Article last updated:
Sunday, December 31, 2000   7:11 AM MST

 Year's top five local sports stories

The Times-Standard

Continuing our look back at the local sporting year, here's a look at the top five stories from 2000.

1. Hoopa Valley basketball goes to the big dance

No North Coast team in the year of 2000 was more followed, or carried as much as hype and anticipation with them, then the Hoopa Valley boys basketball team.

From their first preseason game at a tournament in early December, to their final game played at Arco Arena in Sacramento, people flocked in hordes to see the Warriors and their high-pressure defense and up-tempo offense.

With a 31-4 record, a Northern California Championship, and a finish as the the state's Div. V runner-up, the Warriors rarely disappointed.

After claiming the Div. V Nor Cal Championship by beating Branson, a team which held claim to two of the Warriors' losses including the NCS championship game, over 2,000 Hoopa and North Coast residents made the trip to the capital to watch the Warriors take on Price High School of Los Angeles.

Not the size and glamour of Arco Arena, nor the intimidating size and stature of the 31-2 Southern California champions would affect the determination of the Hoopa Valley team.

At least, not in the first half.

The Warriors could do nothing wrong in the opening half and opened as big a lead as 15 points. However, by the start of the fourth quarter, their lead had been shaved to seven points and Price had captured the momentum. Price raised their level of play one more notch in the fourth period and outscored a tired Hoopa team 23-11 in the final period to come away with a 71-66 state-title victory.

Following the game, senior Joe Marshall put the miracle season in perspective.

"I know I'll never play on another team like this one. We broke a lot of record, we swept through our league, we won the Nor Cal championship, and we played in the biggest game a team like us can plan in. It's hard to be too upset about this loss."

Junior point guard Joe Smith, who carried the burden of being whistled for a dribbling violation in the final minute, was honored a week later by being named to the Div. V All-State team.

2 -- NCS football

The excitement on the gridiron this past 12 months wasn't limited to the NFL. On the local front, the Humboldt-Del Norte League enjoyed one of its most successful seasons ever.

Five H-DNL teams made the North Coast Section playoffs, with two -- Fortuna and St. Bernard -- winning section crowns.

In Class B, the St. Bernard Crusaders overcame adversity at the outset of the season by barely fielding a team. But the young squad, made up almost entirely of new starters, surprised most observers with an heroic effort down the stretch.

With a big win on the final weekend of regular season action, the Crusaders then won road games against Deep Valley Christian and Anderson Valley to win their first NCS crown since 1976.

The Fortuna Huskies also overcame some adversity on the way to their first Class 2A crown in 22 years. After starting the season on a high, the Huskies suffered through some injuries and close losses late in the regular season before bouncing back with a strong stretch run, defeating Tamalpais, McKinleyville and Terra Linda in the postseason.

Ferndale also had a memorable year, winning the Little Four title and reaching the Class A championship game, only to fall to Justin Siena, while Eureka capped a 9-1 regular season with a Big Five crown and a playoff appearance.

The fifth H-DNL team to make the playoffs was McKinleyville, which won its opening-round matchup against San Marin before losing the semifinal game to Fortuna.

Two other local teams, South Fork and Del Norte, had strong seasons and came within shouting distance of making the postseason.

Overall the 2000 season marked the first time two H-DNL schools won NCS championships since 1978.

3. CR Football: From 1-9 to 9-2

Turnaround of the Corsairs from 1999 was almost complete and very stunning under the guidance of Dave Banducci in his second season as head coach.

CR went 9-2, won the Mid-Empire Conference championship and earned a trip to the Capital Shrine Classic bowl game, and even a decisive loss to Sacramento City College there couldn't take the edge off a fine comeback season.

Freshman Alton Tomlin from St. Bernard stepped in when starting quarterback James Phillips, also a freshman from Yakima, Wash., went down with an injury to lead the Corsairs to three victories to cap the regular season.

Early in the season, the defense led the team before the offense came on down. Anchoring the defense were three all-conference linemen led by 6-5, 300-pound James Lee, who is headed for Oregon State. Other all-conference players who put big pressure on quarterbacks were Talifaia Atoe and Shawn Howe.

In the secondary Aaron Fontno and Courtney Thomas provided leadership.

The offense came together with Phillips and continued with Tomlin, who led the Corsairs to a pivotal shootout victory over American River at Sacramento.

The offensive line was "a bunch of overachievers," offensive coordinator Jason White said, that some might have called "misfits." But led by all-conference tackle Jacob Harris, the line cut down the quarterback sacks from 13 in the first five games to four in the second half.

