WALLA WALLA - The 2009 DeSales baseball team came within one bad-hop single of claiming the program's 17th state championship last spring.
Irish eyes were not smiling when Northwest Christian rallied for four runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to claim an 11-10 victory and the Class 2B state title.
When one takes a glance at this year's DeSales roster, it sees 25 athletes listed (five seniors and sophomores, seven juniors, and eight freshmen). More than half (14) can compete at more than one position on the diamond, according to coach Kim Cox.
"The work ethic at practice has been decent," Cox said. "The biggest concern for us coaches is the lack of game experience compared to the successful teams of year's past. Summer participation has been down the past two years and that actually affects overall playing time for every single player in our program.
"When numbers don't add up to compete against the large populous areas, the negative affect is obvious," Cox said. "No one gets better at baseball by not playing the game. Meanwhile, there are others in our classification who have surpassed our guys in off-season development."
The 2010 senior class consists of Matt Wujek (catcher, pitcher, first base), Pat Richard (c, p, 1b), Spenser Smith (c, outfield), Shane Roach (of, second base) and Jose Mata (of).
"Matt is our best player," Cox said. "He has the most experience. He has improved his pitch location. Matt is our leader. Pat is a productive game player whose athleticism makes him versatile.
"Spence will likely do a lot of (designated hitter) work for us while playing some catcher as well," Cox said. "Shane is one of our best outfielders. He can play second base as well. We will likely need him in the outfield initially. Jose is a second-year player who has improved in his outfield play."
Juniors who will wear green and gold this spring are Tommy Gregg (of), Kyle Lindgren (third base), Victor Mata (shortstop, p, c), Kincaid Schmitz (of), and exchange students Stephan Vaagt, Jin Chang and Linyu Shi - who are all listed as outfielders.
"Tommy is our best outfielder," Cox said. "He can go get a ball pretty well. He's also a steady hitter and one of (our) better runners. Kyle is a steady third baseman who can also swing the bat well. He will be our No. 4 pitcher this year.
"Kincaid is a hard worker who is earning some varsity playing time," Cox said. "He has swung the bat well so far this spring. Victor is a versatile player who has improved his work ethic from last year. He will be counted on in many areas. His mentality so far this spring has been good."
The list of sophomores features Spencer Cordeiro (c, p, 1b), Brandon Arellano (p, of), Garret Leahy (p, 1b), Dan Solomon (p, if, of) and Arturo Martinez (of).
"Spencer can play the corner positions and can pitch and catch," Cox said. "We will need him to be productive offensively as well. Brandon has improved a lot. He has not played a lot but has some ability in offensive and defensive areas, and he can pitch. Garret has grown physically. He has improved a lot over last year. He has some delivery changes to undergo, but has looked good at times.
"Dan will play at third and also bolster the (junior varsity) pitching staff," Cox said. "Arturo is a good athlete who has not played much baseball. He's much better than a year ago. He's working on being a better hitter."
Completing the roster are newcomers Logan Hoeft (p, if), Joe Duehn (if), Travis Haen (if), Riley Roach (if, of), Cody Josifek (3b, of), Tim Caudill (c, 1b), and a pair of injured freshmen - Kyler Pommerening (of) and Luke Fazzari (if,of).
"Logan has done a good job at shortstop so far this spring," Cox said. "He will be a swing player on JV and varsity. He will get some varsity time. Joe has performed well and has a good chance of earning a start on the varsity at second base. Travis has impressed the coaches with his consistency and ability to take information and apply it quickly. He will swing between JV and varsity.
"Riley runs (well) and throw pretty well for a young guy," Cox said. "Cody has some versatility in playing different positions. He also swings the bat well. I think this guy could be a good baseball player if he puts in the time and wants it. Tim has solid player make-up and a good work ethic. He is a good first baseman who can also catch if needed. He swings the bat pretty well."
Cox believes his younger players have positively progressed.
"Many of them did put in a lot of time playing last summer and it shows," Cox said. "So, our young freshmen have gained while some (in) our older group seem to be stuck in neutral. Being stuck in neutral is not gaining. There is a an old adage in baseball - ‘When you are ripe, you rot.'
That implies that you can never be satisfied, according to Cox.
"One of our successes here at school has been that our players have always understood it is all about getting better everyday and not being happy with where you are today," Cox said. "We hope to be able to make up for some of the lost time and the lack of experience that goes along with it. We realize it is impossible to re-capture all of that time. We hope to make up for a portion with hard work and providing some leadership in advancing a better mentality.
"How successful we are at offsetting the lost time will determine how well we do as a team this season."
DeSales opens the 2010 campaign today with a non-league game at Hermiston.