Photo courtesy Lance Ibesate
With more than two dozen Alaska high school graduates playing college baseball this year, this is truly a golden era for hardball in The Last Frontier.
No longer is the state known for just having a summer league, Alaska today is producing more college players than ever before in addition to more league all-stars.
This year five local products were named to the all-conference team at the college level, an indication of how far the game and players in Alaska have progressed.
The fab five were Lance Ibesate of Juneau and Anchorage’s Tyler Thompson, Jake Ridley, Aaron Miller and Max Karnos.
“Alaska is a state filled with talent and for us to succeed at the next level means a lot because we’re not only representing our current school very well, but also our family, friends, high school and the state of Alaska,”Ibesate told me. “It shows what kind of raw talent we have here in all areas compared to the kind of exposure we don’t get from the Lower 48.”
Ibesate, of Juneau-Douglas High fame, is a junior second baseman for Jamestown, a NAIA school in North Dakota. He led his team in hits, runs and stolen bases.
Here is the back of his baseball card:
Batting Average: .368
On-Base Percentage: .421
“This year was an up-and-down season for me individually and as a team. I didn’t start off very well and as a team we were on track to be a .500 team and that wasn’t acceptable,” Ibesate said. “Something needed to change. We went back to basics and most importantly just played baseball. Didn’t think too much, just played.”
Jamestown went on to piece together a 15-game winning streak that propelled the team to a 31-16 record.
“I’m most proud of how our team turned the whole season around and started rolling,” Ibesate said. “Obviously we wanted to make it to Nationals, but the game of baseball is an unpredictable sport.”
Thompson, of Dimond High fame, helped Pacific Lutheran win two games at the NCAA D3 Tournament before being eliminated. He had 5 hits, 2 doubles, 1 home run and 6 RBIs in four games.
It was the first time PLU advanced to Nationals since 2007.
“What stood out to me the most this year was how awesome the group of guys on my team are,” Thompson said. “I’ve never been on a team like this. And I couldn’t have done anything without them. They always had my back through the ups and downs of the season.”
The junior third baseman was one of his team’s most productive power hitters and ranked second in extra-base hits and total bases.
Batting Average: .306
On-Base Percentage: .365
“I was most proud of the way I handled myself mentally throughout the season,” he said. “I worked hard on the mental side of the game and it has really helped me this season.”
Thompson noticed how well other Alaskans played this year.
“It’s awesome to be seeing all these guys excelling on the field; most of them I have played with before and that makes it even better,” he said. “It’s also great for Alaska when everyone is playing well. I think it helps younger athletes from Alaska realize that we can be just as good as anybody.”
Ridley, of Service High fame, is a freshman shortstop for Dawson Community College in Montana.
He returned this year after tearing his ACL that ended his senior season. After surgery he prepared for college by playing in the adult league with his brothers.
“The speed of the [college] game stood out to me the most. I felt like it moved a little faster than high school did,” he said. “I was most proud of the fact that I could play at this level. I feel like I made the most improvements by adjusting to the speed of the game.”
Batting Average: .375
On-Base Percentage: .452
“I got better at hitting the ball where it was thrown,” he said. “For example, I can hit an outside pitch fastball the other way and I can pull an inside pitch better than before.”
Ridley flirted with a .400 batting average for much of the season.
“I think Alaska is slowly getting on the map for baseball,” he said. “People are bound to realize that Alaskans can play ball.”
Miller, of Service High fame, is a junior outfielder for Mayville State University, a NAIA school in North Dakota. He led his team in RBIs and owned a 13-game hitting streak.
Batting Average: .328
On-Base Percentage: .419
“Making first team this year was a lot different than making it last year,” he said. “Last year I was a gnew guy nobody knew about and I got a lot more good pitches to hit, but this year I got fewer pitches in the zone and had to take advantage of good pitchers to hit.”
Miller also found a power surge. After hitting two home runs in his first 71 college games, he connected on five homers this year.
He is a .345 career college hitter in 400 plate appearances.
“I think it’s great we have all these Alaskans doing so well at the college level and playing at a high level, especially knowing I have played with or against most of them,” he said.
The only pitcher of the bunch is Karnos, a sophomore right-hander at JC powerhouse Western Nevada College.
He was the best starter for a team that didn’t always give him the best offensive support. He barely had a winning record despite sparkling statistics.
Complete Games: 2
Opp. Batting Average: .190
“What stood out mostly for me was my catcher never let balls to the backstop and both my breaking pitches were much better,” he said. “I was most proud of how many plays my defense made for me and my biggest improvement was confidence and consistency.”
Karnos, of South High fame, has already signed with NCAA D1 Sacramento State for his final two years of college.
“It’s always nice seeing a bunch of Alaskans have success at the next level and I think it’s going to just improve from here.”
Van Williams is a freelance writer in Anchorage and a correspondent for the Alaska School Activities Association.
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