Part of that was the freshman quarterbacks improving, head coach Dave Banducci said, but much of it was blocking, the running of a platoon of backs led by Robert Claybon, and the receiving of wide receivers Chris White, Porsche Charlo, Corey Williams, Gerry Lynch and tight end James Chorn.

But foundation was laid by the sophomores, many of whom endured that 1-9 season of 1999, Banducci said.

"We had to sell them that what we were telling them was accurate and that was the way to go," Banducci said. "And when the new kids arrived, we told (the sophomores) you've got to sell the freshmen (in order ) ... to be the team you want to be."

Banducci said his coaching staff, led by offensive coordinator White and defensive coordinator Mike Cox, played a big role as well. "I gave them a lot of rein to do things, and they did a lot with it," the head coach said.

4. Humboldt County's baseball diplomacy trip to Cuba

A Little League team from Whitethorn in Southern Humboldt County may not have had the U.S. State Department's blessings, but the Lost Coast Pirates did their part to break down the longstanding barriers between our country and Cuba.

They journeyed in July to the nation fewer than 100 miles south of the southern tip of Florida that is ruled by communist dictator Fidel Castro, where they played three games in the sultry, humid heat.

They may have lost the games, but they won over many friends. During their visit a part of the team received an unannounced visit for "El Presidente" himself, Castro.

The Pirates lost 16-9 to a Cuban team called the "Liberitos," the Swifties, and then 13-0 to the Cerros, from Cerro on the outskirts of Habana. One player was taken to the hospital for heat dehydration and another aggravated an old leg injury after being on the receiving end of a hard slide from a Cuban player.

The trip was the brainchild of Fredy Champagne of Fort Myers, a leader in the Veterans for Peace Chapter 22 in Garberville. Drummed out of the VFW in a court-martial in Eureka in 1996, the Vietnam veteran who served in the Army's 1st Infantry at Lai Khe doesn't like war but in disagreement with many other veterans on how best to achieve that.

Champagne was at Camden Yards in May of 1999 on a night when the Cuban All-Stars beat the Baltimore Orioles in the second of two games played that year. The Orioles had won earlier in Habana in a game played in spring training.

Champagne said why not have a youth baseball team from America continue the diplomacy. Indeed, after the Pirates of Humboldt went to Cuba, plans are in the works for a Cuban team to come to Humboldt County in June 2001.

But Champagne thought the highlight of the trip was the third game where the Pirates split up, with half of the team playing with Cuban teammates against the other half of the Pirates playing on the same team with other Cubans.

"With the pressure to win removed, the kids were able to relax and become friends," Champagne said. "This ws kids-to-kids diplomacy, people-to-people diplomacy and player to player diplomacy."

Said right fielder Jared Morris of Shelter Cove: "We had a real good time. It was a lot different than I thought it would be. But the people were great. It was good, except I'm sick and tired of ham-and-cheese sandwiches."

5. The Buck and Chuck Show of Del Norte basketball

In the shadow of Hoopa's miracle season, it's easy to forget about the season that was put together by the Warriors of Crescent City.

Led by Buck Pierce and Charles "Chuck" Webster, the Del Norte boys basketball team finished 25-4 overall and beat the Hoopa Warriors in arguably the most exciting finish to any North Coast sporting event in the year 2000.

The Dick Niclai title game between the Big Five champion and Little Four champion was on a Saturday night and had the Humboldt State University East Gym sold out before the end of the work day on Wednesday. The gym doors were opened an hour and a half before the 7 p.m. tip-off time, but the line to get a good seat began forming at least an hour before that.

Neither team left the capacity crowd unsatisfied. The two teams who at the time had a combined record of 48-4, duked it out in a seesaw battle that would come down to the final tick of the clock when a last-second shot from Pierce bounced long off the rim and Webster managed to tip it back in at the buzzer for a one-point victory 59-58.

"I was able to get past a defender and under the basket with just enough time to tip it in," Webster recalled after the game. "It was a good thing that (Pierce) got the shot off in time for us to get a second shot."

Del Norte followed that game with a strong postseason run finishing as the Div. III NCS runner-up and even picked up a first-round road victory in the Nor Cal tournament. Pierce recieved a scholarship to play both football and basketball at New Mexico State and Webster signed on with Tom Wood and the basketball program at Humboldt State.


Held on a rainy Saturday in February, the annual National Girls and Women in Sports Day 2000 at Eureka High was a big story for the day, featuring WNBA star and Olympic Teresa Weatherspoon.

