TACOMA, Wash. – After a successful run to the West Regional Finals, the Pacific Lutheran baseball team finished the season ranked No. 22 in nation. In addition to multiple conference, regional and national recognitions, the program honored two graduating seniors with a new award.
Cory Nelson and Drew Oord have been voted by their teammates as the first ever O.T. Harstad MVP award winners. The honor, established by long-time PLU donor and alumnus Ted Johnson, is named for the first PLU student to reach the professional levels in any sport in school history. The son of PLU founder, Bjug, Harstad made 32 appearances for the Cleveland Indians and retired with a 3.40 ERA.
"It was a shock," said Nelson. "My teammates voted on it when I had left early for class one day, so I had no idea. It's pretty cool to get the first ever OT Harstad MVP award."
"It means a lot," added Oord. "Our team is full of leaders. We don't have captains; we have a leadership squad. It shows you how mature this team is. When something like that happens you feel the love and respect you have from your teammates. Knowing that you have all those guys behind you lets you know that nobody is ever going to quit on anybody. It pushes you through the year. So many guys could have won this award, it was a little shocking, but it was nice."
The award is designed to acknowledge both the performance on the field, and leadership off. When voting occurred, Cory Nelson was leading the NWC with a regular season 2.32 earned run average. He also won six games in in his 13 starts.
"Cory had a better year by far," said Oord. "It wasn't even close. Cory shut down non-conference and conference teams. I went through slumps, and had bad weekends, but Cory stayed consistent throughout the year."
Oord was a menace at the plate. The left-handed hitter batted .346 on the season, with three home runs and 31 runs batted in. He also showed versatility in the field playing both first base and left field.
"I think Drew had the better year," said Nelson. "I don't hit anymore. I know how hard it is to hit and to be that consistent and put up numbers like that. He did it for all four years, too. He's a great competitor at the plate."
"We voted on the two best guys who fit the criteria," said Nolan Soete, PLU head coach. "One had to be a pitcher, the other a position guy. Cory had the best all around year on the mound. Drew had a great year defensively and offensively. Both are great players for this program and they will be missed. I thought it was fitting that the first winners of that award are seniors on a very successful team."
Half of the award is concerned with on the field play. The other half is concerned with the leadership qualities of its recipients. Both players reflected on their styles of leadership, and the challenges that come with the extra responsibility of being a leader.
"At certain times, there are things you have to deal with," said Oord. "We have a very mature team this year. It stems from the older guys down to the younger guys where maturity and leadership goes throughout. The younger guys picked up on it really quick making our job much easier. The leadership squad of eight or 10 guys allows us to talk through situations with several people, which creates a lot of sides to the conversation as far as how we should or shouldn't handle something. The supporting cast around you is what really helps get you through the season."
"Drew is a lot more of a vocal leader than I am," added Nelson. "I tried to sit back behind everyone and lead by example. Hopefully if they see me doing the right things, they will want to copy what I am doing and do it too."
"Drew has been our best all around leader," said Soete. "He is the heart and soul of this team. Cory stepped up in a big way. He knew he'd be in the rotation, but he didn't know he would be the number one guy."
"Coach gave us a little history lesson on Harstad being the first person from PLU to play a professional sport, and it just happened to be baseball," shared Nelson. "It's a unique thing to be able to continue the legacy for him or anybody that has ever played at PLU. We stand on the shoulders that came before us, and we wouldn't be here without any of the other players who have played here. It feels really good."
As the first winners of the honor, Nelson and Oord's names now appear on a trophy that will live in the baseball team room. The goal is to continue to honor and inspire future Lutes to seek greatness both on and off the field.
"I don't think you could have two better players to be the inaugural winners of the award," added Soete. "They both represent the program the right way. Great people on and off the field, both are great students and great ball players. I'm glad they got the award voted by the players because those are the two players I would have picked myself."
Both players played key roles in the Lutes's winning the Northwest Conference Tournament and earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament for the second-consecutive year. The Lutes finished 29-19 and made the West Regional Finals in their third post-season appearance in program history.