Surrounded by the still and serenity of "The Last Frontier," Chris Henry was equally taken by the peaceful disposition of his baseball coach.
Back then, Henry, a former Oakdale High and Delta College standout, was a member of a junior college all-star team built to compete in an Alaskan summer league against the country's top Division I prospects.
One of his assistant coaches on that trip was a local high school skipper -- Sierra's Jack Thomson, a soft-spoken man with a deep-rooted resume that screams success. Thomson has won 599 games, third-most in the Sac-Joaquin Section, according to Cal-Hi Sports.
"There's a great respect for the man. He has done some quality things at Sierra," said Henry, now in his first season as Oakdale's varsity coach. "It's always good to compete against teams and coaches like Thomson and Sierra. He's a very humble and reserved man; that's one of the first traits you get to know."
More than a decade later, Henry and Thomson find themselves together again on the diamond. Only this time, they stand in opposite dugouts, matching wits and exchanging lineups, rivals in a heated Valley Oak League title chase.
The Mustangs created separation with an 8-2 victory on Tuesday afternoon, protecting home field with displays of power and precision.
Dylan Wright homered and drove in three runs, giving starter Josh Garcia plenty of run support. Garcia allowed one earned run on six hits. He struck out four in six full innings, snapping the Timberwolves' three-game win streak.
Oakdale has won three straight and can match its season-best winning streak on Thursday in the series finale at Sierra. First pitch is 4 p.m.
The Mustangs (7-2, 12-9) are tied with Kimball (7-2, 13-8) atop the VOL standings, and the two will meet in the final week do the regular season. Sierra (5-3, 10-8), Manteca (5-4, 12-8-1) and East Union (4-4, 7-9) have fallen back, but remain in the hunt.
"This is a huge series," Henry said. "Realistically, every series from here on out has big implications as a varsity team looking to make a run into the playoffs. That's a big-picture thing, though. We're taking it one game at a time."
With Tuesday's win, the Mustangs kept history at bay.
Thomson has 599 career victories, including 364 as the only coach in Sierra's 23-year history. A large Sierra contingent followed the team to Oakdale hoping to witness another milestone in a career defined by excellence.
No. 600 will have to wait.
Thomson needs six more victories to pass Escalon's Bob Loureiro as the Stanislaus District's all-time winningest coach. Loureiro retired in 2004 with 604 wins. Guy Anderson is the state's all-time leader with 927 victories, his body of work over a 45-year career at Cordova in Rancho Cordova.
Henry is well aware of Thomson's pursuits, but his win count isn't a part of the conversation in the Mustangs' dugout.
With 12 juniors, one sophomore and very little experience back from last season's team, Henry has the Mustangs focused on the little things -- grinding out at-bats, executing from the mound, and winning innings, not games.
"We try not to focus on those types of things," Henry said of Thomson's pursuit of No. 600. "I know it's a big deal and I don't want to discredit what Sierra is working towards, but with this young group, if we take our focus off the approach ... when we start getting outside of ourselves and looking at too many big-picture things, it leaves room for error."
Few players have been as determined as senior outfielder/catcher Corey Hinojosa, who has raised his batting average by more than .250 points in the last three weeks.
A football player, Hinojosa battled lingering injuries and struggled to find his form.
Since going hitless in March (0 for 15) and landing on the bench, Hinojosa has hit safely in six of the last seven games and was 3 for 5 with two triples, three RBI and two runs in an 18-3 victory over Lathrop.
Hinojosa is hitting .290.
"He's put in the work," Henry said. "He took his lumps and sat for nearly three weeks until there another opportunity available to him. He has been on a tear the last three weeks and he's hitting almost .300. That's not easy to do when you've dug yourself into a hole."