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UCSB’s Run to College World Series Leads List of Noozhawk’s Top Local Sports Stories of 2016

Top 16 includes Olympians Kami Craig, Sami Hill and Kiley Neushul bringing home the gold and Santa Barbara High boys basketball team’s magical season

The UCSB baseball team salutes the crowd after its final game in its first trip to the College World Series in Omaha. Click to view larger
The UCSB baseball team salutes the crowd after its final game in its first trip to the College World Series in Omaha.  (Courtesy photo)

It was a spectacular sports year in Santa Barbara.

We were treated to a shot heard around the college baseball world, three locals winning Olympic gold, a long-awaited CIF boys basketball championship, a stirring final chapter to one of the greatest high school girls basketball careers of all time and a prep baseball star signing a mega deal.

Noozhawk Sports looks back on a wild and wonderful year and picks its top 16 stories of 2016:

Sam Cohen made the impossible happen for UCSB at the Super Regional in Louisville, stroking a walk-off grand slam to send the Gauchos to the College World Series for the first time. Click to view larger
Sam Cohen made the impossible happen for UCSB at the Super Regional in Louisville, stroking a walk-off grand slam to send the Gauchos to the College World Series for the first time. (Courtesy photo)

1. It was an ultimate OMG moment that sent the UCSB baseball team to Omaha and the College World Series for the first time in program history.

In the NCAA Super Regionals at No. 2 seed Louisville, back-up catcher Sam Cohen hit a pinch-hit, walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning to eliminate the Cardinals, 4-3, and put the Gauchos in college baseball’s final eight-team tournament. Louisville was 47-0 when leading after 8 innings.

Cohen slugged his miraculous homer off Louisville ace Zach Burdi, a first-round draft pick of the Chicago White Sox. He was the talk of the sports nation following his incredible home run, and was interviewed by Jim Rome and Dan Patrick on their national sports programs.

In Omaha, the Gauchos lost their CWS opener to Oklahoma State, 1-0, but bounced back to eliminate perennial powerhouse Miami, 5-3. They were ousted by Arizona, 3-0, and finished their history-making season at 43-20-1.

Santa Barbara’s Sami Hill (left), Kiley Neushul and Kami Craig helped the U.S. Women’s Water Polo Team win the gold medal at the Rio Olympics. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara’s Sami Hill (left), Kiley Neushul and Kami Craig helped the U.S. Women’s Water Polo Team win the gold medal at the Rio Olympics. (Peter Neushul photo)

2. Three local women were members of the gold medal-winning USA Women’s Water Polo Team at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Santa Barbara High alum Kami Craig won her second gold medal for Team USA (she played on the 2012 team in London) and former Dos Pueblos teammates Kiley Neushul and Sami Hill wore Olympic gold around their necks for the first time.

The Santa Barbara High boys basketball team won its first CIF-SS championship since 1991.
The Santa Barbara High boys basketball team won its first CIF-SS championship since 1991. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk file photo)
Bolden Brace of the Dons was named the CIF 2A Division Player of the Year. Click to view larger
Bolden Brace of the Dons was named the CIF 2A Division Player of the Year. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk file photo)

3. The Santa Barbara High boys basketball team experienced the dream season, going 32-2 and winning the program’s first CIF-Southern Section title since 1991.

The Dons beat Lynwood, 75-65, in the Division 2A championship game at the Honda Center in Anaheim. JM Cage came off the bench and recorded a double-double of 15 points and 15 rebounds.

Bolden Brace was named CIF 2A Player of the Year and received a scholarship to Northeastern University in Boston.

The senior group of Brace, Ben Clay, Nick Busch, Paul DeBruynkops and Cage had been knocked out in the semifinals the previous two years.

“These guys said, ‘Hey, that’s enough. It’s our time to get it done.’ And we did,” coach Dave Bregante said after the win.

Amber Melgoza finished a brilliant career at Santa Barbara High as the all-time leading scorer in program history. Click to view larger
Amber Melgoza finished a brilliant career at Santa Barbara High as the all-time leading scorer in program history. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk file photo)

4. Amber Melgoza ended her brilliant career at Santa Barbara High as the girls basketball program’s all-time leading scorer.

She led the Dons to a share of the Channel League championship, the Tournament of Champions title, two wins over Ventura and a CIF-SS Open Division win over Mater Dei.

She averaged 30 points against three of the best teams in the CIF-Southern Section — Chaminade, Mater Dei and Vista Murrieta — and had 11 30-point games during the season.

For her career, Melgoza scored more than 2,700 points.

As a senior, she averaged 26.3 points on 48 percent shooting overall and averaged 8.7 rebounds a game.

Santa Barbara High’s Kevin Gowdy signed a $3.5 million bonus with the Philadelphia Phillies Click to view larger
Santa Barbara High’s Kevin Gowdy signed a $3.5 million bonus with the Philadelphia Phillies (Gowdy family photo)

She received a scholarship to the University of Washington.

