2014 Sports Year in Review: Part One

Looking back on 2014, it was a banner year in local sports, both in the high school ranks and for Ferris State athletics.

As this year comes to a close and 2015 begins, the Pioneer is taking a look back at the top 10 sports stories from this past year over the next two editions, starting with stories six through 10 today and one through five on Friday.

As hard as it was to pick the 10 best sports stories from this year, we hope you enjoy the look back at 2014 as we look forward to another great year of local sports action in 2015.

WHAT A YEAR: (TOP LEFT) Big Rapids’ Kyle Brady (5) tries to get control of a loose ball during a Class B boys basketball state quarterfinal game at Jim Wink Arena in March. The Cardinals advanced to a quarterfinal contest against Cadillac for the second-straight year after making their first quarterfinal appearance since 1987 in 2013. (TOP RIGHT) Chippewa Hills’ Hali Earl (right) hugs teammate Brooke Lewandowski (left) after Lewandowski hit a walk-off RBI single in the Division 2 softball regional finals in June to give the Warriors their first regional title in program history. (BOTTOM LEFT) Reed City’s Collin Hatfield (44) runs downfield against Grand Rapids West Catholic in the Division 5 football regional finals in November. The Coyotes won a share of their fourth-straight Central State Activities Association (CSAA) title and the program’s first-ever district title this season. (BOTTOM RIGHT) Big Rapids’ Jimmy Morningstar (3) gets past Lakeview goalie Tristan Taylor (left) to score a goal for the Cardinals in August. Morningstar and teammate Scott Vander Sloot both overcame serious medical conditions to play this season.(Pioneer file photos)

WHAT A YEAR: (TOP LEFT) Big Rapids’ Kyle Brady (5) tries to get control of a loose ball during a Class B boys basketball state quarterfinal game at Jim Wink Arena in March. The Cardinals advanced to a quarterfinal contest against Cadillac for the second-straight year after making their first quarterfinal appearance since 1987 in 2013. (TOP RIGHT) Chippewa Hills’ Hali Earl (right) hugs teammate Brooke Lewandowski (left) after Lewandowski hit a walk-off RBI single in the Division 2 softball regional finals in June to give the Warriors their first regional title in program history. (BOTTOM LEFT) Reed City’s Collin Hatfield (44) runs downfield against Grand Rapids West Catholic in the Division 5 football regional finals in November. The Coyotes won a share of their fourth-straight Central State Activities Association (CSAA) title and the program’s first-ever district title this season. (BOTTOM RIGHT) Big Rapids’ Jimmy Morningstar (3) gets past Lakeview goalie Tristan Taylor (left) to score a goal for the Cardinals in August. Morningstar and teammate Scott Vander Sloot both overcame serious medical conditions to play this season.(Pioneer file photos)

6. Reed City football keeps on rolling

One streak ended for the Reed City Coyotes, but a coveted goal was reached for the first time in Coyote football history.

Reed City entered the season with three-straight Central State Activities Association (CSAA) titles and a 27-game winning streak during the regular season. The streak ended in a 14-6 loss to Newaygo in week 3, but the Coyotes came back to share the title with the Lions for No. 4. In the playoffs, they avenged their regular season loss to Newaygo and edged Chippewa Hills, 22-21, for their first ever district crown. They lost to eventual state champion Grand Rapids West Catholic in the regional finals.

All-stater T.J. Patterson and Ian MacDonald were two talented linemen for the Coyotes while Jon Green and Andre Jones keyed another strong running attack. Logan Straub and Taylor Pelton were among two key defensive players for coach Monty Price’s Coyotes.

Price also passed a milestone with his 100th career victory at Reed City.

7. Chippewa Hills softball makes history

The softball program at Chippewa Hills has developed into one of the top local programs in our area, and the Warriors continued their upward progression with a dramatic postseason run in 2014.

Chippewa Hills took home the CSAA title for a second-consecutive season, but the fun began once the postseason hit.

The Warriors cruised through district play to claim the title in back-to-back seasons, but they stepped up their game in the regional round of the postseason.

Chippewa Hills claimed its first-ever Division 2 regional title with a pair of walk off wins, the first coming in a 1-0 win over Escanaba in a rematch of last year’s regional title game in the semifinals before they pulled out a 5-4 nine-inning victory in the title game against Ogemaw Heights to move on to the quarterfinals.

