The 2018-19 high school sports calendar has come and gone. It also marks the fifth school year I have covered prep sports since starting at The Bakersfield Californian in the summer of 2014.
There has been a lot of great storylines and memorable experiences throughout the last half-decade.
This year began with a different feel with football practices beginning in July last summer and extended to the CIF State Championships that happened over Memorial Day weekend rather than the first week in June.
Through all of the changes, it turned out to be one of the best in recent memory for Kern County as a whole and a strong candidate for the best I’ve seen here.
In no particular order, let’s go through my top 10 moments that define the past 10 months.
Viveros doubling up at state - Liberty senior Daniel Viveros capped off one of the top-five greatest high school careers in boys shot put as he won his second-consecutive CIF State title last month. Viveros never lost a shot put event his final two seasons (33 competitions) and on May 8, secured his legacy as a 70-footer when he became just the third in state history to eclipse the mark with a Herculean heave of 71 feet, 3 inches at the South Area meet. Not to mention, Viveros also finished fifth in the discus at state and leaves for Ole Miss with two state titles and two more medals and is one of the greatest throwers in state history. He also leaves behind a legacy at Liberty with sophomores Reese Renz (100 hurdles, 300 hurdles) and Faith Bender (shot put, discus) both looking like future state champions in their own right, medaling in two events each at state last month.
Foothill boys basketball winning state title - What a run for Foothill. After losing a Southeast Yosemite League game at home to North, the Trojans finished the season with 13 consecutive wins, including beating Mt. Shasta 79-66 for the CIF State Division V title, the first for Kern County in 25 years. Led by Edward "Squid" Turner, Elijah Seales, Warren Stingley, Cesar Valdez and Jaden Phillips, the Trojans won nine playoff games by an average of 17.6 points. That was a magical day in Sacramento has McFarland also played for a state title, losing to Oakland in the D-III finals but left big shoes to fill by graduating senior Kathy Rodriguez, Neli Diaz and Julie Hernandez.
Ridgeview winning state title - Ridgeview boys put it all together and won the CIF State Division III cross country title. The title marks the first state title for a cross country program from Bakersfield in the 32-year history of the state championships. Alex Cuevas, Ased Adus, Gerardo Moreno, Bryan Gaxiola and Jonah Molina all finished in the top-35. Long before the numbers were officially tallied, Wolf Pack coaches Greg Dabbs, Adam Setzer and Ryan Lucker knew what had just happened. The state meet also was the last for Stockdale senior Marcus Mota after a leg injury kept the Stockdale senior out of the track and field championships. Mota won a second D-I section title and leaves for UCLA as one of the best long distance runners in Kern County history.
Morphis pigtailing third - Frontier senior Ryan Morphis’ dreams of winning a state title dashed when he lost his opening round pigtail match in an 11-9 decision to Isaiah Ramirez of Barstow in the 138-pound bracket in February. Morphis then went on one of the best runs through the consolation bracket at state in recent memory, winning eight consecutive do-or-go-home matches over the next three days, including a 9-4 decision over Jaden Le from San Diego-Rancho Bernardo for third place at state. Morphis was joined by teammates Trent Tracy (3rd, 182), Cole Reyes (132, 7th) and Max Aguirre (4th, 160) as Frontier finished seventh overall at state while Bakersfield had three state medalist in Jarad Priest (7th, 170), Justin Darter (4th, 220) and Josiah Hill (7th, 285) and finished 12th as a team. In the first three-day combined state championships with the girls at Rabobank in February, it was historic for locals as Frontier’s Jacqueline Hernandez (8th, 101), Ridgeview’s Genesis Quirarte (6th, 106), South’s Shareni Donis (4th, 150) and Stockdale’s Ehireme Ohens (8th, 160) became the first local girls wrestlers to medal right here in downtown Bakersfield.
