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The 16 biggest Northern Nevada sports stories in 2019

Nevada basketball
Nevada basketball stories dominate our list of top sports stories of 2019. (Julian Del Gaudio/NSN)

The 2019 calendar year closed earlier this week, ending a memorable season of sports in Northern Nevada. Here is a look back at the recently completed year with the 16 most memorable moments of 2019.

1. Eric Musselman leaves; Steve Alford takes over

The biggest moment of the 2019 year wasn't a game. Instead it was a decision. That of Eric Musselman to leave Nevada for the same job at Arkansas. And while some fans get all fussy when you mention Musselman's name (the breakup was hard for Wolf Pack fans to take), there's no doubt this was the most seismic sports event in Northern Nevada in 2019. In four years at Nevada, Musselman won 110 games, four Mountain West titles and took his team to three NCAA tournaments, including the 2018 Sweet 16, with his program peaking at No. 5 in the nation. But the allure of a bigger paycheck, better facilities and a seemingly bigger ceiling ultimately cost Nevada their coach with Musselman following the lead of Trent Johnson (who left Reno for Stanford) and Mark Fox (who left for Georgia). The Wolf Pack moved quickly to land another big-time coach as Steve Alford, most recently of UCLA, was hired to replace Musselman with a record-breaking 10-year, $11.6 million fully guaranteed deal.

2. Nevada-UNLV game epic and unfortunate

The 2019 edition of the Battle for the Fremont Cannon was one of the most memorable in the 45-game series. The Rebels opened a 17-0 lead before Nevada crawled back into the game and scored two touchdowns in the final seven minutes to tie things at 27, forcing the first overtime game between the long-time rivals. Nevada's Brandon Talton opened overtime with a field goal before UNLV's Kenyon Oblad connected with Steve Jenkins on a 19-yard game-winning touchdown pass to stun the Mackay Stadium crowd as the Rebels won 33-30. Shortly after, Nevada's Austin Arnold blindsided Oblad from behind as UNLV celebrated the win, sparking a brawl in which punches were thrown by players, a Nevada fan ripped off the helmet of a Rebels player and a UNLV captain used his helmet to swing at a Wolf Pack supporter. Eight players were suspended and a ninth was given a public reprimand by the MW.

3. Wolf Pack loses to Florida in first round

Nevada basketball's level of expectations in 2018-19 were crazy high as the Wolf Pack returned almost all of the key pieces from the 2018 Sweet 16 team and added a McDonald's All-American (Jordan Brown) as well as five eligible Division I transfers who each had success at their previous programs. And while it was a historic season with Nevada starting the year 24-1 and being ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation (that technically came in late 2018 with a 2019 high-water mark of seventh in the country), the season felt like a disappointment because it ended so abruptly. Nevada went 28-3 in the regular season but was dealt a No. 7 seed after losing in the semifinal of the MW Tournament. The Wolf Pack drew Florida in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Nevada fell behind by 18 points in the second half before rallying within two points with 3 minutes, 30 seconds remaining and again with 2:02 left. But the comeback couldn't be completed as Nevada lost 70-61 to go one-and-done on the big stage.

4. Game at Logan explodes with emotion

Nevada basketball's game at Utah State was its most memorable last season. The game itself was an instant classic, but the craziness post-game is what it will be best remembered for. Utah State nursed a small lead for much of the contest and was up 76-71 with 33 seconds left when Caleb Martin did a superman dunk over Sam Merrill but was called for a charge, sealing the bitter defeat. Fans rushed the court after the game, with some fireworks between the staffs in the handshake line, before things erupted in the bowels of The Spectrum. Somebody said something to spark Jordan Caroline, who raced through his coaches toward the Utah State locker room, his teammates following. Caroline was eventually pushed back toward Nevada's locker room after punching the glass of a fire extinguisher case, bloodying his hand. The teams eventually split the MW regular-season title with the Aggies winning the MW Tournament crown.

5. Reno 1868 FC's playoff ouster

Reno 1868 FC's third season was its best yet in terms of regular-season performance, but the team's year came to an quick end in the postseason with a one-and-done in the playoffs. Reno 1868 went 16-10-6 in 34 regular-season matches to post a franchise-record 60 points, one more than its first two seasons of existence in the USL. Those 60 points were good enough for Reno to finish second in the Western Conference behind a dominant Phoenix Rising FC club that went 24-6-4 and tallied 78 points. But the postseason was cruel yet again for Reno, which lost to rival Sacramento Republic FC, 3-1, at home in its playoff opener, dropping Reno to 1-3 all-time in the postseason.

6. Nevada baseball's back-to-back walk-offs

The Nevada baseball team hosted No. 2-ranked Oregon State for a pair of games in April. The results were memorable. The Wolf Pack won both games in extra-inning walk-offs. In the opener, Nevada won 8-7 in 12 innings when scoring the game-winning run via on error off a sac bunt. A day later, Nevada topped Oregon State, 7-6, in 10 innings when Keaton Smith thumped a homer over the left-field fence on the first pitch of the bottom of the frame. Smith entered the series hitting .156 but was 6-of-9 against the Beavers. Nevada baseball has scored six wins over the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, but the back-to-back wins against the nation's No. 2 team is one of the top moments in program history.

7. Cody Martin gets drafted

After Nevada's historic 2018-19 season, the Wolf Pack saw its first player selected in the NBA draft since 2010. But it wasn't the player most expected as Caleb Martin and Jordan Caroline both went undrafted. Instead, it was Cody Martin who got picked as a second-round selection of the hometown Charlotte Hornets. The story didn't end there. Twin brother Caleb was picked up by the franchise as an undrafted free agent and made the 15-man roster after a strong training camp. Both Martins made their NBA debuts on the same team, scoring their first points on nearly identical alley-oop dunks. Nevada baseball also had a good draft with Grant Ford going in the fifth round; Ryan Anderson in the 12th round; and Jaylon McLaughlin in the 37th.