5. Kevin Gowdy, a 6-foot-4 right-handed pitcher for Santa Barbara High was taken by the Philadelphia Phillies as the first pick of the second round (42nd overall) of the Major League Baseball Draft and signed a contract with a $3.5 million bonus.

He is the first local player to sign a pro baseball contract out of high school in several years.

Barbara Nwaba of the Santa Barbara Track Club competed at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Click to view larger
Barbara Nwaba of the Santa Barbara Track Club competed at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. (Courtesy photo)

6. UCSB alum and Santa Barbara Track Club member Barbara Nwaba won the heptathlon at the U.S. Olympic Trials and competed at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, where she finished 12th.

7. The Westmont women’s volleyball team won 32-straight matches and was ranked No. 1 in the NAIA. The Warriors’ streak was snapped in pool play at the NAIA National Tournament.

They were eliminated in the quarterfinals and finished the year with a school-record 34 wins and only two defeats.

8. The Santa Barbara Foresters played their last game at UCSB’s Caesar Uyesaka Stadium and then went out and won their sixth NBC World Series title, beating the Hays (Kan.) Larks, 6-2 in Wichita.

To reach the final, the Foresters pulled off a dramatic semifinal win: Lex Kaplan blasted a long single over the San Diego Force right fielder to cap a thrilling three-run rally in the bottom of the 12th inning for a 7-6 victory that ended at 4:26 a.m.

Santa Barbara’s Kayla Day won the U.S. Open Junior singles title and announced she is turning professional. Click to view larger
Santa Barbara’s Kayla Day won the U.S. Open Junior singles title and announced she is turning professional. (Courtesy photo)
The San Marcos girls golf team handed Dos Pueblos its first league loss in 17 years. Click to view larger
The San Marcos girls golf team handed Dos Pueblos its first league loss in 17 years. (Barry Punzal / Noozhawk photo)

9. Santa Barbara’s Kayla Day won the U.S. Open Junior Singles title, becoming the first American winner since 2012 and the first Santa Barbara player to win it since Tim Trigueiro in 1985.

Day, 17, turned pro this past week. She’ll be playing in the Australian Open.

10. San Marcos handed Dos Pueblos its first Channel League loss in girls golf in 17 years.

Senior Alex Pitchford shot a personal best 39, and the Royals won on the Chargers’ home course at Glen Annie Golf Course, 217-222.

New coach Luke Walton brought the Los Angeles Lakers to UCSB for training camp. Click to view larger
New coach Luke Walton brought the Los Angeles Lakers to UCSB for training camp. (J.C. Corliss / Noozhawk file photo)

11. The Los Angeles Lakers, with new head coach Luke Walton, held training camp at UCSB. Former UCSB great Brian Shaw returned to his alma mater as an assistant coach.

12. Westmont’s baseball team had its best season in program history, going 41-9 and winning the GSAC regular season championship. It was the first time the Warriors won an outright title since 1989.

13. Erica Schroeder repeated as CIF-SS 800-meter champion and advanced to the State Meet for second straight year. She also qualified for the CIF State Cross County Championships in the fall with her San Marcos cross country teammates. Natasha Feshbach of Santa Barbara High qualified for the state track meet in the 100 hurdles. Both Schroder and Feshbach finished eighth in their events at the State Meet.

14. The Dos Pueblos baseball team won its fifth straight Channel League title and advanced to the CIF Division 2 semifinals. Senior Dustin Demeter was named to the All-CIF team and signed with the University of Hawaii.

15. The UCSB women’s water polo team had a historic season, winning the first Big West title and advancing to in its first NCAA Tournament. The Gauchos finished seventh.

Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe won the third stage of the Amgen Tour of California at the top of Gibraltar Road. Click to view larger
Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe won the third stage of the Amgen Tour of California at the top of Gibraltar Road. (Fritz Olenberger photo)

16. The third stage of the Tour of California cycling competition finished at the top of Gibraltar Road. Frenchman Julian Alaphilippe claimed the victory, holding off a late attack from American Peter Stetina and pushing through a brutal six-mile mountain finish after riding 96 miles from Thousand Oaks.

Other significant stories of the year include the San Marcos boys golf team winning a second straight CIF title; Kento Perera of San Marcos and Bella Vigna achieving individual three-peats in Channel League, Perera in boys tennis and Vigna in girls golf; the Laguna Blanca girls volleyball team sweeping the three city public high schools to claim the mythical city championship; SBCC’s Carolin Chang winning her second straight Community Colllege State Golf title; the Dos Pueblos Little League Junior Division All-Stars finishing second out of nearly 400 teams in Southern California; and the passing of legendary San Marcos High basketball coach Maury Halleck.

Noozhawk sports editor Barry Punzal can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk Sports on Twitter: @NoozhawkSports. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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