Standard bearer


Zack Gronek was one of the top pitchers in the GLVC last season. Photo by B.A. Rupert

Zack Gronek hopes to parlay his team’s success as well as his own into a memorable 2012 season for the Miner baseball team.


Gronek set a school record with 10 wins last season. Photo by John Kean

Missouri S&T enjoyed perhaps its best baseball season in school history last spring, winning the Great Lakes Valley Conference’s West Division championship, playing in a conference tournament for the first time in 14 seasons and making its first NCAA Division II Tournament appearance since 1972 — and winning a game in the national tournament for the first time.
That win on May 19 came in large part due to a brilliant pitching performance by Gronek, a mechanical engineering senior from St. Charles, Mo., who emerged as one of the top pitchers in the GLVC during the 2011 campaign. Gronek shut out the University of Southern Indiana — the defending national champions — in a complete-game effort to cap an outstanding season on a personal level.

Gronek, who will be a senior lefthander for the Miners this spring, broke S&T’s single-season record for wins by going 10-1 with a 2.38 earned run average, while shouldering a big workload as he threw a school-record 87 innings during the season. He heads into the upcoming season with a chance to break Jeff Walters’ career mark of 19 wins and Andrew Page’s all-time strikeout record of 183.

While many may take a look at his numbers and accomplishments — first-team All-GLVC and second-team all-Midwest region included — and classify him as the “ace” of the Miner staff, Gronek hopes to add leadership to a solid group of pitchers.

“As a four-year senior, I feel like I have some responsibility to be a leader on this staff and help get us back to the post-season,” Gronek says. “As coach says, our team is built around defense and pitching and no one is handed a job on our staff. It’s a good thing to have multiple guys fighting for the spots.

“Every pitcher has the potential to be our so-called ‘ace’ and it makes it fun to be on a team surrounded by that much talent,” Gronek added. “But I would also add that our defense was a big part of the three shutouts our staff had last year. When you take the mound knowing you can trust the guys behind you as well as your catcher, pitching becomes that much easier.”

Gronek pitched like an ace on that May afternoon against Southern Indiana, outdueling USI’s All-America hurler, Trevor Leach, in the 2-0 Miner victory. Gronek struck out seven and allowed no more than one runner to reach base in any inning.

“Getting to match up against Leach in the regional was exciting because we had never been able to beat him,” Gronek says. “Everybody on our team was pumped up all week for that opportunity and we had a great team effort, which helped us accomplish our goal of a first-round win.”

The Miners’ pitching staff in 2011 posted one of the lowest team earned run averages in school history of 3.68 and played a huge role in the team’s success, which included school records for consecutive wins with 10, conference wins with 21 and overall wins with 30. The work of the pitching staff will be a huge factor this spring, as most of the staff returned intact as opposed to an everyday lineup that has to fill some vacancies to fill.

“I would like to end my career by not only going out with a bang, but also setting the standards for the program much higher than when I stepped foot on this campus,” Gronek says. “I feel as if we have the pieces in place to make this season a huge success and one to remember.”

By John Kean
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