The order of the top 10 sports stories of 2017 was decided by an online poll at keizertimes.com. Any ties were broken by associate editor Derek Wiley.
#1 Vincent comes back from injury to win district
Winning the district title alone probably wasn’t enough to propel McNary sophomore Enrique Vincent to the top sports story of 2017.
It’s how he did it.
After missing most of the season with a knee injury, Vincent returned in February for the Celtics final two duals of the regular season and then defeated West Albany junior Wyatt French 11-5 in the finals of the OSAA 6A Special District 5 tournament on Saturday, Feb. 18 at West Salem High School.
Vincent ran twice a day, in the morning before school and then after practice, to cut 12 pounds to make weight (120 pounds).
Vincent thanked his coaches, Jason Ebbs and assistant Devin Reynolds, for pushing him.
“They knew my limits. They knew I would do anything for this spot right here,” Vincent said. “It feels great. It makes up for all the days and weeks I’ve missed.”
The following weekend Vincent placed third in the state tournament at Memorial Coliseum in Portland.
“Ricky’s got a drive that a lot of kids don’t have nowadays,” McNary head coach Jason Ebbs said. “He goes hard all the time and it frustrates wrestlers when he goes that hard for as long as he goes. That’s an unique skill set to have. That makes him dangerous. That makes him scary. That makes him hard to wrestle.”
#2 Bibens-Dirkx finally gets call to big leagues
After more than 11 years in the minors, 32-year-old pitcher Austin Bibens-Dirkx was called up to the Texas Rangers. The former Keizer Little Leaguer and McNary High School graduate made his Major League Baseball debut on May 17 in Texas, allowing one hit and one run in one inning.
Bibens-Dirkx got his first start on May 31 against Tampa Bay. On June 11, he then went head-to-head with two-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and faced a Washington Nationals lineup that included 2015 National League Most Valuable Player Bryce Harper and 2016 Silver Slugger Daniel Murphy. Over seven innings, Bibens-Dirkx allowed just three hits and one run, a solo home run to the first hitter of the game, to earn the win.
“That might be probably one of the most memorable outings that I might ever have in my career,” said Bibens-Dirkx, who retired 19 Nationals in a row. “I just kept the ball down with making quality pitches and if you do that in any league, you can get guys out.”
Moving back to the bullpen in August, Bibens-Dirkx finished his rookie season 5-2 with a 4.67 ERA and 38 strikeouts over 69 innings.
#3 McNary athletes sign
Headlined by three Division I scholarships, 19 McNary student athletes signed with colleges in 2017.
Kolby Barker signed a national letter of intent to play football with the Air Force Academy in February.
Barker didn’t always plan on playing Division I football. But after his junior season, programs began flooding him with attention. Wyoming was the first to offer, then Air Force.
“I started this with let’s see if maybe I can play for Western Oregon or something like that,” Barker said. “I did not expect this. It’s been so much greater than I could have ever expected. It’s a dream come true. I’m so excited about my future and about the Air Force Academy.”
Brendan Van Voorhis got a full ride, 70 percent athletic, 30 percent academic, to DePaul University, a private school in Chicago. He signed in April.
“It’s kind of unreal honestly because I didn’t think that I was going to be D-I for track,” Van Voorhis said.
“You look at all of these programs like Oregon and Florida that are crazy kids and times. If the DePaul coaches think I’m capable of doing that, I’m going to take their word for it.”
McNary volleyball player Valerie Diede signed with the University of Hartford, a Division I program in Connecticut, in November.
“It’s not so much that it’s Division I. Yes, it’s cool that it is but it was all about the school and that it felt like it was the right fit for me,” Diede said.
“I just really liked that school (Hartford) and I knew that’s where I wanted to go. The coaches were really welcoming and just walking around there, I could see myself going there and the academics are really good and it was just everything I wanted.”
For the rest of the Top 10, pick up a copy of the December 29th print edition (on newsstands through Thursday, Jan 4)