This was one of the most compelling sports years in recent memory around this neck of the woods. 2018 was a great time to be a Maine and New England sports fan.
There does not need to be any debate; this is the definitive list of top sports stories for the year that was.
#1 Red Sox Win the World Series
Yes, they have done it four times in fourteen years. But never quite like this. The most regular season wins in franchise history. Mookie Betts brings home the MVP. And the sox make the postseason field, including the rival Yankees, look woefully inadequate. An 11-3 playoff record and a fancy trophy that was damaged by a beer can projectile at the Duck Boat parade. All of these lead tothe biggest sports story of the year.
#2 University of Maine Football Plays in National Semifinal
The Black Bears electrified the region like never before. Thrilling regular season wins led to an unprecedented playoff run. By the time Maine met Eastern Washington on national TV with a trip to the title game on the line, hardcore and casual Go Blue fans were riveted. Coach Joe Harasymiak called it the best football team in school history. I call it the best Maine sports story of the year.
#3 Patriots Drama
In early February the Pats lost the Super Bowl. Malcom butler didn’t play. Gronk talks about retirement in the postgame press conference. McDaniels take the Indy job. Then doesnt. Pats players fill social media with un-Patriot like messages. TB 12 doesn’t show up for off season workouts. Panic sets in as they start the following season 2-2. But add nine more wins and a division crown and you can agree that this franchise gave us sports fans plenty to talk about in 2018.
#4 UMaine Women's Basketball is Back!
Well, they weren’t really too far away in recent years. But they finally cleared the America East title game hurdle and for the first time in years played in the NCAA Tournament. The team drew big crowds at the Cross Center for the regular season finale with Albany and the conference title game as well. Amy Vachon was most impressive in her ability to take the team to the next level after stepping in for Richard Barron. Throw in a great start to the 2018-2019 season and Maine women's hoops fans are feeling like they are back to the glory years.
#5 Sports Betting Could Soon Be Legal in Maine
The Supreme Court says sports betting can be legal in all states. In typical fashion the Maine government is behaving the exact opposite of the states “Dirigo” slogan and is way behind in bringing sports betting here. The two big casinos are ready. Fans are ready, and the state could sure use the revenue. Rhode Island is the only New England state with betting up and running and they are crushing it. There will be bills before the Maine legislature in 2019.
#6 Bangor Rams Win 5th Straight Baseball State Title
Most high school athletes never win one. But there are a couple of classes of baseball players at Bangor who have never not brought home the gold. This is an amazing run under two different coaches. In a time where Bangor is the last large high school within 100 miles of itself, they have shown the southern schools who rules the diamond.
#7 Roger Clemens to Appear in Bangor
Ok- this is self serving, I admit. And he’s not even coming until 2019. So I can put him on the list next year too. But the Sports Chowdah is bringing the biggest name and perhaps the greatest pitcher of the modern era to Bangor. 7 Cy Youngs. 354 wins. More than 4000 strikeouts. And he is controversial. He is the biggest “name” to ever appear at a Hot Stove event in this region. I think that’s worth making this list.
#8 Roller Coaster Ride for UMaine Men's Hockey
In March of 2018 many thought, or at least hoped, the Black Bears were back. 18 wins and a playoff series win over ew haHmpshire. But some of us warned the 18 wins were wicked soft, and UNH had long since quit for the year before they ever came to play that series in Orono.
As I write this Maine sits at a miserable 5-9-2 in Red Gendron's six ear at the helm. They have a mediocre offense and one of the worst power play percentages in the nation. I hear talk of team dissention. If second semester play doesn’t improve, new UMaine AD Ken Ralph will have to pull the plug on the Gendron era. Another story that is worth following into the new year.
#9 Nokomis Football Shocks the State
An 0-16 two year record followed two years later by not only the schools first ever playoff win, but a state title in Class C high school football. While #9 on the overall Solari list, this story is #1 on the Solari feel good list for the year.
#10 Celtics Should Have Played in NBA Finals
No Kyrie. No Hayward. Yet the Celtics still had the Cavs on the ropes in Eastern Conference Finals game #7 in Boston. Then they literally almost couldn’t score and lose 87-79. While the team overachieved all season, hard to describe this game as anything other than a choke job.
Bowdoin Women’s Basketball #1 in nation. Hermon boys hoops wins first state tite, Maine adds Arena Football, Richard Barron switches gigs, Husson football plays in Bowl game.