By Nick Corrigan
A team heading into a new season after losing 75 percent of the innings pitched the previous season isn’t always a recipe for success. However, when you have a quality group of incoming freshmen pitchers like the Johnnies do it can help alleviate some of those burning questions.
“Our pitching staff from the last two years set the bar pretty high,” Assistant Coach Jason Spohn said.
During the season-opening trip to Florida, seven freshmen pitchers stepped up and hurled quality innings on the mound for the Johnnies.
“I think the thing that has been most impressive is how the young guys have stepped up, especially on the mound. We had some great performances from freshmen pitchers down in Florida,” senior infielder Michael Gruber said.
The pitching staff allowed a modest 3.75 runs against a game which was more than enough with the Johnnie offense that also made the trip with.
The lineup from top-to-bottom blistered the baseball all week long resulting in an average of 11.25 runs per game. Six of the nine starters batted .300 or above. Altogether the Johnnies walked away from Florida with an impressive 7-1 record.
“I thought our guys played well. There are always things to improve upon but overall I think we had a very successful trip,” senior infielder Hunter Lindquist said.
One player in particular that garnered everyone’s attention was Gruber. When the week was all said and done he walked away with an astonishing .714 batting average in 28 at-bats. He managed to knock in 18 runs during the process as well.
“I think everyone was impressed with the week Gruber had,” Lindquist said.
A week like that is enough to gain MIAC Player of the Week honors, as it did for Gruber.
“It is always cool to be recognized for individual achievements. At the end of the day, it really comes down to me doing whatever I can to help our team be successful,” Gruber said.
Along with Gruber, senior pitcher/designated hitter Joey Stock was awarded MIAC Pitcher of the Week. He tossed four innings striking out nine while allowing only one earned run.
“Honestly, I was pretty surprised but it is a nice building block to go off of as the season is beginning,” Stock said. “There is an expectation that comes with that award, however, and I just need to stay focused and control what I can control and go from there.”
Not to be overlooked, senior outfielder Wyatt Ulrich broke the school’s all-time runs record during the trip. He now sits at 134 career runs scored.
What comes next for the Johnnies is another trip to warmer weather, this time to Arizona through March 21-24. Here they will look to see if the underclassmen can continue their success while the upperclassmen lead the way.
“Down in Arizona we will be looking for consistency,” Spohn said.
There is also one other thing the Johnnies will be looking for while down there, and that is the food. Well, at least for Gruber that is.
“Arizona is always one of my favorite trips. The weather is always amazing, not to mention eating at In-N-Out at least once a day,” Gruber said.
PHOTO COURTESY OF LIBBY AUGER