Athlete of the Week: Gruener's Complete Game Propels Baseball to Win Over Army
Last week, while most students were on break from school, the Harvard baseball team (5-7) traveled down to Florida to gear up for the Ivy League season and continue its non-conference schedule.
Despite the team finishing the trip with only three victories out of eight contests, junior pitcher Nick Gruener shone for the Crimson. He recorded 11 total strikeouts over his two outings, with seven against Florida and four against Army.
“Nick’s been having a great season, and it puts a little bit less pressure on the offense when you have a guy that’s pitching very well,” captain DJ Link said, “We’re extremely confident in all our guys going out there, but it lets everyone relax a little bit.”
Going into the second game of a double header in Gainesville, Harvard had already suffered two losses against the Gators (21-1) that weekend by a combined margin of 16 runs. Gruener’s mindset going into the final game against the SEC powerhouse was to do more than just pitch well.
“I had to think that I was the best pitcher out there,” Gruener said, “I couldn’t think ‘Oh my gosh these guys are so much better than me’ because ultimately that would lead to failure.”
Gruener threw seven innings against Florida, only allowing three runs. Considering that the Crimson had allowed 25 runs in the first two games of the series, and that the Gators score more than six runs per game on average, his performance was a boost for the Crimson.
He even managed to keep the Gators off the scoreboard until the seventh inning.
“They seemed like in that last game that they got their leadoff runner on, which is tough for a pitcher to pitch out of,” Link said. “I think Nick did a really good job of staying within himself and staying composed and not letting up too many runs when they’re getting their leadoff guy on.”
The Miami, Fla., native not only had to compete against Florida’s explosive offense, but also the arm of sophomore Alex Faedo. Faedo recorded 13 strikeouts and allowed only two hits in eight innings.
Gruener, however, matched him inning-for-inning for the majority of the game, which brought energy and confidence into Harvard’s dugout.
“Guys were really fired up. It was exciting that whole game because it was 0-0 against the best team in the country,” Gruener said.
Gruener’s strong performance brought excitement to the stands as well. Having attended Miami Palmetto High School, some of his friends came out to see their old classmate face the top-ranked team in the nation.
“I had 20 or 30 students from my high school, and they were crazy. They were down the right field line going nuts after every strikeout,” Gruener said.
The next week the Crimson would face off against Army (8-10), where the confidence gained from the Florida game fueled Gruener to another solid performance.
The right-hander threw four strikeouts while allowing just three runs, two earned, in nine innings. Gruener led Harvard to a 5-3 victory over the Black Knights, and in the process notched his second win of the year.
The righty went the distance for the Crimson in its final tilt with Army, scaering nine hits over his nine innings of work. The complete game is the third in his career and the first of the young season.
Gruener has been a regular starter for the Crimson ever since his freshman year in 2014. He pitched 83 innings over his first two seasons, only allowing four home runs in those first years.
But even after contributing his first two seasons with the squad, Gruener is having the best statistical campaign of his career to date. His 2.86 ERA is well below his career average of 4.82 and he’s sporting a 16-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio.
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