8. Reno Aces' historic game

The Triple-A baseball was juiced this season, but what the Reno Aces did in one game in particular was still crazy. Reno bested Tacoma Rainers, 25-8, but that only tells a fraction of the story. Yasmany Tomás went 5-for-6 with four home runs, the first four-homer game in the PCL since 2008. His 17 total bases were five shy of the PCL record set in 1923. In all, Reno hit a franchise-record 10 home runs, besting the previous record of six and tying a PCL record set in 1974. Not to be outdone by Tomás, Matt Szczur hit for the cycle. How rare was the game? The last time teammates had a four-homer game and a cycle in the same contest at the major-league level was June 3, 1932 when the New York Yankees accomplished the feat.

9. Nicola Ader's haul

In her sophomore season alone, Nevada's Nicola Ader became the most decorated female track and field athlete in school history. She won four All-American honors (technically one of those came in 2018). In the fall season, Ader finished 12th in the nation in the long jump, 13th in the heptathlon and 16th in the high jump. That was added to her ninth-place finish in the long jump during the indoor season. That made the German native a four-time second-team All-America honoree. No other Wolf Pack female track and field athlete has more than two All-American honors in their college career.

10. Barracuda crowns champ, changes venues

It was a hectic year for Reno's annual PGA Tour stop as the Barracuda Championship was essentially evicted by its home course, Montreux, following the 2019 event. The 2019 stop was won by rookie and potential future star Colin Morikawa. The 22-year-old beat Troy Merritt by three points in the Stableford scoring system after turning pro following his senior season of college just weeks prior. That was just the start of the drama as the Montreux board of directors voted against hosting the Barracuda after a 21-year partnership with the tournament. Four months later, the event announced it would be held at Old Greenwood, near Truckee, for the next four years, moving out of Reno but staying relatively close to town.

11. Bishop Manogue football repeats

After a difficult regular season, the Bishop Manogue football team strung a couple of upsets together during the Northern 4A Regional playoffs to secure its second straight Regional title. The Miners upset Spanish Springs in an epic semifinal matchup before topping Damonte Ranch for the Northern championship, its second straight win over the Mustangs for the Northern crown. Injuries, food poisoning and a case of whooping cough all hit Manogue, but the Miners prevailed over all of them. In the state tournament, Manogue lost to eventual state champion Liberty, 42-24, in a semifinal in which it led halfway through the third quarter. In the 4A state title game, Liberty topped Centennial, 50-7.

12. Nevada stuns Purdue

Purdue was not the best team Nevada football beat in 2019. That would be San Diego State, which marked just the second time the Wolf Pack has beaten a 10-win FBS team in school history (the other time that happened was 2010 against Boise State). The win over the Aztecs also marked Nevada's first on the road against a Top 25 team. But the win over Purdue to open the season was the most memorable victory Nevada posted in 2019 thanks to the drama that occurred, with Nevada rallying from a 17-point second-half deficit and beating the Boilermakers on a 56-yard field goal by true freshman walk-on kicker Brandon Talton, who was immediately put on scholarship following the victory.

13. No. 22 goes into the rafters

The Nevada athletic department has not retired many numbers in its history (six to be exact), so the move to hang Nick Fazekas' No. 22 from the rafters last February at Lawlor Events Center was a memorable moment. Fazekas is the Wolf Pack's all-time leading scorer and led Nevada to four straight NCAA Tournament berths from 2004-07. Currently playing in Japan, the Wolf Pack flew Fazekas and his family out for its game Feb. 28 against UNLV, a contest the Wolf Pack won 89-73. He joined Edgar Jones as the only Wolf Pack basketball players to have their numbers retired. In the summer, Fazekas led Japan in the World Cup of Basketball and he expects to play for the host country in the 2020 Olympics.

14. Krysta Palmer leaves mark on international stage

Krysta Palmer, the Douglas High and Nevada Wolf Pack alum, has been attempting to make the 2020 Olympic Games as a diver, and competed at the international stage in 2019 for the third straight year. In 2019, she won a gold medal in the USA FINA Diving Grand Prix event in Mission Viejo, Calif., in women’s synchronzied 3-meter with teammate Alison Gibson. The pair also won gold in the USA Diving National Championships and placed 10th in the FINA World Championship. She finished sixth in the 3-meter individual in the USA Diving National Championships and fifth in the USA FINA Diving Grand Prix.

15. Fallon sweeps state basketball titles

It was a good year for Churchill County High, which won the state football, boys basketball and girls basketball titles in the 2018-19 athletic season. The girls basketball title wasn't a shock as the Greenwave beat Moapa Valley, 42-35, to win its third straight 3A championship. The boys matched their counterparts by beating Elko, 57-54, in overtime for the 3A state title game. At the 4A level, Bishop Manogue's boys used a buzzer-beater to top Spanish Springs for the 4A Regional title, its first since 2011, while the Spanish Springs girls won their first 4A Regional championship by avenging a pair of losses to Reno High to beat the Huskies, 54-40, in the title showdown.

16. Romo repeats at Tahoe

The American Century Championship is used to dynasties with Rick Rhoden racking up a number of championships at the event in the 1990s and 2000s and Mark Mulder three-peating from 2015-17, but the golfer to beat now is Tony Romo, who won his second straight ACC in 2019. Romo got off to a slow start but easily dispatched Mulder. Romo scored 71 points over the course of three rounds. The former Cowboy quarterback scored 26 points on Friday, 25 on Saturday and rounded out the championship with 20 on Sunday. Mulder finished in second place with 61 points.

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