DeSales' baseball team refuses to dwell on last year's bad hop loss

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There are a lot of DeSales baseball fans who are probably still suffering heartburn over last year's 11-10 loss to Northwest Christian in the Class 2B state championship game at Parker Field in Yakima.

Don't count Irish coach Kim Cox among them.

"Last year? I don't give it a whole lot of thought," said Cox, who has his team back in the Class 2B state semifinals this weekend. The Irish face undefeated and No. 1-ranked Colfax Friday at 7 p.m at Parker Field.

"A lot of people want to talk about the bad hop," Cox said. "But that's bogus. We lost that game because we didn't close it out ourselves.

"What I remember is we walked a guy. We had an error up the middle. It wasn't bad luck. We just didn't seal the deal ourselves, and that's the way I am always going to see it."

Nevertheless, it is a game that will no doubt stand as one of the most memorable in Washington prep title-game history for years to come.

After trailing 5-2 early, DeSales rallied for a 7-5 lead only to see Northwest Christian score twice in the bottom of the sixth and force the game into extra innings. The Irish then scored three times in the top of the eighth for a 10-7 lead, and it appeared DeSales was on the verge of an unprecedented 17th state baseball title.

But fate was not with the Irish on that May afternoon.

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Northwest Christian had whittled DeSales' lead to 10-9. The Navigators had the bases loaded, with the winning run perched on second base.

Victor Mata was on the mound for the Irish, and he induced what appeared to be a harmless ground ball to second baseman Shane Roach. But as Roach reached for the ball and Cox for his clipboard, the ball took an unpredictable hop over Roach's head for a single and two runs scored.

Game over!

"I went to put my clipboard down because I thought the game was over," Cox said. "It was a bad hop. But we had a three-run lead for crying out loud. And we walked guys, we didn't locate, we made the error ..."

It was an improbable turn of events for a Cox-coached team that almost never beats itself.

Since that very first Irish state championship in the Kingdome in 1989, DeSales has dominated Washington's Class B prep baseball world. DeSales won seven consecutive championships beginning in 1992 and duplicated that feat with seven more titles from 2000 through 2006.

The Irish captured their 16th championship in 2008. And after last year's misfortune, they'll try again for No. 17 this weekend in Yakima.

But it won't be easy, starting Friday against a Colfax team that enters the semifinals with a 24-0 record.

"They are probably the team to beat over there," Cox said of the Bulldogs, who defeated Irish Southeast 2B District rival Asotin 10-2 in a regional championship game in Spokane last weekend. DeSales split with the Panthers during the regular season and came away with a 5-2 victory over Asotin in the district championship game.

"They are very talented, physically athletic and very well skilled," Cox added to his assessment of Friday's semifinal foe. "They are No. 1-ranked in the state and deservedly so."

DeSales and Colfax are historic rivals and former members of the long-defunct Southeast A League. But last year's 14-11 Irish victory over the Bulldogs in a regional final in Spokane was the first baseball meeting between the schools in some time.

The Bulldogs will send primarily the same lineup against the Irish Friday in Yakima. It's a lineup that features five left-handed bats, and DeSales' three primary pitchers are all righties.

"Offense is Colfax's strength," Cox said. "They have a good group of hitters, and all of their lefties are really good. Since our pitchers are all right-handed, we are going to have to locate well. If we do, I think we will be OK."

Mata, a junior, has been the Irish's most reliable pitcher this season. He owns a 10-1 record, a 1.29 earned run average and has registered 100 strikeouts in 68 innings.

Seniors Pat Richard and Matt Wujek are the other two likely to see time on the mound this weekend. Richard has logged a 6-1 record, 1.35 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 37 2/3 innings; Wujek is 4-1 with a 6.30 ERA and 60 strikeouts in 27 innings.

"Victor and Pat are similar velocitywise," Cox said. "Victor's off-speed stuff is a little better. Matt is the most intriguing because he has the best stuff. But he can be a little wild sometimes."

Wujek is also the No. 1 catcher, and DeSales' defense suffers when he moves out from behind the plate, Cox said.

Offensively, Richard is hitting .416 with a home run and 16 runs batted in. Mata leads the team with 32 RBIs, has socked seven doubles and a pair of homers, and his average sits at .363. Wujek is hitting .315 with six doubles and 16 RBIs, and he belted a key two-run home run two weeks ago in the district championship game.

"Matt got off to a real slow start so his numbers aren't quite as good," Cox said. "But he can really swing it."

Seattle Lutheran and Mossyrock meet in Friday's other semifinal game at 4 p.m. Saturday's championship game is slated for 4 p.m., preceded by the third-place game at 1 p.m.

The Irish, 20-3 overall, will head to Yakima Friday with their minds clear of last year's eighth-inning disaster, Cox is certain.

"This is a different team, a different season," the coach said. "Once a game is over, win or lose, we are done with it. We don't sit around and bask in it or dwell on the negativity.

"I guess I have a hard time enjoying things long enough, but that's just the way I am," Cox added. "Ask my wife. I can't even sit down at home and relax, and maybe that's not good.

"But I have a busy mind, And for me, it's always what's next."

That would be Colfax.

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