by Bob San
SUN PRESS Newspapers
Osseo softball coach Eric Ruska has coached some pretty good Osseo teams in the past but the 2014 squad is unique in many ways.
On the field, the young Orioles have exceeded all expectations by holding their own playing a rugged schedule. They have beaten good teams, including defending state champ Elk River.
“I think our season is probably going better than anyone expected outside of our own team,” Ruska said.
But it’s the off-the-field activities that separate this team from others.
“The funny part is that they are cliché when it comes to why they are clicking,” Ruska said. “They seem to actually care about one another, both their success on the field, but as people in general.”
Ruska and his coaches have tried to instill the “worker/blue collar type approach” and the Orioles have bought into it 100 percent. They have developed many team bonding activities ranging from taking charge of how they warm up and all of their quirky routines, to picking up garbage and rocks off of their home field or at away fields, to practicing when no other team wants to (rain, snow, sleet, early mornings, late evening) and raking/lining and doing all the field preps at their home field.
“It really has been a fun group to coach,” said Ruska, adding that the Orioles are having so much fun together that win-loss record and individual stats almost become secondary.
“I don’t even know if they know their own record, which also makes them unique,” Ruska said.
In reality the Orioles are enjoying one of the best seasons in recent years. Entering this week, they are 12-5 overall and 10-3 and in third place in the Northwest Suburban Conference, trailing just top-ranked Maple Grove and No. 2 Elk River. The Orioles have compiled the impressive record with contributions from up and down the roster. Junior all-conference pitcher Courtney Calkins is the team’s anchor with her pitching (she has nine wins) but every Oriole contributes to the team’s success.
“As performers go, we really don’t have any true standouts,” Ruska said. “Every game it seems to be someone different; a different pitcher, a different batter or different part of the batting order, a different fielder. We have had some good individual performances along the way, but we truly are winning/losing as a team.”
Last week’s wins over Armstrong and Centennial were good examples of Osseo’s winning way.
The Orioles overcame a deflated offensive performance by scoring two runs in the bottom of the fifth to spoil the Armstrong upset bid. Caroline Meyers ripped a two-run double to score Maddy Johnson and Kelli Auer. Freshman Katie Johnson held the Falcons to six hits and struck out eight. She shrugged off a shaky first inning and some early errors for the win.
The Orioles then pounded out 15 hits and finally shook off the rust on offense to beat Centennial 6-2. Senior Touria Techam had a career night reaching base all four times, three of them via hits. Calkins, Ashley Sis, Meyers, and Laine Ruska each had a hit and a double, and were responsible for driving in all of the runs. Faith Lovcik chipped in two hits. Calkins tossed a three hitter giving up no earned runs and striking out six to capture her seventh win of the season.
Winning has been fun but Osseo’s season has been enhanced by having new lights at their home field, allowing them to play evening games under the lights.
“They get to see their JV friends play a whole bunch, both the varsity and JV support each other and welcome each other with open arms,” Ruska said. “It’s a really cool atmosphere that goes well beyond winning and losing.”
Osseo ends the regular season Wednesday, May 14 at Armstrong. Then it’s off to the rugged Section 5 Tournament.
Contact Bob San at firstname.lastname@example.org