But the day of clinics and seminars may be even bigger in its long-term impact for the more than 500 girls and young women of Humboldt County who flocked to it and gained inspiration.

In volleyball, the Southern Trinity Warriors went through Little Five play undefeated and won a playoff game for the first time in school history, while in high school baseball, Arcata climaxed a memorable season by reaching the Div. 2A North Coast Section championship game, falling to Analy 11-6.

In high school cross-country, the defending Div. 11 boys state champions of Eureka claimed a second straight NCS title and placed third in the CIF state meet, while in wrestling, Del Norte won the H-DNL crown and had a strong showing at Sections, and Eureka's Kaci Lyle and Chantal Downing both had outstanding summers. Lyle qualified for the Pan American Games, while Downing became the first girl to ever win a match at the West Regionals.

In weightlifting, Eureka's Tammi Callahan was crowned National 2000 USA Power Lifting Bench Press champion and placed in the top 10 at the World Championships in the Czech Republic.

In high school golf, the Arcata girls capped a memorable season with a third-place showing in the NorCals, while one of the biggest stories to come out of Humboldt State during the past 12 months was the hiring of new football coach Doug Adkins in January.

In motor sports, Eureka's Dana Creech locked up a national championship competing on the ATV racing circuit sponsored by the American Motorcyclist Association.

Locally, Angelo Marchetti won the Sportsman title at Redwood Acres Raceway to highlight a racing career of about 25 years and still counting. Randy Olson of Eureka won a controversial victory, edging Jim Walker of Ferndale, in a late-summer race at Redwood Acres that won him the Tri-State Challenge season crown.

Mike Sackett of Coos Bay, Ore., deprived of the title by a late-race tangle with Rusty Olson, Randy's brother, came back weeks later to win the big-money open-competition race at the Acres.

Article last updated:
Saturday, December 30, 2000   7:23 AM MST
Top local sports stories for 2000 Top local sports stories for 2000

The Times-Standard With the new year closing in on us, the Times-Standard sports department has compiled a list of the top local stories from the 2000 sporting year. Today we look back at the first half of our top-10 list, with the top five stories in tomorrow's edition.

10 -- Death of Humboldt County's Mr. Baseball Lou Bonomini, called "Mr. Baseball of Humboldt County" by many, died Dec. 17, leaving behind a lasting legacy in the Humboldt Crabs for so many of those who love baseball in the county. Bonomini was 84 when the Eureka resident died after a brief illness. He founded the Crabs in 1945 at the end of World War II and then managed the semi-pro for 42 seasons before retiring after the 1986 season. The legendary manager's death was the most rocking of four local sports figures who passed away in December. Larry Robertson, 46, the flagman at the stock-car races at Redwood Acres, died on Dec. 5; former Humboldt State baseball coach Ced Kinzer on Dec. 13, and then longtime New York Mets scout Roy Partee of Trinidad on Dec. 27. Because of Bonomini's persistence over the years, the Crabs have become a summertime institution in the county, playing an all-home schedule at Arcata Ballpark because of their consistent fan support that many other summer league teams for college players do not enjoy. Now after 56 seasons, the Crabs are now the longest continuously running semi-pro team in the U.S. Bonomini racked up 1,307 wins against 475 losses in his tenure. Bonomini engineered the creation of the Crabs and guided them while running a family grocery store in Eureka, mainly because he wanted to continue playing the game and have a place where others like him could play after high school. Bonomini himself was an outstanding high school player, who led Eureka High to three championships in four years before graduating in 1935. He played part of one season in the minor leagues before returning to Humboldt County, where he played for semi-pro teams for almost 20 years. He managed to do it with "hard work," said lifelong friend and another outstanding baseball player, Reco Pastori. "You don't raise 10 children and run a ballclub for 50 years and run a grocery store all those years except with hard work." The result of his labors: A team where some of the top local talent each summer is melded with top college players and where more than 40 players have gone on to the major leagues including Dane Iorg, Craig Lefferts, Bruce Bochte and Rick Miller. 

