Local Baseball: Hall of Fame Comes Calling for Rex Ashmore
Grateful Guy: Skipper Heaps Credit on Assistants for Successes at Adna and Centralia
By Jordan Nailon
Coaches spend a great deal of their lives thinking outwardly in order to give away their time and energy. It’s all part of the gig. Still, that can make it awkward when the best of the best wind up getting a call from the Washington State Coaches Hall of Fame letting them know they’ve been elected to join the elite ranks of coaches who came before them.
Moreover, many coaches still find themselves at a loss for words whenever a local sports reporter dials them up without notice asking for public comment on their accomplishment. Not Rex Ashmore, though. Like a heated debate with an umpire, the longtime area baseball coach, had plenty to say when prodded for a statement. It’s just that he didn’t spend much time talking about himself.
Ashmore, head coach of Centralia High School and the former skipper at Adna, is set to be inducted into the Coaches Hall of Fame on June 8 as part of the All-State Series in Yakima. He admits it was a surprise to be selected but if he has to pinpoint how he was able to reach the upper echelon of prep coaching circles he says it’s a no-brainer — He’s constantly been able to surround himself with first-rate assistant coaches that have helped him look good along the way.
“The coaches that I’ve had over the years are what have made me successful. I’ve just had enormously talented assistant coaches,” Ashmore said over the phone earlier this week.
The next day, feeling as though he may have missed someone during our lengthy discussion, Ashmore emailed with a more complete list of some of the most impactful assistants he’s had on his staff over the years.
“Trust me, without them our success on the field would never happen,” wrote Ashmore.
That roster of coaches who have helped at Centralia includes Darin Bullock, Adam Riffe, Ryan Stockdale, Kyle Ratkie, Tyson Larson, Andrew Elam, Mike Sutton, and Paul Stulken, not to mention his brother Kim Ashmore. Ratkie was also on board in Adna after first playing for Ashmore on the Pirates baseball team. Back in Adna, Josh Fay, Tommy Elder, Ron Dickey, Chad Driver, Colton Lindelof, Caleb Sells, Jeff Mohoric, Andrew Elam and Carl and Conner Hogue all lended a helping hand.
All told Ashmore has a record of 273-167. That includes a mark of 99-64 at Centralia as head coach since 2013 and 174-103 over 14 years before that in in Adna. That includes five appearances in Regionals and a state title with the Tigers in 2015. His best two year run with the Pirates was between 2007-08 when his teams went a combined 41-7.
One coach who has been by Ashmore’s side in the home dugouts in both Adna and Centralia is Bryan Zurfluh. In fact, Zurfluh was there when Ashmore started in Adna in 1998 and then followed him to the Hub City one year after the skipper switched schools. Ashmore said he was hesitant to leave Adna at first and insisted that he never would have left if Zurfluh hadn’t promised that he’d rejoin him in the dugout after his son was through playing for the Pirates.
“It was definitely a tough decision to move in here,” Ashmore said, noting that a talented crop of Pirates were due to come through the pipeline just as the Centralia job opened up. “It wasn’t something that I was necessarily looking to do. I don’t know if I’d ever had the desire like some people do to come back to their alma mater to coach but Centralia baseball is something that I’ve always been passionate about. At the time though I thought it might be a year or two early.”
Ashmore said he and Zurfluh have always had a unique chemistry on the baseball diamond and noted that during their year apart in 2013, they spent hours on the phone each evening discussing the intricacies of their two teams.
“It’s never been me being the head coach. It’s always been Bryan and I being co-head coaches,” Ashmore insisted. “He deserves just as much of this award. Every win. Every tough loss. He’s always had as much of a hand in it as I have.”
Ashmore actually began his coaching career in 1989 at Centralia as the junior varsity coach. By 1992 he’d moved up to become a varsity assistant and in 1993 the Tigers brought home a state title. True to form, he made sure to carve out some recognition for the coaches who got him his start in baseball, first as a player, and then as a coach. That who’s who of local baseball guys includes his old skipper Tim Gilmore from Centralia High School along with Ken Wilson, Kyle Nelson, and Ron Kostick from Centralia College. Then, when he came back to the Tigers to begin coaching he was working under Marc Roberts and Randy Elam.
“There were a host of others who made a tremendous impact on my coaching philosophy and how we believe best fits our program,” wrote Ashmore in an attempt to not leave anyone out. “I have been blessed to coach with some amazing people, coached some outstanding teams and players and they make everything possible.”
One other relationship that he treasured on the ballfield over the years was the opportunity to coach in some “good battles” against his brother, Doug Ashmore, back when Doug was in Onalaska and Rex was still at Adna.
“We played a game against him in Adna where there were so many people at that field in the third inning I leaned over to Zurph and said, ‘Holy smokes Zurph, you see how many people are in this place?’ The stands were full and both the right and left field lines were just lined with people,” said Ashmore, who remembered that his team emerged victorious in that affair with a walk-off single up the middle on a 3-2 pitch.
He also remembers that the one time his brother’s team was able to get the best of his squad, Doug wasn’t actually there. Instead he was serving out a suspension resulting from an ejection in the previous game.
“We always tell him that he never beat us because he was sitting on the bus,” laughed Rex.
Ashmore added that the Centralia state title team from 2015 etched out a special place in his memory bank.
“Obviously the state championship team stands out a lot. But more so it’s just that we dealt with so much adversity that year with stuff that had nothing to do with baseball,” explained Ashmore. “We knew it was such a talented group of kids and those kids just came together for four games. They figured out that it wasn’t so much about themselves as it was about what we could do.”
Even when things didn’t go to plan Ashmore has still managed to come out the other side with a healthy dose of appreciation for the effort his team’s have put in. That perspective was no more evident than when he spoke of his state runner-up Adna Pirates team that allowed the most runs in state title game history against DeSales back in 2008.
“That game definitely stung. We had every intention of finding a way to win and then giving up 13 runs in the first kind of took some of that out of us but they just kept playing anyway,” said Ashmore. “I’ve always been very proud of that team for what they’ve accomplished.”
His appreciation for his players past and present was evident as he continued to wax about his career to date.
“The kids have always kind of bought in to our philosophy that it doesn’t matter where you hit or where you play,” said Ashmore “That’s still what we preach today. It’s not about the individual stats. We do keep stats but we don’t share them with the kids.”
Ashmore says he thinks Zurfluh and his brother Kim are responsible for putting his name in the running for Hall of Fame honors. While he’s grateful for the nomination, he saved his greatest thanks for his wife and the army of baseball spouses who have stood behind his coaching staff over the past several decades.
“None of this could have been possible without the wonderfully supportive wives who let us go off for five months a year and be away from our families and coach high school baseball players,” said Ashmore.