By MATTHEW SHERMAN
Over the years, Lake Oswego High School has become synonymous with athletic success. The school has churned out professional athletes and teams that always seem to be ranked near the top of the state.
But, prior to 2004, the school only had one state title in a true team sport as the 1990 boys soccer team tied for the championship. Lake Oswego boys had previously earned state titles in swimming, golf, tennis and cross country.
The 2004 Laker baseball team changed that, however. The team was arguably the most talented in school history but it was, inarguably, the hardest working.
'To win a state title, you've got to have talent and chemistry. And the thing about this group is that they were so intense during practice. If we'd lose a game you did not want to be the next team we'd play,' Laker coach Jake Ander said.
And, just over four years after hammering West Salem 9-1 at Volcanoes Stadium, a handful of those Lakers are still playing and having tremendous success at the collegiate level and beyond.
While every member of Lake Oswego's team contributed greatly to its historic season, the Lakers rode the arm of Mike Stutes all year and he capped his senior year with a one-hit gem in the state title game.
'Mike has that mental toughness and competitiveness that gives him a big edge,' Anders said.
Stutes went on to have a successful career at Oregon State University. He was drafted out of high school and after each college season he pitched, ultimately signing this spring with the Philadelphia Phillies' organization. Stutes was an 11th round pick and quickly went to work for its short season team in Williamsport.
In that time, Stutes went 2-1 with a 1.33 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 27 innings.
After his most recent start last Monday, which was another victory, Stutes came off the mound and was called over by his manager who told him that he was being promoted to the team's single-A team in Lakewood, N.J.
'It definitely came as a surprise. Things have been great so far. It's all I could hope for, Stutes said.
Since moving on to play professional baseball, Stutes has had to make a few adjustments. The most dramatic of which have been the rigorous schedule and the switch from facing aluminum bats to wood bats.
'It's a lot tougher physically and I'm learning to pitch to contact a little more than I'm used to,' Stutes said.
Stutes is also on a strict rotation, throwing every five days as minor league teams rarely have days off.
But, so far, Stutes has excelled in the latest stage of his career and hopes to continue rising through the Phillies' system and ultimately getting a chance to perform in the big leagues.
'It's a long path and I understand that. Hopefully I can keep throwing well this year and move up but it's definitely not bad to get paid to play baseball,' Stutes said.
During 2004, Lake Oswego's No. 2 pitcher was Bryce Mooney who saved his best performance for the team's second-round playoff game against top-ranked Churchill. Mooney was also an underrated hitter in his career with the Lakers.
Mooney started playing college ball at the University of Washington before transferring to be teammates with Stutes again at Oregon St. Having a familiar face on his team helped him make the transition.
But, early in his junior year, Mooney tweaked a muscle in his forearm which cost him nearly the entire season.
Since then Mooney has been rehabbing his arm and recently started throwing again. He expects to be 100% when the fall ball season begins in September.
'I'm feeling pretty good right now. The biggest jump I've made is in knowing how to pitch. Mentally I know who I am as a pitcher,' Mooney said.
While the Beavers lost a handful of valuable players, they should still field a very strong team next year and Mooney figures to be a key contributor. He will battle to make the team's starting rotation but, at this point in his career, he will be happy to help his team in any way he can.
'I don't really have a preference. I just was to get important outs and as long as we're winning I'm happy,' Mooney said.
Mooney has matured as a pitcher and his immediate goal is to help his team get back to Omaha. And, with a solid season, Mooney knows that getting drafted could be in his future as well.
'Bryce should definitely get a look. When he's on his stuff is just nasty,' Anders said.
Perhaps the player making the biggest jump from high school to college was Zach Mandelblatt. While he was a solid contributor for the Laker baseball team, he admitted he had a hole in his swing and was always lagging a bit due to playing basketball and getting a late start each season.
However, in college Mandelblatt decided to focus on baseball and worked diligently to improve his game.
