WALLA WALLA — Veteran DeSales baseball coach Kim Cox will have to replace seven of his nine most productive hitters this spring.
That’s a lot of hits and runs and runs batted in as well as the vast majority of the 77 bases the Irish stole during last year’s 22-2 campaign that culminated in the school’s 18th Class B state championship.
On the other hand, three of the four Irish athletes who toed the pitching rubber in 2013, including staff ace Cameron Richman, are back. So DeSales’ 2013 diamond fortunes are not hardly as bleak as the offensive stats might suggest.
“We lost some good guys, eight seniors in all,” Cox said. “Probably five or six guys who were fulltime guys, although they all played quite a bit. Nobody sat a lot.”
The biggest hole to fill is at first base where graduated Tim Caudill will be sorely missed. Caudill led the Irish with a .491 batting average and smacked seven doubles and three triples while driving in 31 runs and scoring 24.
Shortstop Travis Haen hit .405, scored 33 times and drove in 22 runs while swiping 13 bases. Outfielders Riley Roach and Kyle Pommerening hit .452 and .349 respectively, with Pommerening delivering the team’s lone home run of the season — inside the park. And third baseman Logan Hoeft was a .352 hitter and doubled as the Irish’s No. 2 pitcher.
Hoeft posted a 7-0 record on the mound, registered a 1.32 earned run average and struck out 40 batters in 37 innings of work.
Other seniors on last year’s team were Joe Deuhn, the starting second baseman who batted .281 and led the Irish with 34 runs scored, and reserve outfielders Paul Elmenhurst and Cody Josifek.
“The thing about all of those guys, they really loved the game,” Cox said of last year’s eight seniors. “It was fun to go to practice knowing those guys were going to be there ready to work hard. They had a good mind set when they walked on the field.
“I think the guys we have now are just the same. We don’t have many, but we think we have some good guys, our kind of guys.”
When Cox called his first practice this spring he was greeted by a group of 18 players, which he called the smallest turnout in his long tenure at DeSales. There are just three seniors on the roster, six juniors, three sophomores and five freshmen. Cox will also be carrying one Assumption Middle School eighth grader on this year’s varsity roster.
Seniors Adam Eskil and Darryl Galloway will be expected to carry the offensive load this spring along with Richman, who is a junior.
Eskil, who plays third base and shortstop, hit a robust .469 last year, stroked 10 doubles and two triples, knocked in a team-best 32 runs and scored 19 times.
Galloway hit .424 with six doubles, three triples, 23 RBIs and 29 runs scored, plus a team-leading 15 stolen bases. And Richman was a .273 hitter with three doubles, 16 ribbies and 24 runs scored.
“Eskil can play a lot of different spots,” Cox said. “He can play the outfield, the left side of the infield or second base, and he can catch if we needed him. And he will be out of our top three pitchers.
“Galloway is one of our outfielders and has played quite a bit the last two years. He’s a high-average guy who runs the bases well.
“Richman is just a really good athlete who is a good hitter and an excellent base runner. And, of course, he is our ace, although I don’t think he would tell you he was completely happy with his sophomore year.”
Richman put up a 12-0 record on the mound on the strength of a 0.37 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 75 innings.
“He had an incredible sophomore year on the bump,” Cox said of Richman. “One hundred and twenty-three strikeouts and just 20 walks, I’ll take that ratio any day.”
Eskil, who broke in as a pitcher last spring, had a 3-1 record and allowed just four runs (1.00 ERA) and struck out 34 in 28 innings.
Junior Connor Richard was the only other Irish player to see time on the mound last year, and his workload was limited to 12 innings in which he didn’t allow an earned run.
“Connor does a really good job of locating his pitches,” Cox said of Richard. “He had a great summer and will be one of the top three guys in our rotation. And he is very cerebral. He understands what he is trying to do and doesn’t just take our word for it.”
The third senior on the roster is Matt Jubb, who saw limited playing time as a junior but is in line to replace Caudill at first base.
“He has had to be patient and wait his turn,” Cox said of Jubb. “But he’s another guy who had a great summer, is in really good shape and his athleticism has taken a big jump. I know he is excited about this year.”
The other juniors on this year’s roster are Tyler Jacobsen, a second baseman and pitcher; Jackson Kent, who saw limited time in the outfield as a sophomore; Jared Koopman, who transferred in from Florida a year ago and spent the season on the junior varsity team; and Christian Lopez, who is back on the baseball team this spring after two years of track and field.
“Tyler has matured a lot over the summer and is settled in on defense,” Cox said of Jacobsen. “We need him to make the plays on defense and be productive at the plate.
Of Kent, Cox said; “He looks good so far in practice. He hits the ball hard and can run and throw. He didn’t see much varsity time last year, but he got a lot of experience over the summer.”
Koopman is a 6-foot-7 first baseman who moves well for his size and can swing the bat. “We’re working on his consistency,” Cox said. “He has some good power, but he struck out way too many times for his ability level.”
And of Lopez, the coach said: “It’s pretty rare for a guy to take a couple of years off from baseball and come back and look good, but he has. He can play either the infield or the outfield and he swings the bat pretty well. He’s behind in some things, but not way behind.”
Isiah Standard, John Crowley and Chinese exchange student Frank Fang are the three sophomores on the roster.
Standard saw limited varsity playing time as a freshman but figures to battle for the starting shortstop position this spring. Crowley, who will catch and play the outfield, didn’t turn out for baseball as a freshman and is coming off a foot injury that shortened his football season and ruined his basketball hopes.
Fang is new to baseball but has impressed his coach.
“The first practice I asked him if he had ever played baseball and he said, ‘No.’ I asked him if he had ever played catch and he said, ‘No.’ I asked him if he had ever had a glove on his hand and he said, ‘No.’
“But in 30 minutes of practice he could play catch functionally, and the next day he was catching fly balls in the outfield. He’s a smart kid and a good athlete, but the hitting part is another matter right now.”
Freshmen Zach Leahy, Connor Hoeft, Max Buckley, Andrew Anderson and Jake Kobler round out the roster along with Kobe Morris, the eighth grader.
Leahy, who is a catcher, is the only freshman who figures to see varsity playing time this spring as the Irish backstop when Richman is on the mound. Morris, Cox said, is being carried on the varsity roster in part because he is the only one of 24 boys in his Assumption class to turn out for baseball.
“But we like his ability, too,” Cox said of Morris. “He’s more like a sophomore in some of the things he can do. His ability puts him above some of the classes ahead of him.”
DeSales is scheduled to open the season at home Tuesday against Elgin, Ore.