Journey continues for Richland High's Little League seniors

By Kevin Anthony, Herald staff writerMay 29, 2009 

SEATTLE — The puppy is now 6 years old, and Bob Jacobs swears that Jake III, a brown Viszla (aka Hungarian pointer), is a remarkable upland-bird dog despite his irascible nature.

And to this day Jacobs will tell you, if he had a little more time with the pup back in August 2003, then Jake III would be as good a back-yard pet as he is a hunting dog.

"That rascal, if I let him out of the house, he runs down to the pond and chases those ducks for four or five hours," he said. "And he'll come home when he's damn ready.

"I should have named him Williamsport or something goofy like that."

Williamsport would have been an apt tribute to a long and demanding but wonderful summer for a group of Richland parents and their 11-year-old sons, who as the Richland National All-Star team captured the attention of the Northwest baseball world with their trip to the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Similar to the pup, those boys have grown into young men, and today the seven of them who have been teammates most of their lives will take the field for one of the last times as a group.

Cody Shephard, Jamison Rowe, cousins Daniel and Brett Jacobs, Eric Yardley, Kyle Stumetz and Quinn Zorich will suit up at Safeco Field at 4 p.m. this afternoon for their 4A state semifinal as No. 1 Richland (22-2) takes on Newport (16-9) of Bellevue.

Though they still have a long summer of American Legion baseball ahead with the Twin City Titans -- the other team this group has helped take to a world series -- Zorich and Daniel Jacobs plan on getting jobs to earn money for college. So this weekend marks the final chapter for perhaps the most successful group of baseball players ever to matriculate through the Tri-Cities.

"We're going to miss it," said Brett Jacobs, nephew of Bob and son of Richland Bombers coach Ben Jacobs.

Proof of their success comes in the trophy case. Rowe, Shepherd and Brett Jacobs have played on five state championship teams -- all three were sophomore starters on Richland's 2007 4A championship team to go with the Little League state title, two junior legion state titles and the title they won with the Titans last summer.

"If we wouldn't have had those three sophomores that year, we wouldn't have won it," Ben Jacobs said of the 2007 title. "They carried themselves like seniors. I knew they would be good, but I had no idea what impact they'd have on that team."

So many big games help take the nervous edge off, even under the most dramatic of circumstances.

"A big game is like every other game for us," Rowe said. "We're all big-game guys, and we expect to win."

Does that mean they don't feel butterflies anymore? That the "Safeco effect" -- that nervous condition that often takes hold of high school ballplayers playing in a big league ball park -- has no effect?

"It's always a thrill," said Shepherd, "but I don't think the nerves get to us."

"A year after (the World Series)," added Stumetz, "every tournament we went to, it was, 'Oh, you went to the World Series.' Everyone was out to get us."

Make no mistake, the Little League seven have had plenty of help. Josh Rapacz and Stinson Ott, who played their Little League ball for Greater Richland, are -- respectively -- a two-year all-league player and the leader in wins during the regular season.

The Bombers have plenty of hardware from three straight league and district titles and state semifinal berths, though their coach sounds at least as proud about the character of his team as well as its 3.64 GPA.

"They've been such a great group," Ben Jacobs said.

All those games together has created an easy camaraderie on the field and strong bonds off it.

"Like with any other sport, chemistry is key," Zorich said. "That's what happened last summer with the Titans -- we didn't have any big-time Division I guys. What we had was great team chemistry."

Added Daniel Jacobs: "We're all great friends. In school, it's great when we see we have classes together -- strength in numbers."

The first time all nine wore the same uniform was three years ago, when Richland's freshman team went 19-1 -- a definite sign of things to come.

"I was just hoping to be on the field with these guys," Ott recalled of that freshman year.

It hasn't all been Golden Grahams for the Bombers, though. After going through last season not just as the top-ranked team in the state but highly regarded around the nation, Richland bombed at Safeco, going 0-2 and finishing fourth.

"After the last out, you could hear a pin drop," Rapacz said. "That really was the worst feeling."

To a player, the Bombers spoke about making sure there was no repeat of last season this weekend. They're going to Safeco as the top-ranked team in the state, and have every intention of leaving the same way.

But the advice the Safeco vets have for the younger players like juniors Chris Cecil and Mike Dunford is less about nerves and more about ... well ... taking it all in.

"Remember everything about it," Shepherd said. "You don't want to forget."

When that once-in-a-lifetime Williamsport ride was over, there were plenty of tears, a lot of relieved parents (along with over-stressed wallets) and scrapbooks filled with memories.

"We got a crazy amount of support," Yardley said. "It was an unreal experience for us."

And, for Bob Jacobs, there was one peculiar sentiment.

"Now I get to come home," the Little League coach remembers thinking, "and get to work on that dog."

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