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Eight Tigers earn all-GPAC honors

DWU senior Casey Solem watches one of his three home runs fly over the left-field fence in a game against Mount Marty at the GPAC tournament May 7. Solem, along with Ethan Opsahl, Thomas Pickett and Mario Mendoza were named to the all-GPAC first team, it was announced Thursday. (Leah Rado/Republic)

The Dakota Wesleyan University baseball team landed eight all-Great Plains Athletic Conference selections, it was announced Thursday.

The Tigers, who won at least 32 games for the second straight season in 2010, tied a GPAC-era school record by placing four players on the all-GPAC first team. Four other players were named to the honorable-mention team.

DWU, which just missed regular-season and tournament championships, had the second-most first-team selections behind Mount Marty, which had five selections and won the regular-season title.

Casey Solem, Mario Mendoza, Ethan Opsahl and Thomas Pickett earned first-team honors and Phil Johnson, Nick Loera, Clayton Grimstad and Rolando Sanchez earned honorable mention status.

"When you have eight guys on the (all-GPAC) teams, I think that speaks volumes about the season we had and the type of players we've had in our program," DWU coach Steve Gust said.

Solem, the Tigers' centerfielder, earned his second straight first-team honor in the outfield this season. He set a new single-season school record for batting average (.453), RBIs (63) and total bases (136). He was close to records for runs (55), hits (73), home runs (15) and stolen bases (29), and also recorded six doubles, six triples, 19 walks and a slugging percentage of .845.

Solem led DWU in 10 offensive categories and also made three errors all season with 108 put-outs and one assist for a .973 fielding percentage.

"I think he's the best all-around player in the league," Gust said. "He can do it all. He can hit, run and play defense. He was our leader, and he's one of the guys you like to build seasons around, and we did that."

Mendoza was only with the Tigers for a year, but made an immediate impact at third base. Mendoza, who transferred from the City College of San Francisco, had a .396 batting average, 44 RBIs, nine home runs and 11 doubles.

He had 63 hits, scored 37 runs and had a .870 fielding percentage.

"(Mendoza) was our biggest surprise," Gust said. "He didn't look like he could hit, but he was one of the best hitters in the league. He went beyond anyone's expectations."

Opsahl, a sophomore left-handed pitcher from Twin Valley, Minn., was an honorable mention pick last year before moving up to the first team. He went 7-2 with a 4.88 ERA and struck out 52 batters with 25 walks in 62.2 innings.

Opsahl threw three complete games in 11 starts.

"I think a lot of (Opsahl's success) had to do with last year," Gust said. "The sky's the limit for him; he had a good year, but coaches realize he could be even better."

Pickett was named the first team's relief pitcher after serving as the Tigers' closer this season. The junior from Lead finished the year 4-2 with seven saves in 19 appearances. He had a 2.05 ERA and gave up six runs on 23 hits with five walks and 22 strikeouts in 22 innings of relief.

The right-handed pitcher gave up just a single earned run during the regular season. Opponents hit .261 off the reliever.

"Thomas got better over the last year," Gust said. "He deserves a lot of kudos for getting better and being one of the best closers in the league."

This year's GPAC honor was the fourth straight for Johnson, a senior from Mitchell. He finished his senior year 8-2 with a 4.61 ERA. He threw 68.1 innings and gave up 45 runs on 86 hits with 15 walks and 55 strikeouts.

Johnson made 13 starts and two relief appearances. He also got the opportunity to bat in the Tigers' final game of the GPAC tournament against Northwestern.

Loera, a junior shortstop, had a .915 fielding percentage and a team-high 110 infield assists. He also had a .372 batting average, 38 RBIs and 25 runs. Loera had 58 hits, seven doubles and 14 stolen bases.

Grimstad, a junior from Alexandria, Minn., had a .326 batting average in his first season with DWU. He also had 46 runs, 19 RBIs and 17 stolen bases. The outfielder had 59 put-outs, seven assists and a .943 fielding percentage.

Sanchez, a sophomore, took over as the starting catcher and had a .972 fielding percentage. He threw out seven of 28 potential base stealers and picked off five runners.

He his .282 with 12 RBIs and a .370 on-base percentage.

"They should be recognized because they all had pretty good years," Gust said of his four honorable mention picks. "They were all a big part of why we did so well this year. Without them, we wouldn't have gone as far as we did."

The Tigers finished the 2010 season 32-21 and earned third-place finishes in the regular-season and tournament standings. Gust has led the Tigers to two of their four 30-win seasons. He and former coach Adam Neisius are the only DWU coaches to record multiple 30-win seasons.

Mount Marty swept the major GPAC awards. Josh Damewood was the player of the year, Trey Krier was the pitcher of the year and Andy Bernatow was the coach of the year.

Josh Wenande and Jason Schmidt, both Mitchell natives, earned first-team all-GPAC honors. Schmidt, a sophomore, was named to the team as a shortstop and Wenande, a junior, as a catcher.