(File photo) Millington senior pitcher Taylor Wright tosses one to the plate during this year's Class C softball quarterfinals. The Cardinals had already one their first ever district and regional championships, then beat Shepherd 1-0 at SVSU to earn a spot in the state semifinals.

The best I saw: A look at the 10 most entertaining sporting events I covered this year

The best part of sport is the uncertainty. Any event, at any time, could present a moment that the participants, coaches and fans will never forget.

A last-second shot. A monumental upset. A history-making postseason run.

This is why we love sports.

I covered dozens of events this year. Unlike parents and fans, who usually show up to support a friend or loved one, I must watch these games with total impartiality.

I don’t have a horse in the race.

So one of the best parts of my job is being able to witness special moments on the playing field. The ones that will remain in the memory of everyone in attendance for years, or decades, or even a lifetime.

My first year at the The Advertiser was a good one, and brought me several unforgettable sports moments.

In chronological order, here are the top 10 sporting events I covered in 2016.

(File photo) Millington's Shawn Pardee (12) attempts a layup Dec. 17. 2015 against Essexville Garber. Pardee scored a career-high 55 points as the Cardinals won an overtime thriller.
(File photo)
Millington’s Shawn Pardee (12) attempts a layup Dec. 17. 2015 against Essexville Garber. Pardee scored a career-high 55 points as the Cardinals won an overtime thriller.

Boys’ basketball, Dec. 17 (2015), Essexville Garber at Millington

OK, I’m cheating a little on this one. This game was not played in 2016, but I had only been with The Advertiser for a week at that point. So I wasn’t prepared to have a best-of list for 2015.

And I couldn’t leave one of the best individual performances I have ever seen at the high school level off this list.

Shawn Pardee earned first-team all-state honors after the 2015 season, so I knew he was a very good basketball player. But what he did thisThursday evening was nothing short of incredible.

Pardee scored a career-high 55 points, but there was so much more that made the Tri-Valley Conference East contest, which the Cardinals won 83-75 in double overtime, memorable.

It should have never gone to overtime.

Leading 60-58 late in regulation, and despite the Millington coaching staff screaming for its kids to foul him, Garber’s Logan Blossom launched a long three-point attempt with 12 seconds left. The Cardinals took advantage of the gift, getting the rebound and calling timeout. Pardee was fouled on a layup attempt and made both free throws to send the game to overtime.

In OT, Pardee, one of the top free throw shooters in Michigan history, had another chance to tie the game late. But the first free throw of his one-and-one from the line was off target. Luckily, teammate Caleb Wascher grabbed the rebound and scored, sending the contest to a second overtime.

In the game, Pardee, who would go on to a second straight first team all-state selection, made five 3-pointers and was 16-of-17 from the free throw line.

(File photo) Caro's Tyler Deming after winning his match at last year's Division 3 district tournament. The Tigers went on to lose a heartbreaker Feb. 17 to Remus Chippewa Hills in the regional tournament.
(File photo)
Caro’s Tyler Deming after winning his match at last year’s Division 3 district tournament. The Tigers went on to lose a heartbreaker Feb. 17 to Remus Chippewa Hills in the regional tournament.

Wrestling, Feb. 17, Caro vs. Remus Chippewa Hills, regional championship

The Division 3 team regional final at Essexville Garber High School, featuring two of the top teams in the state, promised to be a nail-biter.

And No. 6 Caro and No. 4 Remus Chippewa Hills didn’t disappoint.

The match was tied 27-27 with one bout to go when the Warriors’ Slade Todd, the No. 5 ranked wrestler in the state, pinned Caro’s inexperienced Emanuel Copes, giving Chippewa Hills the regional championship.

The fact that the match was so close at that point was due to several tight losses early in the match.

Caro’s D.J. Daniels lost 4-2 at 160. In the next bout, Tim Millerov lost a one-point lead in the final 30 seconds and was defeated 2-1 at 171 pounds. Tyler Deming was taken down, also with less than 30 seconds remaining, in his match at 215 pounds giving his opponent a 4-2 win. And Lorenz Licudine was beaten 7-3 in the 285-pound match.

