LILBURN — At 6-foot-5 and 225 pounds and possessing a powerful right arm and outstanding baseball instincts, it’s not hard to figure out what made Matt Olson a Compensatory A round pick of the Oakland Athletics in the recent Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
But the quality that played the biggest part in making the recent Parkview graduate the Daily Post’s 2012 Player of the Year is something a little tougher to measure.
“As a pitcher and as a hitter, he’s come up so big for us so many times,” Panthers coach Chan Brown said of Olson. “It seems like no matter the situation, he just comes up bigger and bigger. It’s what he thrives on. It’s his mentality.”
It’s not just that Olson has come through whenever Parkview has needed him that made his high school career so memorable.
It’s also how many times he was asked to do so, particularly during the Panthers’ run of back-to-back Class AAAAA state championships the last two seasons.
Olson’s clutch run began with a three-run home run that sparked a six-run first inning in an 8-2 win in the third-and-deciding game of last year’s Class AAAAA state semifinal win at Colquitt County.
A week later came his tie-breaking three-run homer during the Panthers’ 13-run rally in the top of the seven of Game 3 of the championship series against Hillgrove.
This season produced three more big moments for Olson to come through in the clutch — a tie-breaking two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth to help the Panthers tie their quarterfinal series with Hillgrove that they eventually won the next day, a complete-game victory on the mound and a homer in Game 1 of the title series with Brookwood and yet another tie-breaking homer in the seventh inning of Parkview’s Game 2 win to clinch the series.
Olson is at a loss to explain why his number seems to come up so often when a game or a series is on the line or how he is able to come through seemingly every time, but he’s not about to argue with the results.
“I can’t go up in those situations thinking I have to do something big,” Olson said. “I just relax in those situations, and the past couple of years, I’ve had a couple pitches to hit.”
Olson’s clutch performances also go beyond individual situations.
While he had a solid regular season, he turned his game up a notch further during the playoffs by raising his batting average more than 40 points and adding four homers and 27 RBIs during 11 postseason games to finish with a .407 average with 11 homers and 52 RBIs.
But as much as he contributed at the plate, his work on the mound was just as important to Parkview’s cause.
And while his pitching was solid in past seasons, it definitely took an upturn this season as Olson finished 12-1 with a 1.64 ERA and 85 strikeouts in 85 1/3 innings.
“(Fellow senior pitcher) Jesse (Foster) and I talked before the season and we wanted to come out and set the tone for the season,” Olson said. “The way you do that is on the mound. If there’s a guy out there dominating the game, you can shut down another team. Jesse and I being here three or four years, we knew that we could do it, and it worked out pretty well.”
And as thankful as Olson is for his success in the clutch, he is quick to add that he couldn’t have done it without his teammates.
Whether it was Foster following one of Olson’s quality pitching starts with one of his own or Jack Esmonde coming out of the bullpen to save a game for him that he couldn’t finish or others teammates like fellow All-County selections Edwin Arias and Josh Hart getting on base in front of him to give him RBI opportunities, he knows someone would always have his back.
“I really realized the guys behind me could play,” Olson said. “I (already) knew that, but … I knew our team was good enough that they didn’t have to count on me day in and day out. It kind of took a little pressure off me and allowed me to play better.”