South baseball is off to a sizzling start to the 2022 season

After ending the 2021 season as Division I Alaska state champions with a record 17-0, the South Baseball team still hasn’t stopped embarking on their 2022 title defense campaign.

The Wolverines went on to a 6-0 record early in the season, extending their winning streak from last year to an impressive 23 straight wins.

“We got a lot of deals last year, but I feel like the team we have now is pretty good,” senior pitcher Isaac Johnson said. “We’re still pretty close and it shows.”

While most players have played together in Little League since they were 9 and 10, this year’s team is made up almost entirely of varsity-level freshmen. The Wolverines have graduated 15 of the 18 players who won everything in 2021. The three exceptions are now senior leaders and pillars of the 2022 squad.

“We tell them, ‘You’re here to show us what you’ve got,’ and we have a lot of gaps and a lot of people who want to fill them,” said South coach Taylor Nerland. “We will continue to learn and get better as the season progresses.”

The trio of seniors includes Johnson, catcher Curtis Herbert and infielder Oliver Brown. All three are already committed to playing college baseball and are hoping to go on top in back-to-back seasons of winning titles.

“It would be great to go back to back,” Brown said. “We’ve been playing together for a long time. About six to seven of us have been playing together since we were 9 years old. If we can do that again it would be absolutely fantastic.”

Johnson was out on the mound for the Wolverines in the first six games, allowing a run.

“Isaac is one of those guys that you know what you’re getting if you put him out there,” Nerland said. “He’s just very consistent, he doesn’t really have a lot of bad innings let alone bad games.”

Johnson expressed the same desire to win back-to-back championships.

“I know it would feel really good for all of us, especially the guys who won last year,” he said. “That’s what we’re ultimately striving for.”

Brown has been at varsity since college and was the starting shortstop for last year’s title-winning team. He received the 2021 First-Team All Cook Inlet Conference shortstop honors and was instrumental in their championship run. He’s an even bigger contributor to his senior season as the Wolverines’ leadoff hitter.

“It’s a new role for him and obviously as a senior on the team he wants to go out and eat,” Nerland said. “I thought he did a great job scoring the lead for us.”

Brown knows this team is not a finished product, the season is far from over and despite their brilliant start, the players cannot rest on the laurels of last year’s team.

“We can’t just live in the past of what we did last year,” Brown said. “We have to be present now and keep grinding forward for this season.”

Herbert has some pretty big shoes to fill this year as the team’s starting catcher. His predecessor was Dylan Maltby, 2021 Gatorade Player of the Year for Division I baseball, who now plays at Hesston College in Kansas. Nerland believes Herbert has what it takes to be one of the top catchers in the state this year.

“Last year he was right about Dylan in terms of ability, but it made more sense for us to put Dylan behind plate and put him at third base,” Nerland said. “He started third base for us last year.”

Herbert is a jack of all trades who has already shown he can shine behind and on the plate as well as on the mound. He hit a grand slam against Wasilla in the first round of the Red Edward Matautia Invitational and subsequently threw an early-season no-hitter to lead the Wolverines to a victory over the Warriors in the championship game.

Nerland has been a coach at South for nine years and has won two titles during that time, the first in 2016. He was an assistant at South in 2011 and 2013 when the team won state titles.

“We take it game by game and we just want to make sure we play our game and try to play clean when we get out of there – don’t make mistakes, especially mental mistakes,” Nerland said. “Physical mistakes will happen. You will have misguided throws, but it’s the mental ones that we want to eliminate.”

Leave a Comment