Almost from the time he threw his first pitch as a South Effingham Mustang, Jesse Osborne hasn’t liked throwing to anyone else except John Roberts.
The senior hurler is going to continue to be a batterymate with the Mustangs senior catcher for a while to come.
The duo signed scholarships with Armstrong Atlantic State University on Wednesday, much to the relief of each.
“It’s like a thousand pounds has been lifted off my back and shoulders,” Roberts said. “I can finally concentrate.”
Said Osborne: “This is a relief. This is a weight off my shoulders.”
Once the teammates found out Armstrong had offered a scholarship to the other, there was no doubt in their minds where they were headed.
“John texted me the night he got offered,” Osborne said. “Once I found that out, I wanted to go to Armstrong with my buddy.”
Osborne came to South Effingham after spending his freshman year at Chapel Hill High School in Douglas County. He was originally a shortstop, but coach Tony Kirkland wanted to see how he did as a pitcher. Roberts was the catcher behind the plate.
“He just wanted to see me throw,” Osborne said. “John was the person I was throwing to.”
Osborne, a lanky right-hander, said he has the confidence to throw any pitch with Roberts behind the plate.
“I have 100 percent, 110 percent faith in John,” he said. “He’s the only one I like throwing to. I know if I throw a curveball in the dirt, he’s going to block it up.”
Said Mustangs coach Tony Kirkland: “It didn’t take too long for him as a little ninth grader to open my eyes to his ability. John is an absolute perfectionist in everything he does.”
Osborne and Roberts each had other offers — the University of South Carolina-Beaufort was recruiting Osborne and USC-Aiken was doing the same with Roberts — but Armstrong wound up delivering better offers to them.
“It feels good to go with someone I already know,” Roberts said of inking the letter of intent with Osborne. “I was choosing between Armstrong and Aiken. When I found out Jesse was going, I wanted to go too.”
Going into the weekend, Roberts has 12 home runs and 35 runs batted in in only 17 games. The weeks and months leading up to the day had been agonizing for both Mustangs seniors, even as Roberts torched opposition pitching and continued his stellar work behind the plate.
“We battled a little bit in the recruiting process,” Kirkland said.
“A couple of months ago, it felt slow,” Roberts said of the recruiting process. “I felt like I was going to have to walk-on somewhere.”
With Osborne, Kirkland said, it was getting colleges to put the radar gun away when scouting.
“I was trying to get people to understand he can pitch,” he said. “He overcame the ‘I’ve got to throw it 90 mph’ thing.”
Osborne, with a five-inning, complete-game victory Wednesday, improved to 5-2 for the year and lowered his earned run average to a measly 1.93.
“He’s a hard worker,” South Effingham pitching coach Danny Daigle said, “and he deserves everything he is getting.”
Armstrong — with its proximity to home and its longstanding strong baseball program — is where Roberts always wanted to go.
“The Lord blessed me,” he said. “It was the best offer. It’s close to home.”
At Armstrong, they will join former South Effingham teammates Matt Tufts and Brandon McCreery.
“I’m glad to keep them close to the house,” Kirkland said. “That opens up the possibilities of their parents seeing them play, and the coaching staff as well.”
Signing on Thursday eased any anxiety Roberts and Osborne felt. It helped their coach, too.
“This day right here is probably more gratifying to me than it is for them,” Kirkland said. “It’s awesome. It’s exciting to see.”
Roberts and Osborne will have a head start on other incoming pitchers and catchers because they already know each other, Kirkland said. When Roberts goes out to the mound to talk to Osborne, it’s not always about what pitch to throw to the batter, especially if Osborne is struggling.
“I try to make him laugh,” Roberts said. “I try to take his mind off the game for a couple of seconds.”
Now with their futures in hand, there’s some unfinished business for Roberts, Osborne and the rest of the Mustangs who have been to three state semifinals in four years — playing for a state championship.
“I think this is the time,” Roberts said. “This is definitely the time. We’ve waited long enough.”
“That would be the ultimate,” Osborne added. “This would be the year to do it.”