By Oliver Lazenby
After earning a 17–3 record last year, Blaine’s varsity baseball team has its sights set on returning to the playoffs.
With five seniors and seven juniors, including all-conference first team third baseman Chase Abshere and all-conference second team catcher Kai Nagle, the Borderites have even more upperclassmen than last year.
The team has a fierce lineup of powerful hitters, strong pitching and leadership on the field, but they also have an untested component – a new head coach. Tanner Olson, a 2011 Ferndale High School graduate, took over this year for former head coach Sean Linville. Linville left the position to become the school district’s athletic director.
Olson isn’t aiming to make big changes to the program; he played under Linville for four years at Ferndale, where Linville coached until 2012, and admires his coaching style.
“He’s a find-a-way-to-get-it-done kind of guy. It’s a bull dog mentality,” Olson said. “I like to think I’m the same way a little bit.”
Olson has assisted with Ferndale High School’s baseball team the past two years. Prior, he pitched and played shortstop at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, while earning an interdisciplinary studies degree.
Olson already knew some of Blaine’s baseball players from his work in the Blaine school district on security staff – a job he started this fall – and he knew the Borderites as a tough opponent during his time at Ferndale.
“It’s exciting to see it from this end right now,” Olson said. “You don’t see a lot of senior classes like this, especially with their leadership skills. It’s nice to walk into a program like this.”
Olson said seeing the players on campus has eased his transition to coaching the team, but there are still some challenges to work through.
“They were pumped to have Linville here and you know why. He gets it done every single year,” Olson said. ”I played for Linville for four years at Ferndale and I don’t think things are going to change too much.”
Blaine does have some big shoes to fill. Last year, senior pitcher Brandon Watts won six out of the seven games he started. Current senior Jon Gunderson pitched winning seasons the past two years and has experience pitching in playoff games.
“He’ll start on opening day and we’ll go from there and see how it plays out,” Olson said. “He put in the time these last four years and he earned it. I think we’ll be fine pitching-wise.”
Olson will also put Hayden Dohner and transfer student Mikael Elliott on the mound. Colby Knutzen has an injured finger that will keep him off the field for at least a month, but he’ll likely pitch later in the season.
At bat, powerful hitters Abshere and Cruz Rodriguez should drive in a lot of runs for Blaine, but the team has plenty of other talented hitters. Blaine scored 6.3 runs per game last year on average, among the highest in the league.
“This is a deep lineup. I’ll put my first seven hitters against anyone in the state.” Olson said. “Those bottom two guys aren’t going to be filler either, they’re going to be productive guys who’ll find a way to get on base.”
That line up will be key to tying last year’s record, a goal for the team. To do that, they’ll need to keep the intensity up and not relax when they get the lead, Olson said.
“As long as we don’t get too ahead of ourselves and get caught up in the rankings we should be just fine,” he said.
Blaine plays its first game at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13 at home against Granite Falls.