“That’s one move in any one of those matches, so how close was that?” Caro co-coach Steve Ley said after the meet.

It was the last team match that legends Ley and Bob Suranye would coach. Both stepped down in early summer.

(File photo) Reese senior Emily Fleischmann scores two of her game-high 23 points in a 61-58 district semifinal win over Saginaw Nouvel on March 2. Fleischmann also grabbed 13 rebounds as the Rockets beat eliminated their postseason nemesis.
(File photo)
Reese senior Emily Fleischmann scores two of her game-high 23 points in a 61-58 district semifinal win over Saginaw Nouvel on March 2. Fleischmann also grabbed 13 rebounds as the Rockets beat eliminated their postseason nemesis.

Girls’ basketball, March 2, Reese vs. Saginaw Nouvel, district semifinal

Until this game, at Saginaw Valley Lutheran, matchups with Nouvel had resulted in nothing but pain for the Reese girls’ basketball team.

In 2014, the Panthers ended 20-1 Reese’s season in the regional semifinals. In 2013, the Rockets took a 23-0 record into their regional semifinal matchup against Nouvel. The Rockets lost that one too.

Nouvel also beat Reese in the 2014-15 regular season and had blown out the Rockets previously last basketball season.

And for most of the district semifinal, it looked like No. 10 Nouvel would continue its dominance over the Rockets.

But things changed once the fourth quarter began.

Trailing 42-31, the Rockets rallied to take a 60-55 lead before winning the game 61-58. Freshman point guard Taylor Findlay scored 11 of her 13 points in the fourth quarter, and drilled a pair of important three pointers.

Emily Fleischmann was the difference in the game for Reese. The 6-foot-3 center dominated the post with game-highs of 23 points and 13 rebounds.

Two days later, Reese captured the Division 3 district title with a win over Saginaw Michigan Lutheran Seminary. The following week the Rockets beat rival Unionville-Sebewaing Area in the Ithaca regional semifinal, then lost to the host Yellowjackets in the finals.

(File photo) Kingston's Maddie Cofer (22) goes up for a layup against Bay CIty All Saints on March 10. Cofer hit a free throw with 2.4 seconds left in the Class D regional final to tie the game. The Cardinals eventually won 33-32 in overtime to advance to their second consecutive quarterfinal.
(File photo)
Kingston’s Maddie Cofer (22) goes up for a layup against Bay CIty All Saints on March 10. Cofer hit a free throw with 2.4 seconds left in the Class D regional final to tie the game. The Cardinals eventually won 33-32 in overtime to advance to their second consecutive quarterfinal.

Girls’ basketball, March 10, Kingston vs. Bay City All Saints, regional final

For the third consecutive year, All Saints and Kingston met in the Class D regional tournament.

But this year’s meeting was a wee-bit closer than the previous two.

With 2.4 seconds remaining in the regional final, hosted by Akron-Fairgrove High School, the Cardinals were in serious jeopardy of losing to their postseason rival after eliminating All Saints from the playoffs the last two years.

With the Cougars leading 28-27 late in a contest in which neither team led by more than a few points, Kingston’s Maddie Cofer found herself at the free throw line with a chance to be the hero — or watch her senior season end right then and there.

Facing a one-and-one situation, Cofer calmly drained the first free throw. She missed the second, but the game was tied and headed to overtime.

“I tried to zone everything out and acted like it was in practice. It was very nerve-racking, I was shaking pretty bad,” Cofer said after the game.

Late in overtime, Kingston trailed 32-30, and again, Cofer was at the free throw line. This time, she made both shots, and when teammate Sarah Savage made a free throw with six seconds remaining, Kingston had a spot in the state quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.

The Cardinals played another overtime game in the quarters, losing 51-43 to Marine City Cardinal Mooney.

(File photo) Millington senior pitcher Taylor Wright tosses one to the plate during this year's Class C softball quarterfinals. The Cardinals had already one their first ever district and regional championships, then beat Shepherd 1-0 at SVSU to earn a spot in the state semifinals.
(File photo)
Millington senior pitcher Taylor Wright tosses one to the plate during this year’s Class C softball quarterfinals. The Cardinals had already one their first ever district and regional championships, then beat Shepherd 1-0 at SVSU to earn a spot in the state semifinals.

