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The Braves cap an unprecedented school year with basketball and baseball state championships in 2019.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Banks players celebrate their state basketball championship in front of their fans moments after defeating Seaside 62-56, March 9 at Forest Grove High School.It may be 2020, but 2019 won't soon be forgotten.

From All-League players and outstanding individual performances to memorable games and more, the past 12 months were again loaded with the very thing sports are meant to provide — excitement.

From Hillsboro, west to Forest Grove, north to Banks, south to Gaston and everywhere in between, western Washington County offered us all another year of youth sports entertainment from the gridiron to various courts and fields and beyond.

As part of this year in review, we'll hit on each school's peak team and individual performances and celebrate the individuals who forever made their mark on school, league and — in some instances — state history.

By any metric, 2019 will likely forever be remembered as the year of the Braves.

After winning their first-ever boys state championship in football earlier in the school year, Banks backed up their inaugural title with a basketball state championship in March. Then they won an unthinkable third title in May when they defeated Henley in the 4A state baseball championship at Volcanoes Stadium in Keizer.

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Banks' Dakota Bunn attacks a Seaside defender during the Braves' state championship win over the Seagulls March 9 at Forest Grove High School.The Braves' basketball title was memorable for many reasons, but primarily because of the seasons prior leading to that point. A tough quarterfinal loss to Tillamook in 2017 was followed by a heartbreaking semifinal loss to Valley Catholic in 2018. The latter that came in the wake of standout Dalton Renne's catastrophic first-quarter injury that deterred what appeared to be an inevitable meeting with Seaside in the state final. Those two seasons set the stage for Banks' 2019 state final with the Seagulls.

The game was mostly Seaside in the first half and, for at least 16 minutes, looked headed toward a third straight Seagulls title. But Banks didn't quit in the wake of what had been two years' worth of adversity, and on the backs of center Blake Gobel, forward Jacob Slifka and guard Bret Cameron, battled back to defeat the Gulls 62-56 in front of a packed gym at Forest Grove High School.

"I'm on top of the world," said Cameron. "After winning in football, I didn't think it could get any better, but this might be the best feeling I've ever had in my life."

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Banks' Aspen Slifka won her second consecutive state player of the year award.Banks trailed by seven at the half, but despite the seven-point margin, head coach Marc Roche was undeterred at the half, telling his team to believe and stick with the process.

"We didn't feel like we needed to make a whole lot of adjustments," Roche said. "They shot it really well in that first half, and a couple of those were buzzer-beaters. So we knew if we rode it out and kept getting stops, things would turn our way."

The lead grew to 11 early in the third quarter, but Banks whittled away at it to end the third, then overtook Seaside early in the fourth before building a 9-point lead with 2:52 to play. From there, it was just a matter of time, but what took nearly three minutes had been roughly two years in the making.

"I'm so happy that the hard work's paid off," Roche said. "Last year ended with a very bad taste in our mouth, and we thought we should've had this opportunity a year ago. We didn't really talk about it all season, yet it kept a chip on our shoulders and we took it one day at a time."

The most significant testament may have come from Seaside coach Bill Westerholm in defeat.

"We're disappointed in losing the game, but we're not disappointed in losing it to Banks," he said. "They're a great program, and they've got great kids."

PMG PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Banks' Hayden Vandehey was the 4A Oregon Co-State Player of the Year in baseball.Nearly three months later, the Braves capped their school year with their 3-1 baseball win over Henley, and in the process, became the first school in any classification to win football, basketball, and baseball state titles in the same year since North Valley High School did so in 1985. The Braves also became just the second school to win those three state titles in 100 years of OSAA competition.

"It's unreal," Banks senior Hayden Vandehey said with a smile. "We couldn't have dreamed this up. This is the perfect ending to all our Banks careers."

In all, three Braves players played on all three title teams: Vandehey, Blake Gobel and Jarred Evans. Call it fate, but the final out of their game against Henley was a pitch from Vandehey, fielded by Evans and thrown to Gobel.

In addition to boys' historic year, the Banks girls softball team went undefeated in Cowapa League play and finished 21-7 overall en route to a state semifinal berth.

The Braves defeated Elmira and McLoughlin on their way to the semifinals before losing to Henley, a game shy of the state final.

Despite the loss, Cowapa League Coach of the Year Rosi Contri was proud of her Braves and more than anything, just sad to see the season end.

"I want more time, more laughs, more great plays, more ladder drills — but most importantly, I want more opportunities to see these girls' individual and team relationships grow," Contri said. "This was just a great group that I can use to inspire the future Braves on the rise."

On the wrestling mat, junior J.J. Ellis again impressed, winning a second straight state wrestling championship. The title was in the 220-pound weight division, while his first a year prior was in the 195-pound weight class.

This year, Ellis will be shooting for a third straight title, something that didn't escape him shortly after his match.

"Being a two-time state champ felt great for about 10 minutes, then I realized I have to do it again next year," he said. "I'll have to put in the hard work physically and mentally."

On the track, then junior Jacob Slifka — who was a key contributor to both the Braves' football and basketball state championships — placed second in the discus at the 4A State Track and Field Championships in Monmouth.


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