When they were standouts in the world of Harford County high school baseball, Kevin Mooney and Bobby Ruse were on teams that fought tooth and nail every time they met up. Things have changed now that the two are in college and share space on University of Maryland's pitching staff, which is helping propel the Terps through an historic NCAA Tournament run.
Ruse, a member of the undefeated 2010 C. Milton Wright team that captured a 3A state title, pitched the final 3-1/3 innings of UMD's 10-1 Sunday victory over South Carolina, which clinched the Terps their first ever NCAA Regional title, and advanced UMD to the Super Regional round. The previous evening, Mooney, the ace pitcher on the North Harford team that won back-to-back 3A North regional titles in 2011 and 2012, closed out the Terps' 4-3 defeat of South Carolina with 1-2/3 scoreless innings.
Ruse joined the UMD team in 2012 and Mooney took his spot on the staff the following season, marking the first time the two had played on the same team.
"We had not played together before I got here," Mooney said. "Obviously I was aware of Bobby, because we grew up playing in the same area, and we were on rival teams in high school."
Pitching mostly out of the bullpen this season, Ruse, a junior, and Mooney, a sophomore, saw their UMD team earn its first NCAA Tournament berth since 1971. Both hurlers said the three-game regional tournament stint in Columbia, S.C., which the Terps kicked off with a 4-3 win over Old Dominion on Friday, was one of the most intense experiences of their baseball careers.
"That was the most people I've ever played in front of, and the crowd was insane all three games," Ruse said. "With a crowd like that, you have to be careful to slow everything down, to not let the game speed up you, because it can get out of hand very quickly. I just went out and tried to execute, throw strikes, let the catcher do the hard work."
"I talked to my dad and the coaches before the game, and we went over slowing the game down and staying in control of it," Mooney said. "There was a huge crowd there every night, and not letting the crowd get to you is really important in games like that. I just went pitch by pitch and stuck to the game plan."
Mooney and Ruse, both top-of-the-rotation starters in high school, have made the switch to relief pitching in college. Mooney, the team's closer, picked up his 13th save of the season in Saturday's victory. Ruse came in before Mooney in that game and tossed one shutout inning. Coming from the bullpen has not changed either pitcher's approach, they said.
"My mentality is the same as it always has been, basically," Mooney said. "Whether you're starting the game or coming in late, you have to execute your pitches, have to throw strikes. There might be a little less room for error coming in with men on base, but you're still taking the same approach."
"There's really not much difference for me," Ruse said. "It doesn't matter if you're starting or relieving, you have to do the same thing, which is stay ahead of hitters and locate your pitches."
Both pitchers have had to refine and expand their repertoires while adapting to the college game.
"In high school, I was fastball and curveball, all the time," Ruse said. "When I first got here, the coaches told me I needed to work on an off-speed pitch, so I developed a changeup, and that's been my go-to pitch lately. In high school I could live on my fastball, but here you have to be able to throw your off-speed stuff for strikes. You have to be a pitcher, not a thrower."
"I threw a fastball, curve and changeup when I got here, but I've worked on a slider since then," Mooney said. "That's become a pretty good pitch for me. You have to mix it up a lot more, because the hitters here can get around on your fastball. In high school you could throw a fastball down the middle on a 2-0 count and maybe get it by the hitter. Here, you just can't do that."
The Terps next stop is Charlottesville, Va., where they will kick off the NCAA Super Regional Tournament on Saturday with a noon game against Virginia.