WALLA WALLA - This isn't how Russ Vera had it planned.
After rolling to the Southeast 2B District's regular-season championship with an unblemished 12-0 record, Vera's DeSales Irish softball team was the odds-on favorite to capture the district's No. 1 seed to the Washington Class 2B state tournament.
But something happened on the way to Yakima.
In last week's district tournament in Pasco, upstart Tekoa-Oakesdale-Rosalia, which had won just three district games during the regular season, ambushed DeSales 6-4 and dumped the Irish into a loser-out game against Garfield-Palouse, which lost its first-round game to Waitsburg-Prescott, 4-1.
So, while T-O-R and Waitsburg-Prescott battled for the top two seeds to the state tourney - the surprising Spartans emerged No. 1 with a 4-3 victory in the championship game - the Irish and the Vikings were left to fight it out for the third seed. DeSales prevailed in a big way, 21-0.
"We were really down after losing," said Vera, who is in his second season as the Irish head coach. "But we decided not to even talk to them about it. Just let it sink in. And I thought we responded great."
Great, as in a 17-hit offensive onslaught and a no-hit pitching performance by Irish eighth-grader Ashlyn Lyons.
Nevertheless, by coming through the back door the Irish have drawn a tough first-round assignment at the Gateway Sports Complex in Yakima Friday. DeSales takes its 16-6 mark against a Kittitas team that enters state play with a 22-0 record.
"They have some power, a pitcher that throws in the mid-50s with good movement and a catcher that is very good," Vera said of the Coyotes.
Vera noted that the teams have one common opponent in Sunnyside Christian. Kittitas swept the Knights 3-1 and 7-1 while the Irish split a pair with Sunnyside, winning 2-1 and losing 7-5.
DeSales, which didn't qualify for state last year, enters the tournament with perhaps the youngest squad in the 16-team field.
Vera is working with a roster that includes four seniors, two sophomores, five freshmen and a trio of eighth graders on his varsity roster. And two of the eighth graders are vital to the Irish success this season.
Lyons has emerged not only as DeSales' best pitcher but also the top hitter on the squad with a .500-plus batting average. And her batterymate, Amy Arnzen, is also an eighth grader.
The four seniors on the roster are Amanda Warnick, who also pitches and plays first base, shortstop Lexi Zander, second baseman Michele Prior and right fielder Marcella Perez.
"We're just very excited to be at state," Vera said. "We know that we are going to have to play flawless defense and hit the ball to compete with some of these other teams."