By Tom Rohrer
“I just remember not seeing anyone in the stands,” said Elam, now entering his sixth year as head coach. “Now, it’s amazing. You cannot get a seat.”
Times have certainly changed over the last five years for the THS baseball program. The Beavers now have a reputation as one of the most talented, and hardworking, teams in the area.
In 2011, the Beavers took second place in the 1A State tournament, falling to Chimacum by a score of 8-4 in the title game. Last season, the Beavers finished second in the 1A Evergreen Conference before falling to Ridgefield in the district tournament, one game away from making the regional round. That disappointment has carried over to this upper-classmen laden team. The Beavers will look to make a far deeper run in the playoffs this year.
“I would hope (they’re motivated) from that disappointment, from getting knocked out of district when we were basically one out away from moving on to regionals,” Elam said. “We get to regionals, anything can happen.”
“We are all competitors,” said senior shortstop Dustin Hammond. “We all want to win, and it’s definitely a motivating factor.”
“We know about that disappointment, making it to the state title game,” said senior centerfielder Devante Harris. “We want to just play hard, with that chip on our shoulder.”
The Beavers style of play would be considered up-tempo, as Tenino likes to put pressure on the opposing teams when they get on base, and use their speed and athleticism to manufacture runs. This provides the ability to generate scoring opportunities, even if their bats aren’t providing extra-base hits into the outfield.
“We try to put as much pressure on teams as we can,” Elam said. “We try preaching being aggressively smart. We try to play to our strengths and that’s one of our strengths, running the bases like madmen.”
“Everyone has bought into that, but we play the right way,” said junior catcher Zack Chamberlain. “We aren’t just running without a purpose. We understand the game and know how to handle situations.”
That understanding, camaraderie and trust within the team comes from years of playing together, whether on the gridiron, basketball court or baseball diamond.
“We’ve been playing together basically since middle school, maybe even before,” Hammond said. “It’s like a family. We all have that trust and know how someone will react in a situation.”
“A lot of these guys have started for us for four years,” Elam said. “We’re farther ahead now than in past with our strategy.”
The Beavers will have to replace some graduated talent. Gone are ace pitchers Tylor Cavin, who spearheaded the Beavers run to the title game in 2011, and Bryan Watterson, who now pitches at Lower Columbia College (the same institution former Beavers pitcher Alex Phillips attended before moving on to play for the University of Kentucky).
“(Pitching) that’s our biggest question mark right now,” Elam said. “We will have to replace some guys, but we have a lot of arms out there, and guys will have to step up.”
“It’s nice because we have a team full of athletes, guys who have a lot of versatility,” Harris said. “There are a bunch of guys who can fill a bunch of roles.”
So while the Beavers may not know what to expect on the mound (at least for now), they do know they can expect unconditional support from the Tenino community.
“I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else,” Harris said. “It’s something you can’t describe, playing sports around here.”
“That always gives us a boot, and some pressure, in a good way,” Chamberlain said. “You know you have to perform.”
“The fundraisers, the dads who help, everyone who comes out, we wouldn’t be where we are without that support,” Elam said.
With the regular season just a few days away, the Beaver players are excited to get back to where they feel most comfortable – the base path.
“I would imagine it could be annoying playing against us,” Hammond said. “It’s just all about having fun, but still working hard.”
For more information on Tenino High School baseball, visit their Facebook page.