In the bottom of the seventh against Escanaba, Chippewa Hills loaded the bases as Elle LaLonde stepped up to the plate with only one out and with one crack of the bat, LaLonde drove the ball to a gap in right field to send the Warriors to the regional championship game against the Falcons.

That walk-off magic struck twice against Ogemaw Heights, as solid pitching and strong defense gave the Warriors the momentum they needed at the plate in the bottom of the ninth in a game that was tied at 4-4. With two outs, Hali Earl took first base after being hit by a pitch before Kendall Boone hit a single to put runners on the corners.

Brooke Lewandowski then stepped up to the plate and punched the Warriors’ ticket to the quarterfinals with a walk-off RBI single to clinch a 5-4 victory.

The Warriors storybook season ended with a 4-0 loss to Croswell-Lexington in the quarterfinals at Central Michigan University, but the 2014 season will go down as one of the most memorable in program history.

8. Big Rapids boys basketball gets back to the quarterfinals

After the Big Rapids boys basketball team lost the senior class of Jake Daugherty, Dario Williams, Nick Baldwin, Tyler Pellerito, Mack Green and LeeQuan Clark, who exited with three conference titles, a pair of district titles, the program’s first regional title since 1987 and the most wins in school history, finishing at 23-2, following the 2012-13 season, it was hard to see the Cardinals repeating that success in 2013-14.

But that was exactly what the Cardinals did in 2013-14 as they turned it on during the postseason, defending their district crown with a 67-50 victory over Chippewa Hills in the Class B district finals for the three-peat.

The Cardinals carried that momentum into the regional round, edging Standish-Sterling Central, 65-59, in the semifinals before repeating as regional champions with a 57-45 win over Saginaw Swan Valley.

That set up a showdown with Cadillac in the state quarterfinals at Ferris State University’s Jim Wink Arena, just like the previous season where the Vikings handed the Cardinals a 41-29 loss in the same gym.

The second quarterfinal showdown between Cadillac and Big Rapids lived up to the hype as both teams traded baskets at a frantic pace to end regulation tied at 44-44.

While Cadillac ultimately ended up pulling out a 55-49 victory to advance to the state semifinals, the Cardinals showed that even if they lose talented players, the foundation the 2012-13 team set will continue after the 2013-14 team carried on the winning tradition.

9. Big Rapids’ Morningstar, Vander Sloot overcome serious medical conditions

Jimmy Morningstar and Scott Vander Sloot were both crucial components of a Big Rapids boys soccer team that claimed a share of the CSAA title this season, but it was a near miracle that both boys got to take the pitch with their teammates at all this season.

At this time last year, Vander Sloot found out on Christmas that he was diagnosed with cancer and he soon began a long, grueling treatment process and found himself getting chemotherapy treatments that caused him to lose close to 30 pounds.

But Vander Sloot completed his treatment and worked his way back onto the soccer field, putting in plenty of hours during the summer to put weight back on and get back in time to take the field with his teammates when the season began.

At the same time Vander Sloot was training to get back to his team, Morningstar experienced a medical emergency of his own when in early July, Morningstar started to get painful headaches — headaches so bad he went to the emergency room to see what was wrong. After multiple trips with no relief, he and his family went to Grand Rapids.

An MRI eventually showed that Morningstar had Juvenile Pilocytic Astrocytoma, a form of brain tumor that left Morningstar needing a surgery to remove 50 percent of a tumor that had formed on his brainstem only a month before the Cardinals were scheduled to open the season.

Following a successful surgery, Morningstar still had to go through six weeks of radiation for five days a week, but Morningstar got the go-ahead from his doctor to return to soccer and he returned to the field on Aug. 27 against Tri-County and played the rest of the season.

You can find several instances of athletes overcoming major obstacles to get back to the sport they love, but those stories pale in comparison to the way the community rallied around these two boys and the way they persevered to return to the game they love.

10. Pine River football defies expectations

It was quite a turnaround for the Pine River football team, which was 3-6 in 2013 under first-year head coach Terry Martin. This year, the Bucks were 6-3 for a playoff spot, the program’s first since 2005. They won their first two playoff games over Tawas and Sanford Meridian to take the district title. Terry Martin was named the Pioneer’s Dream Team coach of the year for the turnaround he helped engineer for the Bucks in 2014.

Brandon Fulks ran the opening kickoff of the season for the touchdown and set the tone for a memorable finish after a 2-2 start. Tyler McCurry led a power offensive line, Jeff Gross was strong on the defensive line and Mitchell McDonald had a strong season in the defensive backfield.

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