Sports Zone, Springfield

Rocky start for defending champs

Colts’ opening-day ace Molony leaves after five pitches

EUGENE – It was an unexpectedly bumpy return to the University of Oregon’s PK Park for the Thurston Colts baseball team. Nine months after winning the Class 5A state championship in walk-off fashion at PK, the Colts opened the 2024 season against Sheldon at that same spot, falling 7-5 in an opening-night upset.

“We didn’t do a very good job throwing first-pitch strikes. We didn’t do a very good job situational hitting – we left the bases loaded in four different innings, and we just needed that one hit,” Thurston coach Dennis Minium said. “I think we’ll get better, obviously. I think we got some work to do, but I think we’ll be OK when it’s all said and done.”

Part of the reason for Thurston’s first-pitch struggles was the injury of Connor Molony, the 2023 Class 5A pitcher of the year. The junior right-hander got the start, but left after only five pitches while pointing at his throwing arm. Minium said the decision to pull Molony was a precautionary one, and he doesn’t expect any longer-term ramifications. 

Nonetheless, the Colts sent in sophomore Grady Saunders. Saunders, a 1st-team all-state player himself, is an ace pitcher, but was playing for the Colts basketball team through early March and wasn’t expecting to throw on Wednesday.

“We had some basketball kids, so we’re just now starting to get Brock and Grady back in the groove. You know, Grady came in in a pinch and threw really well. But it all boils down to timely hitting, throwing first-pitch strikes, and making plays when they give us outs,” Minium said. “We battled really hard to get back in the game, but then we’d make a mistake here and there, and next thing you know we got to battle back again. At some point, you run out of time, and we did today.”

Forced to rally

As Minium noted, Thurston fell behind early – 4-1 after two innings – and couldn’t find enough consistent footing to battle all the way back. Saunders did throw for four innings and recorded 8 Ks, while Adam Elliott led the offense with 2 hits and 2 runs.

Thurston, ranked No. 1 in the preseason coaches poll, continued the first full week of games with a bounce-back 14-4 win at No. 3 Summit on Monday behind Elliott’s 4 hits and 5 runs, as well as 9 Ks from Collin Hernandez. 

Both games are a part of Thurston’s tough non-league schedule, which includes a second-straight trip to the Coach Bob National Invitational in Arizona – one of the top West Coast tournaments.

“I want us to maybe find our groove in Arizona over that week. Kind of like what we did last year. We went on that little run when we got back from Arizona,” Minium said. “We can’t beat ourselves, and you have to show up every day and work hard and get better, because the team that we’re gonna play next is coming after us.”

One thing Thurston’s missing from last year’s championship team is Connor’s older brother Maddox Molony, a two-time state player of the year who is on the Oregon baseball team. Maddox was a key part of Thurston’s team for multiple years, and Minium knows he won’t be easy to replace.

“Obviously, Maddox was the player of the year for two years in a row, and it’s tough to replace, right? But we have Grady (Saunders), who’s gonna slide over and play short. And then the huge addition of Brock (Johnson) to play middle infield for us,” he said. “Maddox was a huge part of that (championship team), and it (hurts) when you lose somebody like that. But, you know, our seniors are gonna step up and lead, and we’ll be OK.”

Part of a defending champion team “being OK” the next season means realizing no two seasons are the same, and no one’s going to give Thurston anything for free just because they won the title last season. Minium said the team realizes the dangers of a championship hangover, and the size of the target on their back.

“We’ve talked about it at the very beginning, that we’re gonna flush last year. Last year is over. It was awesome, but it’s time to move on because nobody cares right now that you won the state title last year,” Minium said. 

“We’ve been preaching over and over that, any game we play, they’re always going to give us their best shot, because they want to beat us,” he said.



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