WALLA WALLA — There are high expectations in DeSales High’s softball camp this year.
Those expectations aren’t unfounded after third- and fourth-place finishes in three consecutive trips to state.
The expectations come from an Irish squad returning all nine starters from last season.
But DeSales coach Russell Vera said that none of the starting positions are set in stone.
“There are always changes in the lineup from year to year,” he said. “And changes in the middle of the season sometimes, too. We are focusing on competition in practice this season and making every girl earn her position.”
The team is comprised of 16 players — but only five upperclassmen.
However, much of the team is experienced in state play. Four eighth-graders, now freshman, played in the state tournament last season.
Two new eight-graders join the team this season.
Even with the youth, Vera is confident in the team’s potential and ability.
“This is probably the deepest and most athletic team I’ve had since I’ve been here,” he said.
The leader of the team will be back for another season, too.
Junior pitcher and offensive extraordinaire Ashlyn Lyons will pitch the majority of the innings for DeSales, and bat third.
Lyons led the team in home runs, batting average, runs batted in and on-base percentage last season while spending most of the time in the Irish circle.
The top two batters in the lineup are still up for grabs.
Vera said that the leading candidates for the No. 1 and 2 holes in the order are freshman Teresa Acock and sophomore Molli Lesko.
Acock is switch-hitter — a natural righty and a slap-hitting lefty — who batted lead-off last season and stole the most bases on the team.
Lesko looks to bat second, with a high on-base percentage and quick glove at second base.
“Molli is the perfect fit to bat second,” Vera said. “Her on-base percentage last year was second on the team.”
Up and down the order boasts speed, with most of the players having the ability to take a base when needed.
“We have a lot of team speed in the lineup,” Vera said. “Acock steals bases, (Ali) Zander is fast, the Lyons sisters (Ashlyn and Allesyn) can run and (Claire) Conley will steal a base. We will use that team speed this year.”
After the 1-2-3 spots in the order, Vera said the rest of the lineup is going to be hard to set.
“We’ve got a lot of girls that can hit and with some extra-base power,” Vera said. “Holes four through nine should have good on-base percentages and hit well, too.”
The cleanup spot could be taken by eighth grader Kaylee Brown, freshman Allesyn Lyons or seniors Zander and Megan Hamada.
Bobbi Prior also hit No. 4 last season and Conley was No. 5 in the order.
In the field, Brittney Postlewait will catch and Lesko will back her up behind the dish.
Ashlyn Lyons will get some relief by Brown and Allesyn Lyons in the circle.
“Whichever girl pitches the best in practice that week, Kaylee Brown or Allesyn Lyons, will back up Ashlyn that week pitching,” Vera said. “We are hoping Ashlyn will get through most of the innings, but will she will have two good backups.
“Brown throws some good off-speed stuff, some heat, and Allesyn is a little slower with more off-speed pitching. Ashlyn pitched most of time for us last season.”
Ashlyn and Allesyn Lyons also both play first place, along with Zander.
Second base will be taken by Lesko and Bri James.
Last year’s starting shortstop was Teresa Acock, and third base could be manned by Zander or Bri James.
There is a host of candidates for playing time in the outfield, including Zander, Hamada, Prior, Conley, Alyssa James, Cara Hall and Celeste Langley.
Kathia Jimenez and Nicole Hamada are also both outfielders that have never played organized softball before.
The 16 players on the team aren’t quite enough players for DeSales to field a junior varsity team.
The coaching staff of Vera, Louie Murray, Jason Postlewait, Scott Aichele and Sarah Spiess have all been together as a unit for two full years.
The coaches are busy preparing the team for a tough schedule.
“We’ve decided to get the toughest non-league schedule that we can this season,” Vera said. “We’ve added Touchet, Mac-Hi JV, Colfax, Adna and Colton. Those are all quality programs. We’ve decided to have the tough non-league schedule. Win or lose, we are going to see those caliber of teams in the state playoffs.”
Vera said that league foes Dayton, Waitsburg-Prescott and Tri-Cities Prep will also be a good matchup for the Irish before the playoffs begin.
Vera cited mental mistakes and lack of fundamentals as their undoing in last season’s semifinals. That has led to a changed practice philosophy.
“We are concentrating more on drills this year and physical conditioning,” Vera said. “We really want to be in shape to play the long season and be very strong fundamentally.”
He sees another challenge as getting the whole team to believe they are one of the best in the state. He says they will need that confidence to get over the hump of advancing past the state semifinals.
Top three in state is always nice, but Vera backed off his expectations of state-title-or-bust.
“I would be really surprised if we don’t at least advance to state this season,” he said.
A stumbling block, as on any squad, is the possibility of injuries.
“I’m confident that we have enough players to fill in if needed because of injuries, and that is something that we didn’t have last season,” Vera said.
The postseason for teams in the Southeast 2B League has changed this year, as well. Two districts will now compete in a regional tournament for spots in the state tournament.
“We’ve got to get these girls believing they are one of the top teams in state,” Vera said. “All of the other schools around the state know about us and our players. We are not going to surprise anyone anymore. We’ve got the experience and talent. It is just a matter of putting it all together on the field.”