Wentz: How does the Irish baseball team avoid the Ho-Hums?

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WALLA WALLA — Ho-Hum.

Another day, another trip to the final four.

Ho-Hum.

DeSales High School’s baseball team faces off Friday with Liberty Bell in the Class 2B state championship semifinals and is just two wins from another state title.

And by another, I mean the school’s 18th and second in a row after knocking off Asotin in last season’s title bout.

Ho-Hum.

So the question that brings up is how do you stay sharp. With that much success — the Irish are 21-2 on the season, with losses to quality contenders such as Oregon Class 4A La Grande and league-rival Asotin — how do you avoid a let-down?

It happens in every sport, at every level. There’s eventually a moment when winning teams forget what makes them successful and drop their guard, even for only a moment.

It’s why even the great teams in Major League Baseball don’t usually win more than a third of their games, and it’s why there hasn’t been an undefeated team in the NFL since the ‘72 Dolphins.

Now the Irish aren’t undefeated — and maybe that’s a good thing — but how do they stay motivated enough to play their best against the best teams in the state? And how do they do it so consistently? How do you avoid the Ho-Hums?

Coach Kim Cox, who has guided the Irish to all 17 of those titles, said it’s all about competition.

“Our whole focus every single day is just to try to get better,” Cox said.

Fair enough — ask most coaches and they’ll likely say the same.

But, “It’s not just a philosophy, it’s something we talk about a lot. We’ll have something in practice every day where there’s a particular challenge for that day. We always want things to be competitive. We don’t want something to be just a physical exercise, going through the motions, we want it to have some meaning.”

That’s a hallmark of great teams — constant competition. Who can be better, beat their opponent even when there’s nothing on the line.

The Irish have been stellar in all three phases of the game this season — in the batters box, in the field and on the mound — but their work on the mound and in the field has been nothing short of amazing.

Out of DeSales’ 21 wins, 14 have been by way of a shutout.

Over the last 10 games, the Irish have shut out eight opponents, including Colfax and Kittitas in the state playoffs, and they have allowed just three runs to score over that span.

Cox attributes the stinginess to both pitching and fielding.

“I think our defense compliments our pitching staff, and I think our pitching staff compliments our defense,” Cox said. “It’s a pretty even trade out there.”

The Irish have five hurlers whom Cox said he wouldn’t mind having on the mound in a crunch.

There’s sophomore ace Cam Richman, who threw a complete two-hitter in last season’s championship game; and then there’s a rotation of junior Adam Eskil, senior Logan Hoeft, sophomore Connor Richard and freshman Isaiah Standard — all of whom have had success this season.

Explaining DeSales’ bevy of quality pitchers isn’t easy, unless we accept blind luck as an answer.

DeSales doesn’t have a dedicated pitching coach — Cox and Irish assistant Mike Postlewait handle that task — and the ever-understated Cox didn’t share any secret ingredients.

“We just have some things that we believe in, and that’s what we teach,” Cox said. “We see our guys be pretty consistent throughout the summer and the school year, and if it ain’t broke, we ain’t fixing it.”

Yeah Coach, it isn’t broken. That’s pretty even to see.

“One, is they have some talent,” Cox said of his pitchers, “two, they have some knowledge and intelligence out there on the mound on what they’re trying accomplish; and third, they’ve got some good defenders out there behind them.”

DeSales’ game against Liberty Bell Friday begins at 4 p.m. in Ellensburg.

The Mountain Lions knocked off Lind-Ritzville-Sprague and Asotin the regional round of the state playoffs, edging Asotin 8-9.

“You don’t make it to the final four without being a solid team,” Cox said of Liberty Bell. “I’ve seen them play and they’re a good baseball team, and they’ve beaten some good teams. They’ve got a district championship against a good Riverside Christian team, and they beat a good Asotin team that we split with. They deserve to be there — they’re playing well.”

So what is Liberty Bell good at Coach Cox?

They can pick up a paper too?

Fair enough, coach.

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