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The Top 3 sports moments of 2018 | Local Sports | mankatofreepress.com

Year 2018 is in the books.

In sports, around the area, there were plenty of highlights. Way back in April and May, it was the spring-that-almost-wasn’t, as consistent rain and cool conditions postponed or cancelled too many sporting events to count and forced high school programs to play close to a full season in about a four-week period.

More recently, the United South Central football team put together the first undefeated season in school history, and Waseca, which is usually a pretty competitive team, made it all the way to the state semifinals.

Personally, there are three moments that stand out.  Coming in at No. 3 is the three-man Mankato West contingent at the Class AA wrestling meet: senior heavyweight Zachary Jakes, senior 145-pounder Josh Block and sophomore 126-pounder Charlie Pickell.

Jakes and Pickell had been ranked No. 1 in the state for most of the season so it was no surprise when they each reached the final matches. Block’s appearance in the championship match was a bit more unexpected, but having watched him blossom during the last third of the season through the section tournament, it was not a shock.

When the final buzzer sounded at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Jakes and Blocks had won championships, and Pickell had come within two points of winning a third. It was an impressive display by local kids that won’t be soon forgotten.

At No. 2 comes the renovation of Franklin Rogers Park baseball field. This really doesn’t qualify as “a moment,” unless you count the first time I walked into the facility to see the changes.

The new artificial turf, scoreboards, renovated locker rooms had all helped transform the facility from an antiquated, rather rudimentary, baseball field, into a sleek, functional baseball stadium that the community could be proud to call its own.

The Mankato MoonDogs, Bethany Lutheran College and the Mankato Loyola and Mankato West baseball teams now have a modern home. It should serve south-central Minnesota well for years to come.

No. 1 on the list has to be “The Drive” by the Minnesota State football team in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division II national playoffs at Blakeslee Stadium.

The Mavericks were playing Tarleton State of Texas. “The Drive” didn’t result in the game-winning touchdown. It didn’t even give MSU the lead.

But it was methodical march of wonder that gave a team trailing 10-0 in the fourth quarter some momentum to pull out a 13-10 victory.

The conditions made the drive almost surreal as heavy snow, which had started at halftime, had all but obliterated the yard markers and sidelines. Junior running back Nate Gunn put the offense on his back and basically said “follow me boys.”

What ensued was a 27-play drive that covered 97 yards. It began at 11:19 of the third quarter. Gunn carried 18 times for 68 yards in the drive that ate up more than 12 minutes and kept Tarleton’s talented offense off the field.

It ended when quarterback Ryan Schlichte found Shane Zylstra with a 5-yard touchdown pass on fourth down. There were no penalties during the march, just straight-on, smash-mouth football.

Gunn finished the game with 50 carries for 261 yards and the game-winning touchdown. It’s the most impressive performance by a running back I’ve witnessed.

So that’s it from 2018. Now it’s time to see what 2019 has in store.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Jim Rueda is The Free Press Sports Editor. Follow him on twitter @JimRueda

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