The Richland Bombers are having the kind of season that gets noticed by coaches, players and fans, starting off 19-0 and beating teams by an average margin of 30.2 points a game.
Wednesday afternoon, they got noticed by Washington sportswriters, who voted the Bombers the top Class 4A team in the state. “That’s pretty nice. That’s a nice little compliment. I’m a little surprised by that,” Richland coach Earl Streufert said when notified of the vote, which placed the Bombers in first place with 91 points and four first place votes.
No. 2 Jackson (18-1, 90 points) and No. 3 Garfield (19-1, 84 points) each got three first place votes. Richland was ranked No. 3 last week but losses by Jackson and Garfield allowed the Bombers to jump two spots.
“We didn’t play very well at the state tournament (last season). We could have won our first game, but we learned some lessons there,” Streufert said. “But we had most every body coming back. We beat Central Valley, and we’ve scored on the road the same way we’ve scored at home.”
Richland, the defending Mid-Columbia Conference champion, has just one regular season game remaining — a tough road test at Kamiakin (10-8 overall, 8-4 MCC), which is poised to grab the top MCC Class 3A seed — and a chance to break the school record for best start. The 1956-57 Richland team started the season 22-0 before its first loss.
The Bombers also have a shot at the school’s top winning streak of 26 games, set by the 1978-79 squad that won the Class AAA state title.
Streufert doesn’t worry about the pressure of the winning streaks or the No. 1 ranking. He believes in keeping his team on track and focused on fundamentals every night as opposed to getting lost in the spotlight.
“Any time you get mentioned among the better teams in the state is a great compliment. Like I’ve always said, the only time you want to be No. 1 is at the end of the year,” he said. “But it’s good for the kids, it’s good for the program and good for the community to have that. I don’t think it carries any undue pressure.”
The Bombers (13-0 MCC) have the three top scorers in the MCC in senior guards Payton Radliff (19.3 points a game), Jacob Devries (18.2 ppg) and Nathan Streufert (18.2). All have at least one 30-point game to their credit.
Coach Streufert feels good about where his team is but doesn’t believe they have played their best game yet.
“That’s the curse of a coach. You always think your team can get better,” Streufert said. “Not every practice is perfect, but our guys have done every I’ve ever asked them to do. This time of year, it’s the quality of practices and not the quantity.”
Streufert was saddened to hear about the passing of Walla Walla assistant Jim Smith, who was found dead in his house Wednesday morning. Smith was the girls coach at Wa-Hi for 14 seasons before he began working as a boys assistant under Jim Thacker and John Golden.
“I taught with him for 10 years. It’s just a dark cloud today,” Streufert said. “It’s just one of those things that makes you think about life and the people who you love. It’s affected a lot of people.”