By Gail Wood
Besides their coaches at Elma High School, both Seth Osgood and Cole Thornock have received some added help over the years in developing their baseball skills.
Both athletes have relied on tips from their dads.
Thornock’s father, Paul, taught him how to throw a knuckleball at a young age. Osgood’s father, Ian, throws batting practice to him once a week at the local batting cage.
“My dad and I go down to the Little League batting cage all the time,” said Osgood, one of five returning starters for Elma. “He pitches me a bucket of balls. I get in some extra batting practice that way.”
It’s paid off. Last year, Osgood batted .367, helping Elma reach the playoffs, just one win short of advancing to regionals.
“Practice makes you better,” Osgood said. “That was my best year ever. I hope to have an even better year this year.”
With help from his dad, Thornock often gets batters to swing at the air, unable to make contact with his dancing knuckleball.
“I just hold it like this with the nails,” Thornock said, showing his four knuckle technique to tossing a knuckleball. “I’ve been throwing it since Little League.”
Osgood, a first-team, all-league selection last year as a junior, and Thornock are two big reasons why Elma Coach Scott Rowland is feeling optimistic about the upcoming season. Two other reasons for Rowland’s optimism are Triston Robinette and Rio Ortega, two more returning starters off last year’s team that finished 15-8. Carson Legg, a part-time starter last season who’ll play shortstop, is another key player back for Rowland.
“I think we’re going to be competitive,” Rowland said prior to a recent practice. “But this is going to be an extremely tough league.”
It’s a league loaded with talent. There are no nights off. Rowland said Hoquiam is a “powerhouse” again, loaded with strong pitching. Aberdeen and Rochester are both 2A schools playing down in the Eagles division. Eatonville, a perennially tough opponent, is coming into the league. Add Tenino and Montesano, two teams with a bunch of returning starters, and Elma faces a strong challenge to get back to the playoffs.
“We’re going to have to be ready to play every game,” Rowland said.
But Rowland is used to facing challenges by now. This is his 18th season as Elma’s head baseball coach. Prior to that, he was the Eagles head coach for football for another 18 years. Coaching is in his blood. “I love it,” Rowland said.
Osgood is already proving he’s up to facing challenges, too. Besides meeting the challenge of batting – he had four triples in one five-game stretch last season – Osgood is also a whiz in the classroom. With a 3.4 grade point average, he’s the true definition of a student-athlete. For the last two school years, he’s been in Running Start, taking classes at Grays Harbor Community College. While he’s excelled on the baseball field, his focus is in the classroom.
“I’m really focusing on education in college, less on sports,” Osgood said. “I’ve already been accepted to Boise State University. I want to get my degree in computer science.”
Ortega, who has played both the infield and the outfield and has pitched, is a utility player capable of playing anywhere. He goes where there’s a need. So far during the Eagles’ preseason practice, Ortega has liked what he’s seen during both batting and fielding practice.
“I think our batting is going to be there,” said Ortega, who was a two-way starter in football and all-league pick at fullback. “In the past couple of days our defense has been looking better.”
Last year, Elma batted around .350 as a team and had lots of offensive punch.
For the past couple of years, when Thornock isn’t throwing pitches, he’s coaching someone how to throw from the mound. He’s been an assistant coach for Little League baseball.
“It’s something I like to do,” said Thornock, who hopes to coach at the high school level after he graduates from college. “I’d like to stay in baseball.”
As in seasons past, Rowland said his team’s defense will go a long way in determining how well they do, whether they make the playoffs or not. Defense can keep the score close.
“We work on our defense every day,” Rowland said. “Obviously, the big goal is not to make errors and give a team extra outs. You give a team four outs in an inning instead of just the three, it will definitely come back to bite you. It’s always a huge emphasis for us. We work defense every single day.”
Elma plays in a jamboree on Saturday and opens its season against Hoquiam and then Aberdeen.
“We open with probably the two toughest teams in the league,” Rowland said.