'Zach worked harder than any guy I have ever coached. I would have to kick him out of the cages. He would constantly come up to me and ask me what he needed to do in order to play college baseball,' Anders said.
Mandelblatt improved his speed and, most dramatically, improved his swing to become an elite power hitter for Division II Pomona College in California.
Mandelblatt's college career got off to a fast start. He was named his conference's player of the year and continued his torrid pace to begin his junior campaign.
Pomona put together a 21-game win streak with Mandellblatt's help and he quickly became one of the top Division II prospects in the country. However, just days before a handful of scouts arrived to watch him play, Mandelblatt injured his wrist and will have surgery on it to repair the damage.
After the injury, his team finished below .500 for the remainder of the season.
But Mandelblatt is hardly discouraged and knows that his work ethic will help him regain his status quickly.
'There are some guys who are just naturals but if you have good hand-eye coordination and a good work ethic, you can fine tune your swing and become a pretty good player,' Anders said.
Mandelblatt hopes to enter next year as his team's No. 1 pitcher and as the most lethal bat in its line-up. With a little luck, those scouts will return and give Mandelblatt a chance to play professionally as well.
'Getting hurt made me realize not to take anything for granted. It would still be a dream of mine (to get drafted),' Mandelblatt said.
Match Lange entered the 2004 baseball season at Lake Oswego knowing he would likely be the ace of many high school team's staffs. But, with the Lakers he settled in as the team's No. 3 option on the mound and was a strong presence in its line-up.
But Anders always knew that Lange had the ability to succeed at the next level.
'I always told Match that he had long-term potential and that his best years were ahead of him,' Anders said.
After a few stops, including a stint with Mt. Hood Community College where he went 6-1, Lange found his way onto the University of Portland's team prior to the 2008 season and quickly established himself as a dominant force on the mound.
Lange was 3-5 with a team-low 2.85 ERA. He struck out 36 batters in 41 innings pitched.
Lange's tall and muscular frame makes him stand out to scouts who could very well take a long look at the hard-throwing righty.
To this day when people approach Anders and talk about the 2004 championship team, the player they bring up more than anyone else is Jordan Wlodarczyk. The affable slugger was one of the most clutch players in Anders' line-up.
'The guy could just flat-out hit. The bigger the situation the more he wanted to be at the plate,' Anders said.
Wlodarczyk's most memorable moment during the team's 2004 run came in the second round of the playoffs against Churchill. Trailing in the final inning, Churchill intentionally walked Stutes to get to Wlodarczyk.
'I remember looking over at Jordan and he was literally jumping up and down in the batter's box he wanted to hit so bad,' Anders said.
And he didn't disappoint. Wlodarczyk belted the first pitch he saw into the outfield for a game-winning double. Then, in the state title game, Wlodarczyk belted a mammoth home run to left field that took all of the wind out of West Salem's sails.
'That was it. Everyone in the stadium knew the game was over when he hit that bomb,' Anders said.
In college, Wlodarczyk transferred from Chapman to Lewis and Clark. And, in his first season this spring, he led the team in batting with a .389 average. He also had four home runs and led the team in slugging.
For his efforts, he was named to the first-team all-conference.
Also contributing for Lewis and Clark is a familiar face to Wlodarczyk in former Laker teammate Dan Meehan.
Meehan was another strong pitcher in Anders' program.
'He was our No. 1 guy his sophomore year and then he really didn't pitch much by his senior season but he came to practice every day and worked his butt off,' the coach said.
During his senior year, Meehan was one of the biggest leaders on his team and one of its biggest role models during practice.
In the state title game, Anders got all of his seniors in the game. Meehan pinch ran and ended up scoring from second base on a hit, setting off a celebration at home plate.
'All the seniors surrounded him because they knew how important he was to the team. It was a pretty special moment,' Anders said.
Meehan went on to pitch for Lewis and Clark. He transferred after three years at Trinity College where he played in the Division III World Series. Last season Meehan was 4-5 with 24 strikeouts while starting seven games for the Pioneers.