W.F. West High School baseball coach Tom Zuber strolled out to the mound, already knowing the answer to the question he was about to ask.
“I got nothing left,” fatigued senior pitcher Mitch Gueller said as he handed over the baseball.
Zuber knew why, too: The two had a conversation 30 minutes prior to the start of the Bearcats’ Class 2A state first-round game against Bellingham – one Gueller tried to fib his way through.
“Mitch was alone at the end of the bench,” Zuber said. “He was hunched over, head down. He looks up to me and told me he felt great.”
Feeling ill the entire week, Gueller said later he “kept getting worse as the week went on.” He pitched five innings in that game, however, allowing more than one run for the second time this season.
“He got right into the fetal position on the bench,” Zuber said. “I felt so bad for him.”
Gueller was down, but not done. With W.F. West trailing 4-2 in the final inning, the Bearcats loaded the bases – and had one final opportunity to extend their season.
They needed someone to get a clutch hit. Weak but willing, Gueller volunteered to pinch hit.
“I was actually feeling a little bit better simply because I just threw up,” said the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Gueller. “So I grabbed a bat.”
The Olympian’s 2012 All-Area baseball player of the year re-entered the game and hit a grand slam to win it, 6-4.
“The players were going crazy. Poor Mitch is just trying to get around the bases,” Zuber said. “When he reached home, the team is going nuts, but Mitch just goes right back to the bench and (lies) down.”
It was a fitting way to end a stellar high school sports career. Gueller, also a quarterback on the football team, guided W.F. West to its first appearance in the state semifinals last fall.
“It was a nice way to end high school,” said Gueller, who as a sophomore was the starter in the Bearcats’ 8-1 victory over R.A. Long in the 2010 state baseball title game. “I wish I felt better so I could have enjoyed it more.”
The Bearcats went on to lose, 1-0, in the 2A quarterfinals to eventual state runner-up Lynden. But the mark Gueller has left on W.F. West will be permanent.
“He’s the ultimate competitor,” Zuber said. “He’s the guy you want to go to war with.”
As a pitcher, he posted a 6-0 record this season with a 0.80 earned-run average – giving up five runs on 12 hits in 43 2/3 innings. He also posted two saves while striking out 70 and walking 22.
At the plate, he was equally impressive – a .323 batting average with five home runs and 19 RBI while drawing 29 walks.
“When he steps out onto the field, he throws harder than anyone else,” Zuber said. “He runs faster than anyone else and he hits better than anyone else. You combine that with how intelligent he is – intellectually he’s brilliant, he has a 3.96 GPA – with how hard he works and you’re talking about something really special.”
Where Gueller plays next remains in doubt – at least until Monday. He has signed a letter of intent to play baseball at Washington State but could forego that offer and sign a professional contract. He is projected to be a high choice in the MLB draft, which starts Monday.
Some experts have Gueller, a right-hander, slotted among the first-round picks as a pitcher.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Gueller said about the potential of being selected in the first round. “All of that is out of my control. I am just going to wait and see what happens and base my decision on that.”
THE OLYMPIAN’S ALL-AREA BASEBALL TEAM
PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Mitch Gueller, W.F. West, pitcher/outfielder, senior
Washington State signee was dominant on the mound, at the plate and in center field. He went 6-0 with a 0.80 ERA in 432/3 innings with 70 strikeouts. Also has power at the plate (five home runs), leading Bearcats to 2A state regional berth. Could be a first-round draft pick during the Major League Baseball first-year player draft Monday.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Lance Baker, North Thurston
Baker guided the Rams to a late-season surge, capturing their first district title since 2002.
P Trevor Houser, Olympia, senior
Bears ace went 3-0 and allowed six earned runs in eight appearances. Also threw his first-career no-hitter in 11-0 win over Central Kitsap.
P Kenzy Forler, Capital, senior
Forler was a big reason the Cougars earned a playoff berth after starting the season 2-8. Posted a 1.84 ERA, earning first-team all-3A Narrows League honors.
P Nick Mailhot, Northwest Christian, senior
Pacific 2B MVP went 3-1 on the mound with 64 strikeouts and held opposing hitters to a .158 batting average. Also batted .463 with 18 RBI and 19 stolen bases. Will play at Saint Martin’s.
C Matt Zeutenhorst, North Thurston, junior
A strong defensive player, Zeutenhorst helped carry the Rams to the program’s first district title in a decade.
INF Cabe Reiten, Olympia, senior
4A Narrows MVP and Gonzaga signee is one of the top defensive shortstops in the state. Batted .429 during league play as a leadoff hitter, helping the Bears to the 4A Narrows League title. Expected to be a high draft pick in the MLB first-year player draft Monday and Tuesday.
INF Rick Ahlf, Timberline, senior
The Blazers shortstop led the team in hits (27), batting average (.403) and was second in runs scored (19). Also will graduate as Timberline’s valedictorian.
INF Gabe Padukiewicz, Olympia, junior
Bears third baseman led team in almost every offensive category. Hit .426 with an on-base plus slugging percentage of 1.104. Struck out three times in 61 at-bats.
INF Spenser Dorsey, North Thurston, senior
Rams cleanup hitter and first baseman was a big bat in the lineup. Hit .394, tallying 26 hits and driving in 14 runs. Will play at Western Nevada.
OF Andrew Pullin, Centralia, senior
Oregon signee didn’t pitch as much this spring, but still was dangerous at the plate. Helped the Tigers get one win from a 2A state regional berth and could be a high pick in the Major League Baseball draft.
OF Tyler Ridgeway, North Thurston, junior
A first-team all-EvCo honoree at center field, Ridgeway showed off his arm strength multiple times this season, including a game-ending outfield assist to home plate to preserve the Rams’ 2A District IV title win. Also went 6-2 on the mound with a 1.81 ERA and 64 strikeouts.
OF Trace Florek, Yelm, sophomore
Helped the Tornados to a nine-win improvement from the 2011 season and a playoff berth at the 3A West Central/Southwest bi-district tournament. Hit a team-best .563 with nine doubles and stole 12 bases.
UT Ryan Tydingco, Timberline, senior
The 3A Narrows MVP did a little bit of everything for the Blazers – play right field, third base and pitch. Went 3-1 with two saves on the mound. Also batted .377, collected 24 hits and 20 RBI, leading Blazers to a second consecutive 3A state regional berth.