Softball, June 14, Millington vs. Shepherd, state quarterfinal

Until 2016, no Millington softball team had ever won a district or regional championship.

So when the Cardinals faced Shepherd on a Tuesday morning at Saginaw Valley State University, they could have simply rested on their laurels.

But after winning 41 of their first 42 games, the Cardinals weren’t ready to call it a season just yet.

Millington scored a run early in the quarterfinal, and held on as Northwood-bound Taylor Wright pitched out of a pair of jams.

Wright’s performance late in the game was what made this one special.

With zero room for error, Wright recorded a strikeout with runners on second and third and two outs to get out of a testy situation in the fourth inning.

In the sixth inning, Millington’s season was in trouble.

Shepherd had the bases loaded and one out, but Wright, like she had done in clutch situations all year, rose to the occasion and struck out the next two batters.

The Cardinals lost 4-2 to Grandville Calvin Christian in the Division 3 semifinals three days later.

(File photo) USA Miss Softball winner Nikki Bauer prepares to make a throw to first during a June 17 Division 4 semifinal win over Morenci. The next day, the Patriots won a 1-0 thriller over Indian River Inland Lakes to capture their fifth state championship in 11 years.
(File photo)
USA Miss Softball winner Nikki Bauer prepares to make a throw to first during a June 17 Division 4 semifinal win over Morenci. The next day, the Patriots won a 1-0 thriller over Indian River Inland Lakes to capture their fifth state championship in 11 years.

Softball, June 18, Unionville-Sebewaing Area vs. Indian River Inland Lakes, state final

When you have a pitcher like Nikki Bauer in the circle, it takes a lot of pressure off of your offense.

And the Stanford recruit was her dominate self for USA in the Division 4 state championship game against Indian River Inland Lakes.

But to win a softball game, you need runs. And the Bulldogs had a Division 1 college softball player of their own — Central Michigan University recruit Cloe Mallory — who was effectively mowing down Patriots’ batters.

In the sixth inning, however, USA was able to scrape across a run. Senior Kayla Gremel hit a solid single, and then the Patriots caught a break. With one out, sophomore Katie Engelhardt hit a pop up that landed in fair territory near the foul line about half way between home plate and third base. The ball bounced, and appeared to have enough sideway english to carry it foul. But an Inland Lakes player touched it, and bobbled it, before the ball could get there. The misplay put runners on first and third as junior Marisa Morton strode to the plate, and laid down a textbook bunt. The suicide squeeze gave USA a 1-0 lead, which would be the final score.

But there was still plenty of drama left.

In the bottom of the seventh, and still sporting a 1-0 edge, Bauer allowed her first walk of the game, to Bulldogs’ speedster Precious Delos Santos. With one out, Mallory, who blasted a two-run shot in Inland Lakes’ 2-0 semifinal win, walked into the batters box. But Bauer beared down and struck her out for the third time in the game. On the third strike, Delos Santos bolted for second base, and easily beat the throw of Patriots’ catcher Sara Reinhardt. But Delos Santos over slid the base and Morton applied the tag to complete the game-ending double play.

In the matter of a couple seconds, USA went from a bleak situation to a state championship — it’s fifth in 11 years.

(File photo) Cass City running back Brad Hacker (11) gets yardage during an Oct. 14 game against Reese. Hacker scored on a 18-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Sandyn Cuthrell with 21.7 seconds left in the game to give the Red Hawks a 26-22 win.
(File photo)
Cass City running back Brad Hacker (11) gets yardage during an Oct. 14 game against Reese. Hacker scored on a 18-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Sandyn Cuthrell with 21.7 seconds left in the game to give the Red Hawks a 26-22 win.

Football, Oct. 14, Cass City vs. Reese

Football in the Greater Thumb Conference was must see entertainment on Friday nights last fall. The league’s top four teams — Laker, Cass City, Unionville-Sebewaing Area and Reese played down to the wire whenever they faced each other.

Until Week 8, the Red Hawks had always come up on the short end.

