Longtime friends turn into Pac-10 rivals
Two years after leading LO to a state baseball championship, Mike Stutes and Bryce Mooney are now making their mark in the Pac-10 Conference
Mike Stutes and Bryce Mooney. Despite being a year apart in school, they've been good friends since they were 7 or 8 years old. When the Lake Oswego baseball team won the state championship two years ago, Stutes and Mooney were pictured standing together, holding the trophy aloft. It was a fitting moment since the Lakers would have been hard-pressed to win the state title without them.
They're still good friends after going their separate ways following high school. They've also become rivals, with Stutes playing a starring role for the Oregon State baseball team and Mooney looking to move into a starring role at the University of Washington next season.
It would have been nice for friends and family to see them remain teammates, which actually almost happened. Either way, it must be somewhat of a rarity to have two pitchers from the same high school team playing prominent roles in the Pac-10.
'I can't think of any other (high school) in Oregon that has that,' Stutes said.
'It says a lot about the (Lake Oswego) program,' Stutes continued. 'To have two guys from there starting in the Pac-10, (coach Jake) Anders must be doing something right.'
It also helps to have great talent, and Stutes and Mooney were two of the best in Oregon when they played in high school. In his senior year, the year Lake Oswego won the state title, Stutes was voted the state's player of the year while registering an 11-1 record with a 0.66 ERA. The following year, Mooney went 11-2 with a 1.22 ERA as the Lakers were one of the state's top-ranked teams heading into the playoffs.
During their championship run, Stutes won four of Lake Oswego's five playoff games, which included a first-round no-hitter against Wilson. Clearly, Stutes was the glue that held the Lakers together, but LO would not have won the title without Mooney's 2-1 victory over No. 1 Churchill in the second round.
To no one's surprise, both players received their share of scholarship offers. Stutes initially chose Santa Clara because he knew he could start there right away. Mooney then entertained an offer from Santa Clara while Stutes was playing there. Mooney also fielded an offer from Oregon State a short time before Stutes transferred there.
Mooney eventually signed with the University of Washington after the coach saw Mooney play in the Fall Classic in Arizona two years ago. It was at that event that Mooney's fastball was clocked at 90 miles per hour for the first time.
'It just happened that about 40 scouts were there,' Mooney said.
With that many scouts in attendance, the Washington coach figured he better sign Mooney before he got away.
'It was a very tough decision,' Mooney said. 'It came down to getting a good education and playing baseball right away. I'm very happy with my choice.'
While Mooney was tearing up the Three Rivers League during his final year in high school, Stutes was wondering whether he made the right choice by going to Santa Clara.
'I really liked being in California. I like the lifestyle down there,' Stutes said. '(But) the baseball wasn't what I was looking for … I didn't feel like I was getting any better. I almost feel like I was getting worse.'
Part of the problem was Santa Clara had changed pitching coaches after signing Stutes to a scholarship. The new coach promptly changed Stutes' mechanics and turned him into a less effective pitcher in the process.
'They had me going really slow and methodical … (But) it didn't work,' Stutes said. 'That's not how I got to where I was. I'm not 6-foot-4 or whatever, so I have to create my momentum somehow.'
It didn't help matters that Santa Clara barely won half of its games. Stutes was used to playing on teams that won all of the time.
'I have a hard time motivating myself to go out there when there's nothing on the line,' he said.
So, Stutes asked for his release from his Santa Clara scholarship. At first, the team's coach balked, then he spent two full weeks giving Stutes daily lectures about the merits of staying put.
'He was pretty angry about it,' Stutes said, but eventually the coach relented and signed Stutes' release.
That release came at about the same time Oregon State was hosting a four-team sub-regional tournament last year. Obviously, OSU coach Pat Casey had other things on his mind at the time, so LSU, Long Beach State and Texas Christian were the first schools to offer Stutes a new home. For a while, Stutes was leaning towards Long Beach, because 'they have pitchers drafted every year, so that just seemed like a really good fit,' Stutes said.
But Stutes knew many of the players on the Oregon State and had played against most of them in high school. The clincher came when OSU pitchers Jonah Nickerson and Kevin Gunderson called Stutes and almost begged him to play for the Beavers.
'They were saying things like, 'You're the missing piece. We need you here to have a chance at a national championship,' ' Stutes recalled.
'So that made it kind of easy,' he said.
Stutes wasted no time fitting in and almost immediately became the Beavers' No. 3 starting pitcher, behind Nickerson and Dallas Buck. Then, in a crucial, early May series against Washington, Stutes got his usual Sunday start and approximately five innings into the game, Mooney was called from the Huskies' bullpen to stop an OSU rally. For two innings that day, it was two Lake Oswego pitchers going at each other with neither willing to give an inch.
'It was me, Mike, me and Mike going back and forth,' said Mooney, who remembers being called a traitor by some of the OSU fans.
Oregon State wound up winning that series two games to one, thanks partly to Stutes' victory on Sunday. In the process, the Huskies were virtually eliminated from playoff contention.
'It was bitter losing that series,' Mooney said. 'If we had won, we had a chance to go to regionals.'
Entering his freshman season, Mooney wasn't sure what his role would be with the Huskies. It seemed like a major achievement when he made the traveling squad for a season-opening series at New Mexico State. But few people expected him to see any meaningful action that weekend.
Even Mooney's father, Bill, was shocked when he heard during a webcast of the first game that his son was called into the game to extinguish an Aggie rally. On his first pitch in college, Mooney was able induce a double-play groundball with the game tied. Mooney was in line to get a win in that game but the remainder of the Washington bullpen wound up blowing the lead and the game.
But two days later, Mooney got his first college win. He finished the season with a 4-3 record after appearing in almost one-half of his team's games. He was also second on the team in strikeouts, trailing only first-round draft pick Tim Lincecum.
While Mooney was getting his feet wet in college baseball, Stutes and the Beavers were working their way toward another appearance in the College World Series. Of course, every one in the state knows the Beavers won the championship. To make it happen, though, they needed stellar performances from just about every pitcher on the staff.
Stutes came up with a gem in a third-round game against Miami. He had a no-hitter going through five innings and finished with a three-hitter as the Beavers staved off elimination with a convincing victory.
'I just tried to treat it like any other game,' Stutes said. 'But everything I had been working for was leading up to that point.'
The reason Stutes went to OSU in the first place was to get a chance to pitch in big-time game, but he had never performed in front of that many people before.
'I had never thrown in front of 28,000 people,' Stutes said. 'Standing on the mound, I did a full 360 and said, 'Man, there are a lot of people here' … You've got to soak it all in. It's a once in a lifetime experience … So I wasn't stressing too much. I just wanted to go out there and have a good time.'
After winning the title, the Beavers lost a surprising number of players to the pros. But the cupboard will hardly be bare for next year. With Nickerson and Buck gone, Stutes figures to be the team's No. 1 starter next season and he fully expects the Beavers to make a run at another national title.
Regardless of how next season turns out, it's almost certain that Stutes will turn pro after his junior season.
'I'll sign this next year,' he said. 'That was my goal going into college, was to play for three years, get better and move on. The main goal is to get to the Major Leagues.'
Mooney, meanwhile, figures there's a decent chance that he will become Washington's No. 1 or No. 2 starter next year. The coach there has told him to be prepared to battle for one of those spots. If that happens, there's a chance that Stutes and Mooney will pitch a full game against each other next season. Then, it will be interesting to see who winds up with bragging rights.
'Well, I won't be losing to him,' said Stutes, who has never suffered from a lack of confidence. 'I'm not going to let it happen, because I don't to hear about it later.'