The DeSales High School boys basketball program, led by former head coach Greg Fazzari, enjoyed a prosperous stretch midway through decade one of the 21st century.
Irish teams reached the Class B state tournament in both 2004 and 2005, and again in 2007.
DeSales won District 9 crowns in ‘04 and ‘05.
Fazzari sensed the 2003-04 season would be special despite not having standout T.J. Conley — who suffered a broken leg in the first quarter of the Class B state championship football game.
Among those expected to step up were Kyle Moore, Nic Conley, Cesar Lopez, Casey Worth, Blake Nelson, Nick Richard, and Ben Wahl.
“We had good athletes who played a lot of basketball,” Fazzari said. “We were a legitimate eight- or-nine-deep-type team. With T.J., we would have been a top-state contender.
“We had a lot of kids who could score,” Fazzari said. “Nic, Kyle, Cesar, and Michael — any of those guys could go for 20 (points) on any given night.”
One of Fazzari’s best regular-season memories was a victory at highly-regarded Sunnyside Christian.
“I liked playing teams like that because they were solid,” Fazzari said. “It was nip-and-tuck the whole time. It was a big win for us.”
District tournament wins against Lacrosse-Washtucna and Tekoa-Oakesdale highlighted the beginning of the postseason. DeSales downed L-W in triple overtime and T-O in one extra frame.
The Irish trailed Lac-Wash by seven with 17 seconds left in the second overtime before staging an epic comeback, Fazzari said. Conley sank a desperation 3-point shot at the buzzer to force a third overtime period.
“After that, we couldn’t miss and they couldn’t hit,” Fazzari said. “It was one of the most exciting games I’ve ever been a part of.”
Conley scored five points after regulation time to help lift DeSales to a district championship-clinching triumph over the Nighthawks.
“He was so focused on what he was doing,” Fazzari said. “He was a gutsy kid.
“They had a great team,” Fazzari said of T-O. “Any time you beat a Whitman County team, you’re program is where you want it to be.”
The Irish season ended with close losses at state to Neah Bay and Mabton.
“We belonged,” Fazzari said. “It was a matter of who hit the shots at the end (versus Neah Bay). The Mabton game could have gone either way. We had every opportunity to win.”
Much of the same cast returned for the 2004-05 season and was bolstered by transfer Gavin Spies. The Irish lost just three games that year _ two to eventual state champion Sunnyside Christian and one against Lind-Ritzville.
“About every regular-season game was a 15-to-20 point game,” Fazzari said. “At the end-of-the-year coaches meeting, they said, ‘You don’t have one scorer. You just have a hell of a team.’”
DeSales beat St. John-Endicott, Garfield-Palouse, and Lacrosse-Washtucna on the road to the district title.
“The year before it was a little more spectacular,” Fazzari said. “This time we were favored. We went into games expecting to win. Everything came to fruition. We had some of the best athletes I’ve ever coached.”
The Irish stunned the Class B world in the opening round of the state tournament by surprising defending state champion Republic.
“The place was packed,”Fazzari said. “There was not an open seat. We were ahead the whole game. We played the game of our lives.”
Low blockers Moore, Kevin Baffney, and Michael Richard — along with Bowe Ebding, Pat Richard, and Nick Hazeltine — helped to fashion another state-qualifying team in 2006-07.
“It was one of those years when we peaked at the right time,” Fazzari said. “We played our best ball during district. It was unique because those guys down low came together during the district tournament.”
This three-out-of-four-year odyssey represents a time Fazzari enjoyed immensely.
“It’s fun going down memory road,” Fazzari said. “It was a blast — a fun time. The absolute best part was the kids. They were excellent competitors.”