Most high school baseball players in Washington go their entire varsity career only dreaming of getting a chance to play in the state semifinals — the final four.
Among the select group who get their wish, only a fortunate few will ever make a return trip.
On Friday afternoon at Gesa Stadium, Richland’s Corey Morris will join one of the most elite baseball clubs in the state:
The three-timers club.
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It’s reserved for players who have started in three state semifinals among the 3A and 4A schools.
“Three times he’s been there,” said longtime Richland coach Ben Jacobs, who has guided the Bombers to 10 semifinals and four state titles. “He’s started two games at Safeco. We’ve been to Cheney Stadium, he’s started two games there. This is his third final four in three different places. The kids respect him, and he’s a positive leader.”
Richland fans may feel the club is not all that elite, since Morris will be the fifth Bomber to join it — all of them coming during the program’s remarkable run to six consecutive final fours.
But consider this:
Washington has been crowning state baseball champions going back to 1973, marking this the 40th baseball championships. During those four decades, just nine programs can lay claim to reaching three or more semifinals over a four-year span.
To have a shot at starting in three semifinals, you have to be good enough as a sophomore to crack the lineup of one of the state’s best teams. Then you have to get back two more times.
Even after all this time, Morris said he still gets a few nerves before the big games.
“I think going into that moment, you say you’re not going to let it get to you. But once you’re in it, your heart starts pounding,” he said. “This year, I’m trying to lead the team. My sophomore year I was really nervous. The nerves get to you a little bit, but you just go out and play.”
The other Richland players who have started in three semifinals are Brett Jacobs, Cody Shepherd and Jamison Rowe — all seniors on the 2009 team that won it all — and Zach Rapacz, who graduated last spring.
Like those players, Morris made an immediate impact on his coach.
“When he came out the first day of practice (as a sophomore) — I always go with the hitters the first day, watch the hitters — there’s a special sound of a bat on a real good hitter, and he had that pop,” said Ben Jacobs, adding that Morris is a triple threat: good student, good person and good ballplayer.
Morris has stayed in Jacobs’ good graces most of the time — then again, good-fielding second basemen who can hit about .500 will do that.
But Jacobs gushes as much about Morris’ ready smile and banter on the bench, about the practical jokes he plays and about his ability to weather tough times with grace.
Before this season, Morris cemented the deal by moving behind the plate when an injury knocked out the Bombers’ starting catcher.
“He’s the one who steps forward and says, ‘I’ll play catcher if you need me,’ ” Jacobs said. “He’s our best infielder, and because it would be easy on everybody, he moved to catcher. And he’s the one who said: ‘Let’s do this. It will make us a better team.’
“He said that, and I said, ‘Hey, you’re thinking with me now.’ ”
This wasn’t Morris’ first rodeo behind the plate. He grew up catching, and in fact, he got catcher’s gear for Christmas his sophomore year before finding out he would move to middle infield in the spring.
There wasn’t much rust on his backstop skills — his quickness is a bonus when pitches are in the dirt. Still ...
“I won’t lie to you, I do not like it better at all,” he said, laughing. “But I didn’t want to put one of the younger kids back there who’s not ready yet.”
Morris went through some changes offensively as well. After being one of the most productive hitters around as a sophomore and junior, he hit .333 during the regular season.
He said he didn’t have enough patience at the plate, but things have turned around in the postseason, during which he is batting .500 (9-for-18). He also is tops on the team in runs scored (29) to go with 15 RBIs, 12 steals and 12 walks against just seven strikeouts.
Morris is headed to Walla Walla Community College in the fall, where he will join former Richland teammates Jarrod Turner, Cody Poznanski, Kenton Brunson and Boone Myers.
But first, he has a little business to take care of starting Friday at Gesa. And, he said, hopefully Richland can add the program’s fifth title.
“It would be the best senior season you could ask for,” Morris said. “Winning a championship, and then we would forever be remembered as the 2012 team that won it.
“But first you got to do it.”