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10. Spartans’ first battle: Getting started The long-awaited opening of Lathrop High came with a few hiccups for the athletics program. - photo by Bulletin file photo

The new year has quite an act to follow.

Then again, so did 2008.

The Bulletin kicks off its three-part series highlighting the best sports stories of the communities it covers with the latter half of the top 10.

The next five will be unveiled in the coming days, with No. 1 coming Friday.

Until then, join us in counting down the top 10 sports stories of 2008, starting with ...

10. Spartans’ first battle: Getting started
The long-awaited opening of Lathrop High came with a few hiccups for the athletics program.

On-campus athletic facilities weren’t ready for some of the fall sports programs. The girls golf team was cut to start the season because of low turnout. And  the freshman football team disbanded to help out a sophomore squad that had 22 of 26 players academically ineligible to compete.

Though the facilities nearing 100 percent completion, the future of Manteca Unified’s fifth comprehensive high school is now in doubt. The district is faced with a $14 million deficit and may be forced to shut down Lathrop High, which is feeling the brunt of the housing crisis.

9. Cinderella dances
East Union High’s unlikely playoff run began with its regular-season series finale against crosstown rival Sierra, and the drama intensified when Game 1 was postponed because an umpire was a no-show. A sweep was required for the Lancers to make the Sac-Joaquin Section Division IV playoffs, while all Sierra needed to do was split to get in.

East Union stole Game 1 with a thrilling 11-10 come-from-behind, extra-inning victory and clinched the playoff berth with a 10-9 win the following day.

The Lancers’ opened postseason play with a 9-1 bashing of Central Valley Conference champion Center, and they set up an all Valley Oak League final round with Oakdale by rallying from an early nine-run deficit and upsetting Pioneer Valley League titlist Bear River, 12-10.

EU’s magical run ended with a 4-0 loss to Oakdale, which claimed its seconds straight section championship. But it was a much different ballgame from the ones they played in the regular season, when East Union was swept by a combined score of 21-0.

8. Feats of strength
Sierra High’s Derek Sinclair became the first Timberwolf to qualify for the California Interscholastic Federation State Track and Field Championships, where he finished 13th in the shot put and 20th in the discus throw.

The program record holder in both events highlighted his senior campaign by winning both events in the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Meet — the first to achieve the feat since Atwater’s Rusty Price in 2000.

7. Trailblazer

Weston Ranch senior Roberto Alvarez ran his way into his school’s record books this past fall by becoming the first cross country runner to win Valley Oak League Championships and Sac-Joaquin Section Division III titles along with qualifying for the state meet.

Alvarez’s decorated senior season ended with a 27th-place finish at the state meet in Fresno, and eighth-place finish in the all-senior race at the Footlocker West Regional.

Alvarez’s achievements places him among the area’s greats of all time, as he joins East Union’s Justin Willingham (1997) and Sierra’s David Ulibarri (1997-98), Cherise McNair (2003) and Jimmy Elam (2004) on the short list of section champions representing Manteca Unified schools.

6. Linked in

East Union highlighted the greatest girls golf season in Manteca Unified history, becoming the first-ever team to win three straight Sac-Joaquin Section championships. In-town rivals Manteca and Sierra also qualified for the section’s Division IV tournament, and the former had its finest outing of the season to finish an impressive third.

The Lancers went on to qualify for the Northern California Golf Association/California Interscholastic Federation Championships with a third-place finish at the Sac-Joaquin Section Masters Tournament.

They finished ninth at NorCals, and Krysta Clark, the Bulletin’s Girls Golfer of the Year, was two strokes shy of advancing to state with a seven-over 79. Clark and teammate Lindsay Shoot formed the best high school girls tandem in city history. Clark is heading to Fresno State on a scholarship, while the drastically-improved Shoot signed with Cal State Monterey Bay.