9 -- Arcata girls get their kicks in soccer The only question is what was most impressive about the Arcata High girls soccer season. Was it the Tigers' 16-0, unbeaten, untied regular season? Was it that the Tigers allowed only four goals in those 16 victories, or was it that senior Lindsay Jones scoring 30 goals. In any case, making two perfect runs through the Humboldt-Del Norte League opposition was a feat worthy of being included among the top 10 sports stories of 2000 on the North Coast. The Lady Tigers were beaten 2-1 in the North Coast Section playoffs by Santa Rosa, but the season was still one of the best ever recorded in this region, especially in soccer. "This was definitely one of the most cohesive teams I've ever coached," Arcata coach Tessa d'Usseau said. "They definitely had the big picture. "That this was a team in every sense of the word made things go so well," the coach added. "They got along so well. They really were out there to win as a team." That junior Sita Kuteira at center midfielder was named league MVP, with another junior midfielder, Ashley Johnson, considered by many her biggest opposition, pointed up the not-so-hidden strength of the Lady Tigers. "Sita and Ashley just have a great understanding of what needs to be done, they were able to switch back and forth," d'Usseau said. "Our defense played well, but that we had only four goals scored against us really came down to our midflelders being able to control and dominate." It all added up to a season for the record book. 

8 -- Jessame Kendall and HSU softball shine again It's hard for anything to seem spectacular in the shadow of a national championship season. Yet still, it was business as usual for Humboldt State softball. Though the Lady Jacks failed to make the trip to the national tournament in 2000, their season was nothing of short of dominant. And as for junior hurler Jessame Kendall, dominant is nearly an understatement. Behind the pitching of Kendall and fellow right-hander Karen Limon, Humboldt went 17-2 in Pac West play and finished 54-9 overall to seal their fourth consecutive 50-win season and fifth in six years. Kendall continued her tear through the HSU record books. The hard-throwing junior tied her own single-season record for wins by going 33-6. With 162 punchouts on the season, she broke the career strikeout record, passing up B.J. Helfrich's career total of 428 and on her way to 531 for her career. She broke the career mark for innings pitched, and set the table to have another record-setting season in 2001. Kendall is three wins shy of being HSU's all-time winningest pitcher, she is 13 short of the career record of complete games, and just one shutout shy of that career record. Limon proved a perfect compliment to Kendall as she started her season 18-0 on her way to finishing 21-3. Senior Taiisha Pleasant was named Player of the Year in the Pac West after hitting 14 homers and knocking in 47 runs. Also garnering postseason awards were Kendall and head coach Frank Cheek who both earned their second consecutive Pitcher and Coach of the Year awards. 

7 -- Humboldt State men's basketball No, a 6-20 mark at the end of the 1999/2000 season doesn't make the list of top-10 stories for the year, but an 8-1 start to the 2000/01 season certainly does. Matching the best ever start in program history, the Jacks stormed out of the starting gate this year with eight straight wins, before losing their Pac West opener at Western Oregon two weeks ago. That the Jacks have been so successful so far -- already eclipsing last year's win total -- is somewhat of a surprise, but not totally unexpected from a team head coach Tom Wood has described as "the most talented" he has ever had in his 20 years as head of the program. What has been surprising is the way this young team, made up of nine freshmen, three sophomores and two juniors, has jelled so quickly. With plenty of depth and firepower, the Jacks have also posted a couple of impressive wins on their way to a top-25 national ranking, including a victory over Sonoma State, a side the Jacks play again in the East Gym tonight. Numerous players have stepped up for the Jacks, but perhaps none more so than McKinleyville native and former College of the Redwoods standout Issac Gildea, who has tied or set records for 3-pointers in a game in three of the team's four home games so far, and leads the team with 18.7 points a game. What's most surprising from this young team, which was expected to be potent offensively, has been team defense, with the Jacks holding opponents to 77.1 points a game. Whether the HSU men can keep this strong start going remains to be seen, but after an exceptional close to 2000, they earn a well-deserved spot on the top-10 list. 

6 -- Crosswhite sets state home run mark It might have been April Fools Day, but there was nothing misleading about the kind of day Fortuna senior Jesse Crosswhite had at the plate.

By hitting five home runs in five trips to the plate on a crisp Saturday afternoon in Miranda
the modest and soft-spoken Fortuna third baseman accomplished what no other former high school baseball player in the state had done before him.

Not Ted Williams. Not Barry Bonds. Not even Mark McGwire.

It didn't matter who the South Fork pitcher was or what they were throwing, because Crosswhite was dialed in.

"I just felt like I was in a zone," Crosswhite said in reflection a few days after setting the record-setting performance. "I was very relaxed and felt like they weren't going to get anything by me."

Crosswhite's line for the game read 5-for-5 with 5 home runs and 10 RBIs. The performance not only set the state's single game record, but also set the record for consecutive home runs. His five homers also tied the national record, which was broken just a few weeks later when a player in New York hit six in one game.


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