DWU senior Solem one of GPAC’s top hittersBefore his junior year of college, Casey Solem had never even heard of Dakota Wesleyan University. After graduating from high school in his hometown of East Grand Forks, Minn., in 2005, Solem played one season of baseball at Valley City State University and one at Northland Community and Technical College before transferring to the University of North Dakota.
Before his junior year of college, Casey Solem had never even heard of Dakota Wesleyan University.
After graduating from high school in his hometown of East Grand Forks, Minn., in 2005, Solem played one season of baseball at Valley City State University and one at Northland Community and Technical College before transferring to the University of North Dakota.
Because he had played for a semester at a junior college, he redshirted at UND, and then one day he took a call from his former NCTC coach.
“I got a call from Steve Gust, and he just said he had an opportunity for me to come (to DWU) and play two more years of baseball and get my degree in criminal justice,” Solem said. “I couldn’t turn it down; he’d been my coach for quite a few years throughout the summers and stuff.”
Gust, who came to Dakota Wesleyan in the summer of 2008, coached Solem at NCTC and also coached him in Legion baseball as a teenager.
Gust said that Solem, who is the Tigers’ center fielder and hits third in the lineup, has always been a very solid baseball player.
“He’s always been an athlete, but he’s grown physically and matured mentally,” Gust said. “He’s really put it together over the years.”
In his senior year at Dakota Wesleyan, Solem has become one of the top hitters in the Great Plains Athletic Conference, and will be a leader for the Tigers as they start their GPAC tournament run at noon Thursday against Northwestern at Drake Field.
He has the fourth-highest batting average in the GPAC (.434) and the second-best slugging percentage (.787). He is fourth in the conference in total hits (59) and RBIs (51), is tied for first for the most triples (6) and is second in the league in total home runs (10).
Last season, Solem had 52 hits, 47 RBIs and a .416 batting average. He said the past two seasons have exceeded his expectations.
“I never even heard of Dakota Wesleyan until (Gust) called me and I came down here on a whim and said, ‘Fine, I’ll play baseball,’ ” he said. “Things turned out a lot better than I thought. Both teams I’ve played on, the guys have been second to none.
“It’s a great experience.”
Solem, who leads the Tigers in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage (.508), runs scored (46), hits, RBIs, triples and home runs, is more than just a big bat, however.
The senior slugger also leads the team in stolen bases (26) and is third on the team with 99 putouts.
“He’s got extraordinary talent,” Gust said. “He can swing, he can run, he can field. Usually in the GPAC, you have a player that’s real good at one or two things, but he’s real good at pretty much everything, and that’s a rarity in the GPAC.”
Solem, who said his favorite pitches to swing at are “anything inside,” has come up with several clutch hits for the Tigers this season, including a walk-off home run in the bottom of the eighth inning against Southwest Minnesota State University earlier this season. He also hit a walk-off single against Northwestern to give DWU a 6-5 win in early April.
Those clutch hits are something that Gust has come to expect of his slugger.
“Big players step up at big times,” he said. “We’re heading into the GPAC tournament, so we’re hoping we have more than just Solem that steps up, but in key situations, he’s a guy we want up.”
Solem mentioned the walk-off homer against SMSU and a home run over the baggie in right field at the Metrodome to start the year in February as two of his more memorable hits as a Tiger.
Dakota Wesleyan will look for Solem to add a few big hits to his resume before his career ends. The Tigers, who are the No. 3 seed in the GPAC tournament, are looking for their third-ever tournament title. They won the tournament in 2005 and then beat Mount Marty in extra innings to claim the 2009 title.
Solem said he doesn’t mind being put in those high-pressure situations, and that he enjoys stepping up to the plate knowing that the pitcher is probably at least a little nervous.
“There’s not a better feeling than knowing that the coach is walking you or saying, ‘Don’t throw him anything good,’ ” he said. “You see catchers go to pitchers and talk to them on how he wants to pitch this at-bat. That gives you a confidence boost. I like it a lot.”