Entering the final GTW game of the season, both the Rockets and Cass City were already eliminated from conference contention (USA won the GTW with a 5-0 league mark), but this game, at Cass City, had big postseason implications.

Reese was 5-2 and needed one win in its last two games to hit the six-win plateau, which automatically qualifies a team for the playoffs. But the Rockets had Essexville Garber — a larger program with a 5-2 record — in Week 9.

The Red Hawks entered the contest at 4-3, and needed a win against Reese and a Week 9 win against Caro to secure a spot in the postseason. If the ball had bounced more positively for Cass City, it would have been 7-0 and playing for a GTW title against Reese. But three losses, all by six points or less, in which the Red Hawks had the lead with less than two minutes remaining, had left Cass City reeling.

For the first 47 minutes and 30 seconds of this one, it looked like the Red Hawks would be on the losing end of another heartbreaker.

Reese held a 22-20 lead with less than a minute remaining, when the Red Hawks finally caught a break. Rockets’ punter Jake Galsterer, one of the area’s best, booted a punt from Reese’s own 28-yard line. The high kick was caught by a wind blowing in the Rockets’ face and ended up bouncing out of bounds at the Reese 33-yard line.

Still, Cass City was not a passing team and had just 40 seconds to get the football across the goal line, which it did successfully on an 18-yard pass from freshman quarterback Sandyn Cuthrell to senior Brad Hacker.

After the ensuing kick off, Reese had the ball at its own 35-yard line, and 21.7 seconds left to do the unthinkable — hand the Red Hawks their fourth loss in the final two minutes of a game.

Then came possibly the greatest individual football play I’ve ever seen. Galsterer, who is also the Rockets quarterback, tossed a 15-yard pass to fellow senior Ryan Maclin, who broke what seemed like 20 tackles before eventually finding the end zone. There was no time left on the clock, and Maclin’s teammates soon joined him in the end zone to celebrate the improbable win.

They didn’t notice the yellow flag sitting on the turf at midfield.

After about 10 minutes of deliberation, the officiating crew called an illegal block to the back on Reese, negating the touchdown but giving the Rockets one last play from the 50-yard line.  A final Hail Mary was incomplete and Cass City finally had the big win (26-20) that had eluded it.

Both teams ended up making the playoffs, where each lost in the first round.

(File photo) Cass City junior CarLee Stimpfel (right) and Caro sophomore Yami Albrecht battle for first place at the Thumb Area Cross Country Championship on Oct. 22. Stimpfel won this race by less than half a second, but both went on to win a state championship.
(File photo)
Cass City junior CarLee Stimpfel (right) and Caro sophomore Yami Albrecht battle for first place at the Thumb Area Cross Country Championship on Oct. 22. Stimpfel won this race by less than half a second, but both went on to win a state championship.

Boys’ cross country, Oct. 22, Thumb Area Cross Country Championship

All autumn I wrote cross country roundups based on course times I snatched from athletic.net.

And every time I did, Cass City’s CarLee Stimpfel and Caro’s Yami Albrecht were the winners of the race — unless they were competing against each other.

I went to Caro Country Club on a Saturday morning in October  to cover the Thumb Area Cross Country Championship, to see how good these guys really were. And they were pretty darn fast.

This was the third time Stimpfel and Albrecht met on the course this season. Stimpfel won the first race — the Wegener Park Invitational — by 15 seconds. Albrecht kicked it up a notch in their next race together, winning the Reese XC Invitational by less than half a second.

I stood at the finish line at the Thumb Championship, and watched as the duo approached. They were neck and neck — and well ahead of the rest of the competition. With one final burst, Stimpfel crossed the finish line just ahead of his rival.

Stimpfel was the champion of the Thumb, finishing the race in a time of 15 minutes, 52.5 seconds. Albrecht’s time was 15 minutes, 52.99 seconds. Again the two were separated by less than half a second.

Croswell-Lexington’s Jarred Jolley was the next runner to finish the race, about 40 seconds later.

Although Albrecht didn’t win the Thumb meet, a few weeks later he earned a Division 3 state championship. Joining Stimpfel (the Division 4 champ) to give Tuscola County two cross country state champions for the first time.

