The Lathrop baseball team has won six consecutive Mid-Alaska Conference championships under coach Tyler Hollister. Photo credit Lathrop athletics
With the Lathrop baseball team shooting for a perfect season in the Mid-Alaska Conference, Malemutes coach Tyler Hollister handed the ball to sophomore Dane Soderlund.
It was fitting because Hollister likes to link the past with the present by having former players attend games, and Soderlund’s older brother Torgen played for Hollister and graduated from Lathrop in 2011.
The younger Soderlund pitched like an old vet, scattering five hits and four walks over seven innings of work to highlight a 3-1 win over West Valley at Growden Memorial Park in Fairbanks.
“It was a great honor to get the ball. It’s a really big deal to come through for the team,” the right-hander told me.
The win was a big deal because it completed Lathrop’s 14-0 record in league games, secured the program’s sixth straight MAC championship and punched the team’s ticket to the ASAA state tournament.
“This year’s team had to really fight to finish this season with an undefeated conference record and tournament championship,” Hollister told me. “Several games, including both of our games at regionals, were close games that could have gone either way. We showed a lot of toughness and had to really stick together as a team to come out on top in every one of those games.”
Born and raised in Fairbanks, Hollister played for the Malemutes and graduated from Lathrop in 2007. By 2009, he was the coach.
All he did in his tenure was make Lathrop the king of the Interior with a half decade of dominance. This is his final season as bench boss.
“I'm very proud of winning six straight conference championships because so many different kids have been a part of it,” Hollister said. “We actually had a group of recent Lathrop alumni in the stands at our championship game that came back to see us continue the streak, including a few that were on the team that started the streak six years ago.
“The Lathrop baseball program is like a close family and even after kids have moved on to the next phase of their lives I love how many of them come back to see us and support the current group of Malemutes.”
Soderlund grew up rooting for Lathrop and looked up to his older brother when he was on the field. Now it’s his turn to be on the field.
The underclassman started the season in the bullpen before earning his way to the starting rotation. He was excited to step into a more significant role and kept West Valley off balance with a mix of 4-seam fastballs and curveballs.
“I pecked the corners as well as I could. My curveball was really nice today. It just clicked,” he said. “I tried to played as selfless as possible, get groundball outs and let my defense work behind me. They are pretty good.”
Soderlund credited junior catcher Stephen Trujillo for keeping his emotions under control late in the game after he disagreed with a few calls.
“Steven came out and said ‘Hey, you and me right now. Let’s finish this right here.’ It worked out well,” Soderlund said. “Steven did me solid favors for me today on the mound. I really appreciate that.”
Soderlund followed Trujillo’s lead most of the day, leading to seven strikeouts.
“I don’t think I shook him off once. He really was savvy with his pitch calls,” Soderlund said. “Tyler calls pitches most of the time, but he let Steven work a little more today. I think he had a little more freedom. It worked. We worked really well together today.”
“Dane did a great job of throwing strikes and keeping hitters off balance,” he said. “He really trusted the defense behind him today and picked up a lot of quick outs.”
Lathrop now heads to Anchorage for the ASAA state tournament at Mulcahy Stadium. Things get started Thursday, starting with Lathrop taking on Colony in the first round.
The tournament will be a swan song for Hollister, who will say goodbye after the weekend.
“I can't even begin to put into words how much the Lathrop baseball program and every single player and coach I worked with mean to me,” he said. “I couldn't have asked for a better ending than to finish with an undefeated conference record and championship before going down to one last state tournament. I've been coaching this group for a long time, especially my five seniors. I couldn't be any more excited to take this group of kids down for my last state tournament to compete against the best our state has to offer.”
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.