It wasn't that what Tanner Olson accomplished on the mound in 2013 for the Lynden baseball team was much of a surprise, it was more that the Lions didn't know exactly what to expect from the right-handed pitcher.
"He's a kid that has always worked hard," Lynden coach Cory White said in a phone interview. "He's always put the time in -- that's never been an issue.
"But what he did on the mound, I don't know that anybody could predict that. He just didn't get the innings last year to show what he could do. It wasn't that we didn't have faith in him; we just had two guys in Jordan (Kreider) and Fraser (Shindruk) who went 10-0 and 8-0. Tanner did see some action for us (as a junior) - he went 3-1 in 26 innings and had 26 strikeouts. To know he would break out the way he did this year, we weren't expecting that."
Olson broke out in a big way, as he was just as impressive during his senior season as Kreider and Shindruk were in their final spring with the team the year before.
Olson went 10-0 with an impressive 0.76 ERA, as he didn't allow an earned run during Northwest Conference play and helped pitch Lynden into the quarterfinals of the Class 2A State Tournament.
That alone would have been enough to earn Olson The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Player of the Year honors.
But Olson didn't stop there.
He also struck out 94 in 74 innings of work, while walking only 17 and held opponents to a .173 batting average (50 for 289).
"I worked a lot to get ready for this opportunity," Olson said in a phone interview. "I wanted to get my arm and my body in shape. I threw a lot, and I felt good."
And that's not counting the time Olson spent improving himself at the plate.
Though he has always been solid defensively as a four-year starter for the Lions, Lynden used a designated hitter for him throughout his freshman year while starting him at second base.
Though he got to hit a little more as a sophomore and junior, he was admittedly overmatched and hit at the bottom of Lynden's order.
But not as a senior.
While hard work made a big difference in his effectiveness at the plate, Mother Nature might have had the biggest influence on his transformation -- both at the plate and on the mound.
"His freshman year, you might have mistaken him for the bat boy," White said. "He didn't hit. Defensively, he has always been outstanding, but he wasn't physically ready to make a difference at the plate. His sophomore year, he was getting over matched, and he hit .184 last year in the latter part of the lineup. He could put the bat on the ball, but he didn't have the muscle to get behind it.
"The biggest thing about him this year is his physical maturation. He grew quite a few inches and added some pounds. Now he's a tall, strapping lad, and with that comes confidence on the mound and in the batter's box."
Olson wasn't the only one to show more confidence in his abilities. The Lions moved him up from the bottom of the lineup into the heart, often using him as the cleanup hitter.
He responded by hitting .361 (26 for 72), belting seven doubles and a home run and driving in 12 runs.
"I spent a lot of time working to get more power and strength and trying to drive the ball to the opposite field," Olson said. "Before, I was more of a line-drive and contact hitter, but this year I was able to add some power. I wanted to contribute more."
As big a contribution as he made at the plate, it paled in comparison to the boost he gave Lynden on the mound.
Obviously, he was Lynden's ace, convincing White he deserved that opportunity during the summer American Legion season.
"It's a good feeling being that guy," Olson said. "There is a lot of pressure that goes along with that position, but it's good to know your teammates are depending on you to win the big game."
And Olson, who was the only player selected first-team All-Northwest Conference as both a pitcher and a hitter, always came through. The Lions won all 11 games he started this year, including an early-season extra-inning affair over Burlington-Edison when Olson had to be lifted. Other than that game, he went the distance every time out, White said, including in three postseason wins during the district tournament and in the first round of the state playoffs.
None were bigger than his 13-strikeout, one-hit shutout performance against Sedro-Woolley in the regular-season finale, when he pitched Lynden to its first conference title since 1998.
"That was huge for this group of seniors to get that feeling of being a conference champion in baseball," Olson said. "It's something we hadn't done before and something that hasn't happened all that often at Lynden."
Of course the Lions don't have a pitcher like Olson who is part of a senior class like Lynden graduated this year all that often either.
"It's been amazing playing with those guys," Olson said. "We've been playing with the same group of guys since we were 9 or 10 years old. It's been an honor playing with them all the way through middle school and high school. Just the fact that we've grown up playing together and know each other so well. We click together. We're great friends."
But now they'll all be going their different ways to play a variety of sports at different colleges.
Olson will head to Lower Columbia College to continue his pitching career along with fellow Lynden outfielder Luke Christianson.
"I think Lower Columbia is getting him at the perfect time," White said. "As much as he's matured physically over this last year, I think he's still got some growth left in him. He's still got a little bit of a baby face, so I wouldn't be surprised to see him grow another couple of inches and get even stronger. The sky is the limit for this young man."
Part of the reason for that is he's had the privilege to grow up in the household with a father that also pitched collegiately -- Lynden pitching coach John Olson.
"I think he's really motivated me to get to where I am today," Tanner said. "I think he expects more out of me, because I'm the coach's son. He expects me to put out my best effort."
That includes a pair of bullpen sessions a week at home, when the two work on making Tanner even more effective.
And when they're not throwing, the pair can usually be found working or playing a round on the course they own -- Raspberry Ridge.
"I don't want to play against Tanner," White said. "We hold our annual golf tournament to raise money for the team, and I deliberately put myself in another group so I could play my round and not feel too bad about myself. He's a very good golf player. If golf weren't a spring sport, I think he could be a state-level guy there, too."
After the spring he had, Lynden is just happy he chose baseball.
Reach David Rasbach at firstname.lastname@example.org or 360-715-2286.
Reach DAVID RASBACH at email@example.com or call 715-2271.