Garces winning SoCal title - The young Garces boys soccer team became just the second Kern County team to win a CIF Southern California Regional championship with just a few seniors on roster Under first-year head coach Robbie Gouk, the Rams dominated the playoffs en route to the SoCal D-V title over Pasadena-Marshall as junior Ebu Ekpemogu scored both goals in a 2-0 win. Garces electrified the home crowd with a seven-game win streak at home to finish out the season. Ekpemogu led the Rams with 43 goals and fellow junior Moises Cisneros scored another 28 and assisted on 18 more goals. A big portion of the team returns in 2019-20 with Alexander Halevy, Fletcher and Palmer Bank and company. It was also a break through season for Foothill, as the Trojans won the D-V section title and advanced to the SoCal D-III regional semifinals and Arvin girls won the program’s first section title in D-VI and also advanced to the SoCal semifinals in D-V.
Highland, Stockdale both winning section titles as 3-seeds - Going in as the 3-seeds in the Central Section baseball and softball playoffs, Highland (D-III) and Stockdale (D-I) were disappointed knowing if the seeds held, the semifinals would likely be on the road before the championships head to Fresno State. Then fate fell in favor of both with the top seeds in each divisions losing in the earlier rounds and Highland taking advantage, beating Atascadero for the D-III baseball title behind a great pitching performance by Isiah Fajardo in the finals. Same happened for Stockdale as the Mustangs beat Atascadero at home in the semifinals and beat Fresno-Bullard for the first title for the program in nine years. Sydney Hornbuckle ended the season throwing 26 consecutive scoreless innings for the Mustangs.
Loss of some great people - Tod Denison was one of the first basketball coaches I met when I moved here in 2014. I only got to cover him roaming courtside for the Garces girls basketball team just one season, but he was a fixture as a regional basketball referee until he got sick and lost his life to cancer last fall. Then tragedy struck the West High community when Aaran Porter was stabbed to death at a party earlier this year. Porter was an engaging and charamstic young man that should not have died at the age of 20. Then former West High coach and BHS basketball standout Will Smith died of a heart attack in April and his love for this community showed with a standing room-only crowd on hand for his funeral on Easter Sunday. Each of them touched me personally and I, along with many, many others, will miss each of them equally.
Golla leaving BHS/Stewart hired - Color me surprised when Paul Golla announced he was stepping down after 14 seasons as the football coach at BHS to take over at Garces. Golla was not shy about accepting interview requests for high profile coaching gigs around the state for years, with good reason. His resume speaks for itself with five section titles and the D-I state title in 2013 under his watch. But moving to a league rival was shocking. But having Golla still in town matters because he will keep another team locally very competitive. Then BHS went back with one of their own with Michael Stewart, giving the former NFL linebacker his first head coaching gig at his alma mater. Add in Richard Starlett taking over for Chad Brown at Centennial, and half the SWYL is under new coaches.
Kennedy wins D-V title over Shafter - There’s nothing like winning a section title. But doing it on the road over a league rival might be even sweeter. Kennedy lost to Shafter 47-14 in South Sequoia League play on Oct. 19, then returned the favor with a 30-28 thriller over the Generals for the D-V section title, the third section title for the program since 2014. Tyreak Walker leaves as a 2,000-yard rusher for a Thunderbirds team that averaged 352 rushing yards per game and gave the fans in Delano something very special to cheer for. And the loss for Shafter doesn’t diminish the incredible season that was undefeated in 12 games before the loss as Alex Aguilar leaves as one of the best dual-threat signal callers in county history.
Timmons rising above tragedy - Many times during the regular season, I will pick the games to cover based solely on the merits of the two teams playing. And that’s exactly why I headed out to Frontier to watch the Titans host Liberty in a crucial SWYL baseball game on April 5. But what transpired over the next two hours will forever stay with me. The Frontier dugout was somber pregame as head coach Garrett White was quietly inscribing “MG21” on the caps of the all the players for senior Carson Timmons’ mother, Megan Gustafson, was in hospice care and died the next morning from stage-4 colon cancer. Timmons came in and threw one pitch in the top of the seventh inning and earned the win as Frontier beat Liberty with a walk-off in a 4-3 decision. There was not a dry eye anywhere around that day, including myself.