(File photo) Millington junior Kholton Sherman (24) looks for running room during the Division 6 state quarterfinals. Trailing 20-0 at halftime to Detroit Central Collegiate, the Cardinals rallied for a 22-20 win to punch their ticket to the fifth semifinal in program history.
(File photo)
Millington junior Kholton Sherman (24) looks for running room during the Division 6 state quarterfinals. Trailing 20-0 at halftime to Detroit Central Collegiate, the Cardinals rallied for a 22-20 win to punch their ticket to the fifth semifinal in program history.

Football, Nov. 11, Millington vs. Detroit Central Collegiate, state quarterfinal

Millington was a heavy favorite heading into its Division 6 football quarterfinal against Detroit Central Collegiate.

The Cardinals were the No. 3 team in the state and sported a 10-1 record. DCC, meanwhile, snuck into the playoffs with a 5-4 mark.

At halftime, the Millington home crowd should have been talkative and cheerful about the prospects of a Cardinals’ win. Instead, the bleachers were silent, fans were stunned by a 20-0 DCC halftime lead.

Of course Millington won, or the game wouldn’t have a spot on this list. But the probability of that happening was a long shot. The Cardinals were constantly shooting themselves in the foot in the first half — dropped passes, fumbled snaps and penalties kept happening at the worst possible times.

Plus, DCC had demonstrated big play ability, and possessed more speed than the Cardinals.

So not only did Millington have to clean up its own game, it had to someone slow down the Trail Blazers offense, which was led by quarterback El Julian Jordan, who a few days later would be named first team AP all-state.

But whatever coach Roger Bearss told his boys at halftime worked. Millington dug away at the lead as the defense held the Trail Blazers in check. When Brady Payne scored on a 10-yard run late in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals clinched a spot in the semifinals with a 22-20 win — their fifth final four appearance in school history.

(File photo) Frankenmuth defensive lineman Dan Stone (30) sacks Ithaca quarterback Joey Bentley while fellow senior Nathaniel Lambeth closes in. The Eagles had a historic victory in the Nov. 12 Division 5 quarterfinal, handing Ithaca just it's second loss in the last 96 games.
(File photo)
Frankenmuth defensive lineman Dan Stone (30) sacks Ithaca quarterback Joey Bentley while fellow senior Nathaniel Lambeth closes in. The Eagles had a historic victory in the Nov. 12 Division 5 quarterfinal, handing Ithaca just it’s second loss in the last 96 games.

Football, Nov. 12, Frankenmuth vs. Ithaca, state quarterfinal

One day after watching Millington’s comeback, I was on the road to Ithaca to see if Frankenmuth could make it two Advertiser-area teams in the state semifinals.

Entering the Division 5 contest, Ithaca was on an incredible stretch where it had won 94 of its last 95 games, and five of the last six state championships.

But the Eagles were playing their best football of the year, and were fresh off blow out playoff wins against Essexville Garber and No. 3 Freeland.

Both the home and away bleachers at the Yellowjackets’ state-of-the-art football facility were overflowing with fans on that sunny, brisk Saturday. Early on, Frankenmuth didn’t give its fans much to cheer about.

The Eagles’ first four possessions resulted in three lost fumbles and a turnover on downs. Ithaca took advantage and grabbed a 14-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

By halftime though, Frankenmuth had regained some composure and tied it up at 14-14.

The second half was all Eagles.

Led by defensive linemen Nathaniel Lambeth and Dan Stone and linebacker Kris Roche, Frankenmuth made sure Ithaca quarterback Joey Bentley spent his share of the second half on his backside. The previous week, Bentley torched Muskegon Oakridge for 377 yards passing and six touchdowns. But the Yellowjackets could only muster two field goals after halftime against Frankenmuth.

The Eagles’ Grant Bronner picked off a Bentley pass late in the fourth quarter to seal the 28-20 win.

The following week, playing in the fifth state semifinal game in school history, Frankenmuth bowed out of the state tournament after a tough 23-20 loss to Menominee at the Superior Dome in Marquette.

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