Winona State junior honored for play
Mueller named co-Most Outstanding Player of tournament
CARY, N.C. --- Tony Mueller wasn’t on the winning end of the NCAA Division II national championship game on Saturday afternoon, but there is no question of whether the Winona State star’s efforts here in North Carolina were noticed.
Mueller racked up nine hits this week, including three in a 12-2 loss to West Florida in the title game, and also finished with four RBIs and earned the win on the mound in the tourney opener against No. 3 Central Missouri last week.
It wasn’t easy for the junior centerfielder/pitcher to walk off the field at the USA Baseball National Training Complex dealing the pain of a loss, but he was honored to be named the co-Most Outstanding Player of the tournament.
“I was sort of surprised I got it,” Mueller said. “You don’t see that happen too much at a championship event. It’s a big honor for me and for the school.”
Mueller tried to lead the No. 16 Warriors (42-18) to one more win on Saturday, but despite leading off the game with a hit, he and his teammates had no luck rattling the fourth-ranked Argonauts (52-9) in the first national championship game appearance for both teams.
Despite falling short of a title, Mueller was pleased that he helped take the Warriors to the brink of greatness. It is what he dreamed about when he signed on with Winona State.
“This is why I came to school here. I wanted to play for a national championship,” Mueller said. “It feels good to be able to play so well on a big stage and this experience is something we can all learn from.”
Mueller came into this game hitting .388 on the season. He had racked up 81 hits, including 14 for extra-bases, and also had knocked in 33 runs.
He was one of the reasons the Warriors were able to overcome a third-place finish in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference and make a run at the title.
Winona State head coach Kyle Poock always believed Mueller was going to be a standout player. He feels fortunate that he was able to bring him to Winona State.
“He is a gamer,” Poock said. “When I recruited him, we talked about getting to the national tournament. He has brought everyone else up to his level and I think the Division I schools in our area missed out on him. I am not sure what they were thinking when they passed on him.”
Mueller was confident the Warriors could make a run at the title. And while there were moments of disappointment, including a couple of losing streaks and the inability to win the conference tournament, the Warriors took their play up a notch in the postseason.
Two of their three wins here in North Carolina came against No. 3 Central Missouri and No. 2 Mount Olive. A 7-5 victory against Southern Connecticut punched their ticket to the national final.
“Early on in the year, we saw sparks of where we could be as a team,” Mueller said. “We picked up our play in the postseason and really played well this week. We just didn’t have our best game today.”
Still, the experience he gained from this week is something that will benefit him down the road, whether it be in his senior year at Winona State or at the next level.
“I gained a lot of confidence this week,” Mueller said. “I was able to prove that I could play at this level and we made a name for Winona State. It was a great experience and I’ll definitely learn from it.”
Poock doesn’t expect to have Mueller back next season, although he knew that was a possibility when he first recruited him.
‘I knew I was probably only going to have him for three years, but that was a risk I was willing to take,” Poock said. “There is a good chance he is going to be drafted. If he does, he has to go and play. He can’t pass that up. But our program is set up where we will reload and be ready to contend for a trip back here next season.”