Good pitching is like money in the bank. It’s there when you need it, and it can carry you over the rough spots.
That’s the philosophy of Washington State University baseball coach Tim Mooney.
Last season, Mooney’s first at WSU, quality pitching was thin, particularly in the tough Pacific-10 Conference where teams typically play three games in three days. Too often, he was forced to remove his starting pitcher as early as the second, third, or fourth inning of a game and bring in a succession of other arms. That’s no way to succeed, he says. If a starting pitcher can go seven innings “that’s great,” and six innings is “good.”
Mooney has been around baseball enough to win 527 games and the 1998 NAIA World Series in 14 seasons at Albertson College in southern Idaho before coming to Washington State in 2000. He knows what it takes to win, and pitching is said to be “90 percent of baseball.” Lack of pitching depth proved to be the Cougars’ downfall last year. They went 15-39 overall. Their six wins—against 18 losses—in conference play, however, equaled the school’s best mark.
In preparing for the new season, Mooney’s number one recruiting priority was pitching. “We definitely made improvement there. That’s where we put our scholarships.” The Cougars added 22 new players—12 from the junior college ranks and 10 freshmen. Of that total, 10 are pitchers.
In a quick overview of his first Pac-10 season, Mooney notes that superior pitching carried Stanford and USC to the NCAA World Series.
“Good pitching gives you a chance to win. A pitcher shows up every pitch. You can’t hide him,” Mooney says. He and his staff looked for a pitcher who can control the pitch count…one who can throw three pitches for strikes. Eddie Bonine, a junior college transfer from Glendale, Arizona, fits the profile. Another transfer, Billy Gorrell from Oregon’s Treasure Valley Community, could become WSU’s long sought-after closer.
“We need players that can help us tomorrow in the Pac-10,” says Mooney. He predicts Josh Bartlome, Bryce Chamberlain, and Austin Harvie are “going to contribute as freshmen and be the starters of the future.
“We still need one more infielder n to step up and play good defense, specifically at third base.” Elsewhere, the infield is solid. Derek Bruce, a talented freshman from Lewiston, Idaho, is a good field, good hit shortstop. Versatile senior Bookie Gates (.327, 8 HR, 60 RBI) returns at second base. He can play third or shortstop as well.
While the Cougars lost All Pac-10 first baseman Stefan Bailey (.352, 18 HR, 56 RBI) to the pros after his sophomore season, Gates decided to stay.
“That was a real blessing for us,” Mooney says of Gates’s decision. “He’s a big part of our team. He brings leadership. He knows how the [Cougar baseball] system works…what we want. He sees a real value in finishing his degree. He wants to be a Cougar. He can play pro ball after this season.”
Mooney wants to keep Bruce and Gates in the middle infield with newcomer Steve Mortimer (Yakima Valley College) replacing Bailie at first. Catching is strong and deep with Jon Baeder (.266) and Brandon Reddinger (.344) returning. Garrett Alwert, Zach Fisher, Lanakila Niles, Nick Kenyon, Tony Banaszak, and Jamin Svendsen are returning pitchers.
“I think we have enough offense,” Mooney says. He’s counting on Wes Falkenborg (.333), sidelined last season after suffering a broken leg, as a designated hitter. He can provide the long ball. Mooney describes Tyson Boston (25 RBI) as a “three-tools player” with a strong arm, speed, and the ability to hit with power. But can he do it consistently?” the coach asks.
Boston should start in centerfield, with quick senior and leadoff hitter Evan Hecker (.321) moving to leftfield. Newcomer Jeremy Steve Farrar, junior college transfer from Mansfield, Texas, is slated for rightfield.
The Cougars’ goal is to get to the regional tournaments, which means winning non-conference games.
“Our players need to learn how to win,” says Mooney. “We need to win early and often.”