Jan. 12, 2001
PULLMAN, Wash. -- -
New Washington State University head baseball coach Tim Mooney doesn't pull any punches when talking about the Cougars' 2001 baseball season, which opens Jan. 25 at Cal State Northridge.
"The pitcher is involved in every play, so our pitching abilities are a major concern," says the 14-year coaching veteran from Albertson College, where his Coyote teams won 69 percent of their games and a NAIA Championship in 1998.
Mooney will mix together a team that includes 16 newcomers and 15 returning letterwinners. The returnees include talented Tyson Thompson, a junior right hander who started 14 games last season, along with seven other pitchers with letterwinning credentials.
In the field Mooney will begin with four starters back from last year's 20-36 squad. Evan Hecker, a junior, will anchor a solid outfield, while junior Bookie Gates and sophomore Stefan Bailie are versatile infielders who each can play more than one position. Gates started 51 games last year at second, but could also see duty at shortstop. Meanwhile Bailie, coming off a great freshman season that included 12 home runs and a .315 batting average, will work at both third and first. Last year he started 48 games at the hot corner.
Behind the plate WSU returns Jon Baeder, a sophomore who made 20 starts at catcher for the Cougs.
Mooney is just the fifth coach to guide Cougar baseball since 1927, a span of 75 years. The others were legends Buck Bailey, Jack Friel (better known for his many years as WSU's basketball coach) and Bobo Brayton, along with Steve Farrington, whom Mooney succeeded last summer.
Mooney's Cougar coaching staff includes Gary Picone, who handles the WSU pitchers, and Bobby Lee, responsible for the outfielders and catchers and who also helps Mooney with the hitters. Picone, most recently the athletic director at Lewis-Clark State College, was the LCSC pitching coach during their 1980's run to six NAIA championships. Lee, the head coach at the University of La Verne the past two years, was an All-Pac-10 North outfielder for the Cougars in 1991.
The new Cougar head coach is a realist, but he also believes WSU players of the future can and will enjoy both the traditions and the successes of the past.
"The foundation of WSU baseball is very strong," says Mooney. "Our goal is to build upon the strengths and traditions of over 100 years of Cougar Baseball. It is important we educate our players about the traditions and remind them every time they take the field they not only represent themselves and their families, but 100 years of past Cougars. Respect and tradition will continue to remain at the forefront of our program. We need all Cougs to continue to take ownership in the program."
WSU's strength, according to Mooney, will be a cadre of outfielders who can play solid defense and have the hitting skills needed to compete in the Pacific-10 Conference. "Our job is to make our pitchers more effective," offers Mooney. "We can get guys out, but it may be in different ways. It might take five pitchers to win a game. We don't have the guys who can just throw their hat out there and the game is over." The following is a positional rundown on the Cougars:
Pitchers: "One guy who has the tools and quality of pitches to win is Tyson Thompson, says Mooney. Zach Fisher and Nick Kenyon, a pair of right handers, plus lefties Tony Banaszak and Justin Cayetano, who both joined the program this year, should see a lot of action. Freshman Jamin Svendsen and veteran Lanakila Niles could be key players in relief, while a couple of young pitchers, Tony Aukland and James Freeman, will get a hard look from the Cougar coaches.
Catchers: Jon Baeder, who started 20 games last year, will be WSU's every day catcher. "Jon can't be comfortable and average, we need him to step up and take over and play like a senior, not a sophomore," says Mooney. Ryan Sullivan, a senior, and freshman Brandon Reddinger provide the depth.
Outfielders: "I like our outfield with respect to starters, experience and depth," offers Mooney. "This appears to be the strength of our club." Evan Hecker, who started 45 games last year, can expect to be back in the outfield and probably in the leadoff hitter position. Hecker and Justin Williams will probably patrol the center field area. A pair of transfers, Tyson Boston and Adrian Thomas, will also see lots of outfield duty. Boston enters the season in right because he has the defensive tools to play the tough right side in WSU's home park. Thomas and Mike Knight look solid in left, with Thomas the early leader because of his offensive skills.
First Base: One player who will get a hard look at first is last year's every day third baseman, Stefan Bailie. Freshman Scott Stockwell is WSU's best defensive player at first, but needs work on his offensive skills. If Bailie isn't at first, he's at third.
Second Base: The Cougars can go with last year's starter, Bookie Gates, or move him to short and go with Van Delos Santos, a transfer, who may be at his best at second. Three others who could step in are David Eno, Brent Robertson and Aaron Smith.
Shortstop: The front runner early looks like transfer Richard Hall, a fundamentally sound player who makes all the routine plays. Bookie Gates could move over from second, giving WSU a strong offensive player at short who is very athletic and can make the exceptional plays.
Third Base: WSU's best defensive player appears to be freshman Jamin Svendsen, but he has to beat out last year's starter, Stefan Bailie. Bailie's offensive skills guarantee him a spot in the lineup, at third or first. Tanner Kayler and Brent Robertson could also see some action at the corner.
Designated Hitter: "Wes Falkenborg is a strong candidate and Tanner Kahler is another player we will look at," says Mooney. "We have to have Stefan Bailie in the lineup, so when he's not at first or third, he will probably fill the DH role.
Season Goals: "My goal is to help this team play as well as possible," offers the WSU head coach. "We can't beat ourselves, so we have to be fundamentally sound. Our pitchers have to throw strikes, we have to throw and catch and run the bases properly, and that is where the coaches come in.
Pac-10: "Obviously this is a good league," states Mooney. "Pac-10 teams are always in the College World Series. You have to be able to pitch in this league in order to compete. The Pac-10 is arguably the best baseball conference in the country. I don't want to predict a winner or even who the top teams might be, having never previously competed in the league."