title in dramatic fashion
The town of Rigby is probably still celebrating after the Trojan football team claimed its first 5A state championship. The story wasn't so much about winning a state title, it was about the Trojans' journey. There were high expectations, but after a season-opening loss at Coeur d'Alene, the team had to regroup. Rigby did just that, finishing the season with 10 straight wins, including knocking off rival Madison, and conference power Highland to win the 5A District 5-6 title. Even so, it was a playoff-opening win over Eagle that sparked the team's surge in the playoffs. "It was an eye-opener," quarterback Keegan Thompson said. Rigby then downed defending state champion Rocky Mountain, setting up a rematch with Coeur d'Alene for the championship. What happened next could probably make for its own top-10 list, but the Trojans put together a late rally and won the game 57-56 on a two-point conversion in double overtime.
3. Tigers bring home first banner since 1988
It was a celebration three decades in the making. The Idaho Falls boys basketball team won the 4A state title as senior guard Kalvin Bowen dribbled out the final seconds, the orange and black cheering section at the Idaho Center in Nampa roared. Bowen scored 23 points — including 11 in overtime — as the Tigers outlasted Preston 66-57 to claim its first boys basketball state championship since 1988. It is the 11th title in program history and the Tigers' first state basketball trophy since 1999, when they took second. The team was senior-dominated and played its best down the stretch. “These seniors have been great all season,” said Idaho Falls coach Howard Hart, whose team ended the season on a 12-game winning streak. “It takes a lot of work, and these guys have been willing to do what it takes on a day-in, day-out basis. They led us all the way through.”
4. Hostert dominates, then chooses Utah
The two-time Post Register baseball player of the year didn't miss a beat in 2019. Bonneville pitcher Randon Hostert shined on the mound and at the plate in leading the Bees to the 4A state championship. Twice - in the district final and state final - he shut down a powerful Idaho Falls lineup. He then anchored a talented pitching staff for the Idaho Falls Bandits and led the charge to the American Legion World Series title. Hostert's success didn't go unnoticed. The Texas Rangers drafted the right-hander in the 15th round, but after much soul searching, Hostert decided to honor his commitment and play college ball at the University of Utah.
5. Hawkins competes for Team USA at track worlds
Chari Hawkins added the hashtag #roadtodoha in her Instagram posts at the end of 2018 as she worked toward competing in her first world championships. The 2010 Madison graduate brought that hashtag to fruition in 2019 upon receiving an email from IAAF (now World Athletics) in September informing her that USA Track & Field had been contacted and she was invited to the World Athletics Championships in Doha, Qatar. Her third place score of 6,230 in heptathlon at the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships in July fell shy of the automatic qualifying standard of 6,300 for worlds, but her world ranking of 17th helped her cause for an invitation. She placed 12th at worlds with 6,073 points, the fourth time in her career she has surpassed 6,000 points. She has replaced #roadtodoha with #roadtotokyo on her posts since returning to San Diego to train. The U.S. Olympic Trials are in June, and she has already surpassed the meet's heptathlon automatic qualifying standard of 6,000 points.
6. Now that's how you finish a season
The Idaho Falls Chukars steamroll through the Pioneer League without much resistance early this past summer, but their luck changed and wins proved hard to come by midway thought the season. The Chukars managed to hold on to win the league's first-half playoff berth and eventually stumbled into the playoffs after a 13-25 second half. But as the saying goes, anything can happen in the playoffs, and the Chukars beat Billings 2-1 in a best-of-three series and then beat Ogden twice to win the Pioneer League title. Unfortunately for the Chukars, the story didn't end there. A Major League Baseball proposal to restructure the minor leagues has Idaho Falls on the list of teams to potentially be eliminated after the upcoming season. Details have yet to be finalized on the proposal.
7. Sugar-Salem completes rare winter sports sweep
The Diggers added an exclamation point to a dominating year in the 3A classification in March upon defeating Fruitland 57-47 to win their second boys basketball state title in three seasons. That win made Sugar-Salem three-for-three in winter sports state championships for the 2018-19 school year, as the Diggers repeated as girls basketball state champions with a 57-40 win over Parma and attained a three-peat upon winning the 3A state wrestling title with 205 points. The winter state title sweep furthermore put Sugar-Salem in rare territory as the second Idaho school of any classification ever to complete such a sweep. The first--and only previous school--to complete a winter sports state title sweep was Meridian in 1983.
8. District 6 claims five of six volleyball state titles
It is no secret to the Idaho high school volleyball community that eastern Idaho is a volleyball hotbed known for bringing a considerable haul of hardware back after each state tournament. District 6 certainly added to that trophy haul in November upon claiming five of the six available volleyball state titles. Thunder Ridge, in its second year of existence, defeated defending runner-up Skyview 3-1 to win the 5A state title, Bonneville swept defending state champion Century to win the 4A state title and its third state title in four seasons, Sugar-Salem swept Fruitland to win its third 3A state title in four seasons, Firth defeated Nampa Christian 3-1 to win its first 2A state title since 2013 and Watersprings swept Salmon River in 1AD2 to win its second title in its seven-year history as an IHSAA sanctioned program.
9. District 91 teams claim historic state track, cross-county titles
Track athletes and cross-country runners from Skyline and Idaho Falls enjoyed a historic 2019. In May, the Grizzlies claimed two trophies at the 4A track state championships at Eagle High School, claiming second place on the girls side and a program first state title on the boys side for their first track state trophies since 2006. The boys title came down to the wire. Senior Zackary Lott placed sixth in pole vault to give Skyline three points and push the Grizzlies past three-time defending state champion Bishop Kelly 68-66 in the team standings. In November, Idaho Falls achieved three 'firsts' at the 4A cross-country state championships in Pocatello. The Tigers won a program first girls team title by 23 points over defending champion Bishop Kelly and won their third consecutive boys team title by 21 points to become the first District 6 program to sweep 4A cross-country state titles. I.F. junior Zac Bright also became District 6's first boy to win the 4A individual state title.
10. Lost Rivers reaches 1ADI state title game in inaugural year as co-op
Butte County and Mackay have a long history as rivals in multiple sports. That rivalry was set aside--at least temporarily--in the fall as Mackay had only seven players turn out for football. Thus the co-op with Butte County was formed, resulting in a 1ADI team called the Lost Rivers Pirates. The team name, and seeing Butte County and Mackay players wearing the same uniforms, took some getting used to in District 6 and across Idaho. The co-op further turned heads as the Pirates gradually moved up the state media poll to the No. 1 spot and finished the regular season 9-0. They made it all the way to the 1ADI championship game in the Kibbie Dome, where their run came to an end in a 26-6 loss to Prairie in a battle of undefeated Pirates. Lost Rivers concluded its season 11-1 and averaging 47 points per game while holding opponents to an average of 12 points per game.