YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – What a year it has been for sports here in the Valley and nationwide. From comebacks, to champions and everything in between — Sports Team 27 covered it all this year.
Here’s our Top 10 countdown from the year that was 2016:
10.) We start in the boxing ring with Campbell native Alejandro “Popo” Salinas. The 21-year-old headlined our very own “Championship Night” back in July — the Valley’s first locally produced live boxing show. As expected, Popo stole the show, making quick work of his opponent and capturing the vacant Ohio State Super Featherweight Title.
9.) Our Big 22. For the 11th straight year, WKBN honored the best in local high school football. Two players stood above the rest. Warren Harding’s Lynn Bowden took home his second straight Ohio Player of the Year and was our first four-time member of the Big 22. On the PA side, Hickory’s Chuck Carr took home the top honors, going down as Mercer County’s all-time leading rusher.
8.) Number eight takes us to Canton, with a long overdue Hall of Fame induction. After four attempts, Valley native Eddie DeBartolo Jr. finally cemented his place in football lore. The Cardinal Mooney graduate led the 49ers to five Super Bowl victories as their owner for more than two decades.
7.) Number seven bleeds Scarlet and Gray. For the second time in three years, the Buckeyes are headed back to the College Football Playoff. What a year it was for New Castle grad Malik Hooker, bursting on to the national stage as one of the top safeties in the country — a unanimous All-American. He and Fitch grad Billy Price are two big reasons the Buckeyes returned to the Final Four.
6.) 2016 saw plenty of champions, but none bigger in Pittsburgh than their beloved Penguins who captured their fourth Stanley Cup in club history thanks in large part to their captain Sidney Crosby. He had one of the best postseasons in NHL history, winning the Conn Smythe trophy and celebrating with over 400,000 fans at the victory parade.
5.) No, number five is not Golden Rings — it’s the Golden Eagles. Kennedy Catholic dominated high school hoops over in Pa., as the Eagles won their last 23 games, capped off with a Class A State Championship in Hershey. It was Kennedy’s seventh boys basketball title in school history.
4.) Speaking of state champs, only one Valley football team finished at the top this season. Warren JFK used its stingy defense to dominate its playoff run in division seven, allowing just six points per game. The Eagles beat Minster at the Horseshoe in the State Final, 24-6, giving head coach Jeff Bayuk his long awaited state championship.
3.) Number three takes us to Cleveland, where the small-market Indians made a big splash this season. Despite injuries, the Indians pieced together an amazing playoff run, beating the Red Sox and Blue Jays to capture their first American League pennant since 1997. A thrilling World Series against the Cubs fell just short in a Game 7 for the ages.
2.) We stay in Cleveland for number two — and dreams really do come true for LeBron James and the Cavaliers. Down 3-1 in the Finals to the best regular season team in NBA history, the Cavs shocked the sports world and stuffed the Warriors chances at a repeat. And hey, when you end a 52 year championship drought, you celebrate in style — the victory parade in downtown Cleveland topped 1.3 million people.
1.) Which brings us to the number one moment of 2016 — Youngstown State football. In just his second year, head coach Bo Pelini has put the Penguins back in the national spotlight. Playoff bound for the first time in a decade, YSU then rolled off four straight postseason wins, headlined by the catch of the year by Kevin Rader. The Drive for 5 is on for the Penguins — as a win Jan. 7 would perfectly cap off a 2016 season to remember.