The three best things (and one bad thing) about Tucson sports, 2016:
1. UA baseball coach Jay Johnson didn’t listen to those who said second baseman Cody Ramer couldn’t play.
"When I got here, people told me I should cut Cody or tell him to find somewhere else to play," Johnson told me recently. And why not? Ramer hit .178 a year earlier.
Midway through Arizona’s captivating run to the College World Series championship game, Johnson turned to assistant coach Sergio Brown in the dugout and said "we need to go find the future version of Ramer."
"For my money," Johnson said, "he was the best player in the Pac-12."
Ramer led the league in runs, total bases, triples and was second in hits. He batted .348. He was the working symbol of Arizona’s compelling burst to the national title game.
2. After finishing third in the NJCAA women’s basketball finals in March, Pima College opened the year ranked No. 1. (The 10-2 Aztecs are currently No. 2.).
In the national championship tournament in Overland Park, Kansas the Aztecs stunned No. 1 Monroe Community College 74-73 to finish third. Freshman point guard Sydni Stallworth, who is probably no more than 5 feet 3 inches, led the Aztecs to the showdown with Monroe by scoring 16 and 21 points. But against Monroe, she struggled, shooting 1-for-9 afield.
"I still want her on my team in any situation," PCC coach Todd Holthaus said.
In the final 90 seconds, Stallworth went 4-for-4 from the foul line to produce what is likely the most meaningful victory in school history, 74-73.
3. The second-year Nova Home Loans Arizona Bowl drew 33,868 fans for Air Force’s 45-21 victory over South Alabama. It was more people than at 18 other bowl games.
Air Force coach Troy Calhoun was so impressed by his six days in Tucson – five-star lodging, five-star weather, a list of team activities that had the Falcons going everywhere from Old Tucson to the Diamond Children’s Medical Center – that he said "you talk about big-time potential with a bowl, this absolutely has it."
The game’s founder, Ali Farhang reacted by saying "we are just scratching the surface; schools will now fight to come to our game."
Farhang celebrated modestly by going out for a cheeseburger, vowing "I’m going to get working on next year’s game tomorrow."
One bad thing: Arizona rallied to threaten eventual Pac-12 champion Washington 28-27 with 17 seconds remaining in a late September game at Arizona Stadium.
Given the Wildcats’ personnel issues at quarterback, running back and on defense, it was almost a football miracle. The Wildcats had the Huskies backpedaling and were 2 ½ yards from one of the year’s most stunning victories.
It was the opportunity that seldom comes your way. Tie or roll the dice?
Coach Rich Rodriguez immediately signaled his team would play for a tie, kick an extra point, rather than go for the throat.
The Huskies won routinely in overtime 35-28. Arizona finished in last place in the Pac-12 South, probably its worst season since 1958. Opportunity lost.