The Top Local Sports Stories Of 2018
1. End of an Era
Citing low participation in all sports in the three Wilkes-Barre public high schools- Meyers, Coughlin and GAR-the Wilkes-Barre Area school district felt the time was right to do something about it.
And with a new school set to be build in the future, the board decided at its meeting in May to merge the athletic programs of all three schools, well before the students will be sharing the same building for classes.
The board voted 6-3 to merge the athletic programs beginning with the fall of 2019 sports seasons.
The final football game between Meyers and GAR was played on a wet and rainy Saturday afternoon at Wilkes-Barre Memorial Stadium. Several former coaches and players from both teams attended the event, headlined by such stars as Greg Skrepenak and Rocket and Qadry Ismail.
2. The World Stage
The Wyoming Valley’s rich sports history is littered with Little League champions at the district and state levels.
But Tunkhannock majors softball took success to a new level, piling up championships and advancing all the way to the Little League World Series in Portland, Oregon.
The team, managed by Tim Hannon and relying on a complete team effort instead of a single superstar, proved to be one of the best in the world with its summer run.
Tunkhannock beat American teams from Oregon and Washington, as well as international teams from Canada, Czech Republic and the Philippines, among others.
It ultimately fell in the championship game, finishing second in the world.
3. Season for the Ages
Good luck finding the next WVC athlete to match Payden Montana’s resume any time soon.
Berwick track & field’s star thrower set District 2 championship meet records in the shot put and discus, then broke a 38-year-old record to earn her second PIAA shot put title with a 51-foot throw. She added a discus state championship at 154 feet, 8 inches.
That wasn’t all. At New Balance Nationals, she took first in the country in the shot put (49-foot-11.75) and third in the discus (163-foot-8).
Montana, now a Penn State athlete, earned Gatorade Pennsylvania Girls Track & Field Athlete of the Year honors. She became the second WVC girl and third overall in the conference to receive the award.
4. State Dominance
Wyoming Seminary dominated its competition in November, shutting out four straight opponents in the PIAA Class A field hockey tournament.
A 3-0 win vs. Bermudian Springs was followed by an 11-0 win against Lehighton and then a 4-0 victory over Greenwood.
The Blue Knights capped their incredible run with a 2-0 win against Newport in the state final, giving the WVC its first state field hockey champ in five years.
The accolades continued rolling in for head coach Karen Klassner’s group, of which eight players (Kate Barilla, Julia Christian, Bari Lefkowitz, Mia Magnotta, Hannah Maxwell, Aubrey Mytych, Kelsey Reznick, Alex Wesneski) were selected all-state.
5. NEPA in Pyeongchang
NEPA was well-represented at the Pyeongchang Olympics in February.
Berwick’s Jayson Terdiman and Team USA missed the podium by just over a tenth of a second in the team luge relay.
Clarks Summit native Adam Rippon was a breakout star of the Games. With his bronze in team figure skating, he became the first openly gay American to win a medal in a Winter Olympics. He went on to win season 26 of “Dancing with the Stars.”
Christian Thomas, then with the WBS Penguins, earned bronze with Team Canada.
At the Paralympics in March, Harding skier Stephanie Jallen competed in several events, placing fifth in super combined. Waymart snowboarder Mike Minor won two medals, including gold in banked slalom.
6. Gold, Gold, Gold
Along with Payden Montana, a trio of other individuals in the WVC captured individual championships during the winter and spring seasons.
Current Meyers senior Nazir Dunell raced to track & field gold in the Class 2A 110 hurdles, winning his final in 14.78 seconds.
On the same day, Wyoming Area’s Marc Anthony Minichello closed his Warriors career with a state championship in the Class 3A javelin throw. The current Penn athlete took first with his 198-foot effort.
Current Holy Redeemer senior Adam Mahler had the WVC’s first state title of 2018. He was the only Class 2A boy to break 50 seconds in the PIAA’s 100 butterfly final, winning gold in 49.96 seconds.
7. Captain’s Farewell
The Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins could always count on Tom Kostopoulos, who spent parts of 11 seasons in the black and gold, set a plethora of team records and became the undisputed face of the franchise. But after an injury sidelined him for half of the 2017-18 season, Kostopoulos announced his retirement in early April.
The Ontario native’s hockey career is the stuff of legend, especially with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, for whom he’s the all-time leader in goals, points and games played.
Kostopoulos’ “last kick” at the Calder Cup was a short one.
After the Penguins were swept out of the playoffs in three games by Charlotte, he was hired by the Pittsburgh Penguins as a development coach.
8. Major League Talent
Blessed with a right arm that can throw a baseball over 100 mph and can easily sit in the high 90s, Coughlin grad Ray Black is one of the hardest throwers in baseball. But several setbacks to injury had him contemplating whether or not it was time to focus on other things and leave baseball in the past.
However, after working out last year during baseball’s offseason, Black began throwing injury free. Figuring he would give it one more shot, Black headed to spring training with the San Francisco Giants.
He was assigned to the minor league affiliate in Double-A Richmond out of camp. He pitched well enough to earn a promotion to Triple-A Sacramento. The velocity was still there, but more importantly so was the command. After appearing in 26 games with Sacramento, Black received the call he had been waiting for since being drafted by the Giants in the seventh round of the 2011 draft.
On July 8 he made his major league debut against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Black earned his first professional win against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Aug. 5 tossing one inning of spotless relief. He ended the season with a 2-2 record and 33 strikeouts in 23.1 innings pitched.
9. The Winning Formula
Every game matters.
That’s the new philosophy in many PIAA District 2 sports after its athletic committee voted to employ a new power rating system
Now, rather than non-conference games simply being disregarded as exhibitions, those games count toward a team’s weighted winning percentage that is used to seed teams in the postseason.
A win is still a win, but there’s such a thing now as “win value” that is determined by a team’s strength of schedule.
The new formula is being used in football, basketball, field hockey, soccer, baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis and volleyball.
10. RailRiders’ Run
The Scranton/Wilkes-Barre RailRiders defied the odds, rallying late in the regular season to win the wild card and then winning a Governors’ Cup semifinal series against the mighty Lehigh Valley IronPigs.
And then, the RailRiders’ luck ran out.
The back-and-forth championship series was eventually won by the Durham Bulls, three games to two, in a series that was played entirely at PNC Field due to a hurricane in the Carolinas.
Scranton native and Durham Bull Joe McCarthy was the hero of the final game, going 3 for 5 with two doubles, a home run and four RBIs.