WALLA WALLA -
After all the years and all the success, DeSales coach Kim Cox has a pretty good idea of what a state-championship calibre baseball team looks like.
But even he wasn't certain of his 2012 team's potential when the Irish took to the practice field for the first time back in early March. After all, DeSales hadn't worn the crown since 2008.
It was, however, only a momentary lapse.
"I think when we opened the season and had a pretty good game against Hermiston, that told me we might be all right," Cox recalled of a 10-6 Irish victory on the Bulldogs' home diamond.
Eleven weeks later, DeSales celebrated its 17th Class B state championship and a 23-2 overall record after defeating district rival Asotin 9-2 in Ellensburg in the Class 2B finals.
"Really, throughout the year, we did some pretty good things," Cox said. "We had only two games where I thought we were sub-par. All of our other outings were very good."
The Irish lost to Waitsburg-Prescott 2-1 in the first game of a Southeast 2B District doubleheader at Ray Lane Field in early May. One week later they suffered a 3-2 non-league defeat at La Grande.
DeSales avenged both losses. The Irish thumped W-P 9-2 in the second game of the twin bill, and they blanked the Tigers 8-0 in Walla Walla to finish off the regular season.
The postseason saw the Irish clout Asotin 18-4 for the district championship, followed by lopsided victories over Lake Roosevelt, 11-2, and Lind-Ritzville, 11-1, in regional play, and a 13-7 victory over Mossyrock in the state semifinals. DeSales' title-game win over Asotin was the fourth in as many games at the Panthers' expense.
"I wasn't surprised that it was Asotin again at the end," Cox said. "I think it shows that our league was the best league, and we had some other good teams that didn't even make it to regionals.
"But those Asotin guys, they were just a little bit better than the others."
Cox said that he knew going into the season that his team was capable of catching the ball. And he was confident the Irish would hit as well. Pitching was the only question mark in the coach's eyes.
Junior right-hander Logan Hoeft was the team's acknowledged leader on the mound after establishing himself as a sophomore. And he proved a worthy ace, logging a 12-1 record, a 2.64 earned run average and pitching the Irish past Mossyrock in the state semis on a badly sprained ankle.
Cox considered several options for his No. 2 pitcher but quickly settled on freshman Cam Richman. And the kid delivered with an 11-0 record and a 1.40 ERA.
"It was mostly those two guys," Cox said. "And they were right there together. Logan struck out 72 batters in 74 innings and Cam had 73 Ks in 70 innings."
Senior Spencer Cordeiro was Cox's third pitching option, but he worked in just 12 innings.
"He did a good job for us," Cox said. "Mostly in the closer-type format."
Cordeiro, the only senior on the Irish roster, was also a strong defender at third base and hit .325 with seven doubles and 25 runs batted in.
"He was just amazing at third base," Cox said of Cordeiro.
Defense, Cox said, was probably the team's trademark.
"It was a pretty strong group on the defensive side," Cox said. "It was pretty obvious we were not going to be helpful to the other team.
"A good example is Travis Haen at shortstop. He had 55 assists this year to set a school record for a middle infielder."
Haen, one of eight juniors on what Cox called "the core of the team the past two seasons," was also an offensive force, hitting .416 in a lineup that batted .364 overall.
"That compares pretty well to some of the better teams we had back in the '80s and '90s, although we didn't hit with the same kind of power production," Cox said.
Junior Kyler Pommeraning hit .439 out of the nine hole to lead the Irish in batting average. He also drew 12 walks and was hit by pitch nine times to lead the team in on base percentage.
Hoeft hit at a healthy .430 clip and junior Tim Caudill provided most of the power with eight doubles, one triple and two home runs while driving in a team-high 37 runs. Richman was also a key contributor on offense with a .397 average, 10 doubles, one triple and 36 RBIs.
"In so many ways, Cam was our most valuable player even though he was only a freshman," Cox said. "He went way beyond my expectations, and he just kept getting better and better."
All of those juniors - coupled with sophomore starters Adam Eskil and Darryl Galloway and a bumper crop of freshmen led by Richman - signals a bright future for the program. Cox, in fact, is reminded of an Irish legacy of success that saw DeSales win seven consecutive state championships not once but twice during the coach's 30-year tenure.
"I do see it coming around again," Cox said. "And a lot of it is because of this junior class that just loves to play baseball. They have had a good, positive effect on the kids coming up underneath them.
"We have some young kids who look pretty good," Cox added. "We had a really good jayvee team that played a lot of games against some good squads. This is one of the better jayvee setups we have had in a long time."
One thing seems certain. Cox won't have to question his team's prospects when he rolls out the bats and balls next March.