WALLA WALLA — DeSales won its first state baseball championship in 1989.
That following spring, the Irish were honored by the Blue Mountain Sports Awards as the Team of the Year and their coach, Kim Cox, was named Coach of the Year.
Nobody could guess back then that the Irish would go on to win 17 more state titles under Cox, their most recent last weekend’s 5-0 state-championship victory over Adna in Ellensburg. It’s an accomplishment unmatched in the history of prep sports in the state of Washington.
DeSales baseball was honored again as the Blue Mountain Sports Awards Team of the Year in 1994, 1996 and 1997 following state championship seasons, and Cox was awarded Coach of the Year accolades no fewer than six times from 1992 through 1998.
What’s interesting is that in the ensuing 14 years — a span of time that includes no fewer than nine DeSales baseball titles, not counting the 2013 championship that will be up for consideration next spring — neither Cox nor his team has been so honored again.
The lesson to be learned here is clear. Success in excess can often be taken for granted.
“I suppose there is something to that,” Cox mused in an interview late last week. “I think even here at DeSales, that might be true.”
But Cox insists that he and his players are not put off in the least by what some might consider a put down. It’s not what his program is all about, he says.
“I’ve said this time and again, and I know it sounds like a cliche, but we never talk about things like that,” the coach said. “We are just focused on trying to get better each and every day. Our kids, and our coaches, would much rather work hard and get better and go out and win another game than win an award.”
Nevertheless, the Irish will certainly be up for Blue Mountain Sports Awards consideration again next spring for this year’s accomplishments. And there’s good reason to believe DeSales is lined up for continued success, at least in the near future.
Although Cox faces the task of replacing eight seniors, six of them starters, who accepted their high school diplomas Saturday night, the coach will have the bulk of his pitching staff to build around in 2014. And what a pitching staff it was.
Sophomore Cam Richman, who tossed a complete-game shutout in last weekend’s title game, was the staff ace. The right-hander posted a 12-0 record and a school-record 0.37 earned run average over 77 innings pitched in which he fanned 123 batters and walked just 20.
“He only allowed six runs all year, and only four earned runs,” Cox marveled. “What he accomplished this season is pretty incredible.”
Junior Adam Eskil and sophomore Connor Richard will also return, along with a couple of other potential arms that weren’t needed at the varsity level this season. Eskil chalked up a 3-1 record and a 1.00 ERA over 28 innings. Richard worked just 12 innings on the year, but two of those came in the state semifinals as he finished off a 13-0 victory over Liberty Bell.
“Adam has great stuff,” Cox said of Eskil. “He has a good breaking ball and decent velocity for his size. He just needs to locate better.”
“Connor kept getting better and better,” he said of Richard. “He was actually throwing quite well at the end of the season, and we had no qualms about bringing him in there in the semifinal game.”
Junior Darryl Galloway and freshman Isiah Standard are also likely to figure into Cox’s pitching plans next season.
The Irish do lose senior Logan Hoeft, who was credited with seven victories while notching a 1.32 ERA in 37 innings of work. And when he wasn’t on the mound, Hoeft manned third base.
The other seniors are catcher Joe Deuhn, shortstop Travis Haen, first baseman Tim Caudill, center fielder Reilly Roach, left fielder Kyler Pommerening and reserves Cody Josifek and Paul Elmenhurst.
“That’s a lot for us,” Cox said of his senior group. “Since I’ve been here, we have almost never had eight kids graduate from the program. And all of them, with the exception of Paul Elmenhurst, who played soccer for a couple of years, have been with us all four years.
“We’ve had a very special relationship with this group,” Cox added. “Probably as good or better than any group we have had.”
The coach anticipates a similar attitude from next year’s varsity club.
“This group is a lot like the seniors who are leaving,” Cox said. “They like baseball, they like coming to practice and they like the challenge. You get that type of thing going and a lot of good can happen.”
The most difficult task next season, Cox said, will be replacing a defense that was second to none in Irish history.
“I think we will be a good defense, but we will be hard pressed to repeat what these guys did,” Cox said. “They did things on defense that I have never seen here in my 31 years.”
Over a 23-2 campaign, the Irish were charged with just 13 errors, which easily surpassed the previous school record of 24 errors in a season.
“Skillwise and techniquewise, they worked very hard every single day,” Cox said. “They left me totally impressed.”
It also remains to be seen how next year’s team will compare offensively.
“This year’s team was good at the short game and maybe a little above average as far as the other stuff goes,” the coach said. “We didn’t have a ton of power. We were more of a gap doubles team. We have the potential to have a little more power next year, and we hope to execute the short game as well.”
Caudill led Irish hitters with a .491 batting average, with Eskil close on his heels at .469. Roach batted .452, Galloway .424 and Haen .405 as no fewer than five Irish eclipsed the .400 mark. Hoeft hit a solid .352 and Pommerening was at .349 and slugged the team’s lone home run on the season.
Eskil was the team’s runs batted in leader with 32 on the strength of a team-high 10 doubles and two triples. Deuhn led the team with 34 runs scored.
The DeSales junior varsity team posted a 16-2 record this spring, and Cox will be relying on a number of his younger players when next season rolls around.
“Tyler Jacobson made a big jump as a middle infielder and a pitcher,” Cox said. “Isaac Mata has really good hands at third base, Josh Larson is a good contact hitter and Matt Jubb should give us some good left-handed power. Jared Koopman is a big tall guy who can really swing it, and Jackson Kent had a good year for the jayvees.”
Other than Jubb, who is a junior, they are all part of a deep and talented sophomore class that should help keep DeSales at or near the top of the state’s Class B world for another couple of years.
And in contention for Blue Mountain Sports Awards honors.