All-County Baseball: Salisbury's Tonseth Player of the Year
By Mike London
SALISBURY — Salisbury’s Philip Tonseth may be the only high school senior in the country whose life will get easier after he reports to West Point to prepare for a military career.
“Philip would leave baseball practice, run eight miles, study for three AP classes, and then get up and do it all over again the next day — with a smile on his face,” Salisbury coach Scott Maddox said.
Tonseth batted .432 with 33 RBIs and won five games on the mound in his primary sport. As a part-timer in track, he somehow managed to place in the 800 and 1600 meter runs in the 2A state meet.
“You’ve got to be in amazing shape to do that,” said Salisbury second baseman John Knox. “I play a lot of sports, but I don’t see how anyone could do that.”
Ironically, Tonseth wasn’t the CCC Player of the Year in baseball, but he was the CCC Runner of the Year in track.
“I’ve always tried to be as good as I can be in both,” Tonseth said. “But I practiced baseball harder than ever this year.”
Maddox said prior to the season Tonseth would be “the glue” for the Hornets, and that was accurate. It’s hard to picture Salisbury being competitive without him.
With the lefty pitching, batting third and roaming center field when he wasn’t on the mound, the Hornets went 14-11 and took the CCC tournament title.
Eric Norris, whose family provides the Mark Norris Memorial Award that is symbolic of the county player of the year, always forecasts the winner. He had Tonseth at the top of his list. The Post sports staff agreed.
Not that there weren’t other candidates in a season in which four county teams had winning records. It seemed like North Rowan’s Wesley Barker and Matt Mauldin never made an out. Brawny Carson catcher Joseph Basinger often carried the Cougars offensively. Luke Thomas, another catcher, offered the strongest credentials on a balanced East team.
But Tonseth heads the pack, just as he did in the county cross country meet last fall.
Tonseth has been a capable pitcher since his sophomore year and made the all-county team as a junior. His tireless pitching performances weren’t surprising this season, but his lethal bat took everyone by surprise.
“I think it’s fair to say my hitting was a shock because it shocked me,” he said with a laugh.
Tonseth was Salisbury’s No. 6 hitter when the season started.
On March 19, he had a 1-for-3 day against Carson that quietly began a 21-game hitting streak that he maintained the rest of the year.
On April 8, Maddox elevated Tonseth to the No. 3 hole because a teammate was late for the bus. He went 3-for-5 with four RBIs. He never looked back, and the RBIs, the most by a Hornet in this century, steadily piled up.
“That’s just a credit to my teammates,” Tonseth said. “If they don’t get on, there are no RBIs.”
Tonseth’s sensational season included grand slams in back-to-back games against East Davidson and North Rowan. He also had a game for the ages against CCC foe Thomasville, belting three triples and pitching a perfect game.
“I know Thomasville wasn’t one of the top teams,” Tonseth said. “But I’ll take it. There’s no asterisk because it was Thomasville.”
Maddox marveled at Tonseth’s two-way season.
“I think Philip realized that for us to do better as a team, he had to hit better,” Maddox said. “He also had an unbelievable year pitching. He was 5-3 and could easily have been 8-0 with a little luck.”
Tonseth lost what may have been his grittiest effort. He threw nine innings at Staton Field before losing 4-3 to East Rowan.
As a third-grader at Sacred Heart, Tonseth watched the events of Sept. 11, 2001, unfold on television and vowed to undertake a military career. He’s never wavered from that youthful pledge. With all his athletic endeavors, he’s kept his academics solid enough to earn an appointment to West Point. He’ll head there in a few weeks and will be part of the Army baseball team.
Inspiration for his season came from Patrick Snider, who died of cancer last summer. Tonseth and Snider were Junior Legion teammates in 2009. They were Cavornets, a mix of North and Salisbury players coached by Maddox.
Whenever he was pitching, Tonseth always knelt behind the mound before each inning and focused his thoughts on Snider.
“I just wanted to make sure I remembered, that if he could, Patrick would have been pitching just like I was doing,” Tonseth said. “I got emotional every time thinking about him, and the adrenaline would start rushing. I’d take two deep breaths to get myself under control. Then I would give every pitch everything I had.”