Often, when we get to the end of a year and reflect on 365 days' worth of stories, there are a couple or three that clearly stand above the rest.
Not so in 2013.
The nine esteemed voters who made up our panel and picked the best stories routinely commented about how close the balloting was. And it showed in the final tally: Six stories received No. 1 votes.
The top story, North Medford softball, got three firsts, and the No. 2 story, the Medford Rogues baseball team, got two.
Only one ballot correctly identified the top 10 stories. Three others had nine.
Only three of the eventual top 10 stories were checked on all nine ballots: North Medford softball and the Medford Rogues were joined by North Medford football, which came in at No. 5.
There were 28 stories to choose from. Nineteen got votes.
Here's what we came up with:
North Medford softball
1 Excitement followed the North Medford girls softball team from the opening pitch to the final out as the Black Tornado regularly trotted out the state's best player and surrounded the dominating pitcher with skilled defenders and productive hitters.
Maryssa Becker, the right-hander who was headed to Louisville, had the weight of the season on her shoulders and didn't disappoint. She went 19-1 and hurled a no-hitter in the Class 6A state championship game, beating Glencoe 2-1.
As for the excitement to the last pitch? The Black Tornado fell behind 1-0 in the top of the seventh of the title game when Becker hit a batter, who scored after a bunt, a wild pitch and a fielder's choice. In the bottom of the final inning, Alexis Barkwell of North doubled off the left-field wall to score Katie Ramsay, who had singled, with the tying run.
On to extras, where Becker struck out the side for the third time.
"I was in kind of a groove today," she said. "Katie (Williamson, catcher) and I had been working all week on stuff and making sure that we were being smart with our pitches and being cognizant of where we were placing the ball every pitch."
Her 13th strikeout sent the Black Tornado to the dugout with a chance to win.
Michelle Draper led off by reaching first base on an error. Courtesy runner Cassie Campbell took her place and advanced to third on a passed ball and a wild pitch as Grace Jovanovic fought off pitches. Jovanovic then lined a single to left field to score Campbell and end the game.
North Medford went 29-2, winning its second straight crown, its third in five years and seventh overall. Becker repeated as Gatorade player of the year and all-state pitcher of the year. She hurled four shutouts in the playoffs, five no-hitters for the season and had a 0.47 ERA with 232 strikeouts in 1322/3 innings. She also led North with a .545 batting average, nine doubles, eight home runs, 48 RBIs and a .939 slugging percentage.
Coach Mike Mayben was named coach of the year. Joining Becker on the all-state first team were the senior Williamson and Joci Ellis (junior shortstop). Second-team picks were Draper (senior left fielder) and Jovanovic (sophomore right fielder).
2 The Medford Rogues, a wood-bat team for college baseball players in the West Coast League, was already up and running by the start of the year and didn't slow down until it had crafted the most successful start-up in league history.
Formation of the team was announced in June 2012. Then came plans for major renovations of Harry & David Field, a team naming contest involving the community and roster building. By the time the season started, general manager Chuck Heeman, a 20-year veteran of professional baseball, had all the pieces in place.
A mediocre start to the season was followed by a late playoff push. The Rogues won 16 of their last 18 league home games and ended up tied with Bend with a 30-24 record. The Rogues advanced to the playoffs because of a 4-2 head-to-head record against the Elks. The Rogues' season ended with consecutive South Division playoff losses to Corvallis.
They were the first WCL expansion team to make the playoffs and set a record for most victories by a first-year franchise. Medford was 31st among all summer collegiate baseball teams in attendance, averaging 1,372 fans in 26 homes games. It was third in the WCL behind Bend (1,574) and first-year Victoria (1,437).
3 Medford native Braden Shipley had a dream fulfilled when he was selected in the first round of Major League Baseball's first-year player draft, going as the 15th selection to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
The 2010 North Medford High graduate received a signing bonus of $2.25 million and began his pro career with the Hillsboro Hops, Arizona's new rookie-league team in the Portland area.
Shipley showed his talent at the University of Nevada. As a junior, he posted a 7-3 record and 2.77 ERA. He struck out 102 batters in 1071/3 innings, earning conference pitcher of the year honors for the second straight season.
Baseball America rated Shipley its No. 8 prospect for the draft, and the Diamondbacks' opportunity to grab him with the 15th pick was considered a steal by a number of MLB analysts.
At No. 15, Shipley is the highest player to be drafted out of Nevada and the highest in recent memory from the Rogue Valley.
Cascade Christian football
4 Cascade Christian got off to an inauspicious start to the season. It was shut out by Santiam Christian, 21-0, as the Challengers unveiled its new spread offense. It was a work in progress, but progress it did. By season's end, Cascade Christian was virtually unstoppable with senior Seth Knox as the triggerman.
The Challengers rolled to their first state championship since 2006, beating Nyssa 41-6 for the title. Cody Parker scored three TDs as Cascade Christian completed a 12-2 season.
Knox adapted well to the wide-open attack. He was named the Class 3A offensive player of year after completing 186 of 292 passes for 2,671 yards and 36 touchdowns with only four interceptions. In back-to-back playoff games, he had 15 TD passes and two scoring runs.
Junior linebacker Dante Olson was co-defensive player of the year in 3A. He had 135 tackles, including 11 for losses, three interceptions, seven passes defensed, one sack and one forced fumble. He also scored a defensive touchdown.
The Challengers had 10 first-team all-state positions, and Jon Gettman was coach of the year.
North Medford football
5 It's safe to say that few people expected North Medford to have the kind of season it did in 2013. The Black Tornado went winless two years ago and managed only two victories last season, coach Mike Mitchell's first.
But following a season-opening, 20-13 loss at McNary of Salem, the junior-dominated Black Tornado reeled off 10 straight victories. Along the way, it collected its first winning season and first conference title since 2005. The run ended with a state quarterfinal loss and a 10-2 season record.
Quarterback Troy Fowler set school passing records for yards and touchdowns and was named the Southwest Conference offensive player of the year.
North Medford senior Hunter Hermansen and junior Nick Janakes each were named to the first-team offense and defense, with Hermansen getting the nod as an offensive tackle and defensive lineman while Janakes earned his honor as a running back and linebacker. Hermansen was also second-team all-state.
6 Former South Medford standout E.J. Singler completed his senior season as the University of Oregon's all-time winningest player, involved in 89 victories, and was named first-team all-Pac-12 Conference.
The 6-foot-6, 215-pound forward ranked among the top 11 in seven other statistical categories. He started 132 of his 142 games at Oregon and earned quite a backing among the Duck faithful.
Singler wrapped up his career ranked 11th in points (1,546), rebounds (727) and steals (110). His 63 blocked shots rank ninth, along with his 364 free throws made, and his free throw percentage of .848 stands sixth. He's 10th in 3-pointers made with 168, and his 286 assists aren't too far off the top 10.
As a senior, he helped Oregon to a 28-9 record. The Ducks were ranked as high as 10th, swept the Pac-12's Northwest schools (Oregon State, Washington, Washington State) for the first time since 1925-26 and claimed the Pac-12 tournament title before falling to Louisville in the NCAA regional semifinals.
7 Danny Berger returned to the court after suffering a heart attack during a practice with the Utah State basketball team in December 2012. The 6-foot-7 junior forward went into full cardiac arrest and was revived with the use of an automated external defibrillator.
The former North Medford player sat out the remainder of last season, joining the team late in the year for light work in practice. When his junior season began in the fall, he was ready to go. He's now a reserve, averaging 4.3 points in 13 minutes per game for an Aggies squad that is 10-2 and has drawn comparisons to the 2011 USU team that won 30 games.
Berger has also promoted the need for AEDs in schools and public venues. He addressed the Utah state legislature and helped get a bill passed that provides schools money for the machines. He spoke at church functions and before nonprofit groups, and he and his father, Brian, raised money to get one for Kids Unlimited in Medford.
South Medford girls basketball
8 South Medford set the bar awfully high in 2012, becoming the first Rogue Valley state champion and the first big-school team to go undefeated. It shared the top-story honor in our pages that year with Kyle Singler.
But 2013 wasn't half bad, either. The Panthers had their second-best season in school history, placing second to top-ranked Central Catholic at state. Playing a schedule that included an extremely difficult nonconference lineup, they went 24-5. South Medford won its third straight Southern Oregon Hybrid crown and ran its league winning streak to 38 games.
Ashley Bolston was named to the all-state first team, and she signed with Washington State in the fall. Guard Kylie Towry set the school record for career points with 1,813.
The Panthers ended 2013 ranked No. 1 in the state.
9 It took 84 years, but the Southern Oregon Golf Championships finally had a player win three consecutive men's open championships. And it was a teenager, 19-year-old Kevin Murphy of Rogue River, who pulled it off.
Murphy handled Ryan Hawkins of Grants Pass, 6 and 5, in the 36-hole championship match at Rogue Valley Country Club. He did it with pinpoint drives and precision play around the greens. He made only one bogey in taking down Hawkins, 37, who was the medalist in qualifying.
Murphy already owned a piece of SOGC lore as the tournament's youngest champion after his 2011 victory — also over Hawkins — and said after No. 3 he planned to try to keep the streak going in 2014. He's now at Oregon State and is one of the Beavers' top players as a freshman.
10 Mitchell Lofstedt led the Southern Oregon University wrestling team to second place in the nation with yet another national title.
The 125-pounder, ranked No. 1 all season, provided an appropriate finishing touch to what coach Mike Ritchey declared the greatest career in program history, pinning fourth-ranked Bryan Lazaro of Dickinson State in the finals. It was Lofstedt's third national title and second in a row. His fifth pin in as many matches came in 2:31.
Lofstedt, who finished the season 37-1 with 27 pins, was named the outstanding wrestler of the tournament for the second year in a row.
Other SOU titles were won by Prescott Garner (133), Jimmy Eggemeyer (149) and Brock Gutches (174). Ritchey was named coach of the year.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org