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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

After Spring break, 6-12 Baseball seeks MWC crown

By Hayes Gardner

With a 6-12 overall record, it might not seem like the Grinnell baseball team is poised to win the Midwest Conference (MWC) title, but don’t be fooled.

The squad has challenged itself by playing against tough competition, especially in its games over spring break in Winter Haven, Florida. The men went 3-7 over eight days in Florida and while that hurt the Pioneers’ overall record, its dividends will hopefully pay off later in the year.

A Pionner batter waits for a pitch during practice. Photograph by Joey Brown

“We tried to improve the competition we play early and in the middle of the season so we’re better prepared in conference,” Head Coach Tim Hollibaugh said.

First baseman Ronnie Gray ’12 saw the benefit of hitting against tough pitching.

“It was good. It was really helpful,” he said. “It got us ready for conference and I think that really showed in our first game against Knox when we put up twenty-one runs.”

In that 21-8 victory at Knox College, Gray went 3-for-3 and scored four runs, raising his batting average to .322 on the year while Grinnell’s conference record improved to 1-0.

“Ronnie’s stepped up in terms of offensive production,” Hollibaugh said. “That has been a pleasant surprise.”

At the start of the year, three positions stood in question: first base, second base, and left field. Gray has locked up the first base spot, starting all 18 games there, but the other two positions are not quite as definite.

The second base spot is a battle between Matt Blumenreich ’13 and J.R. Dowrick ’15. In left field, Jackson Markey ’14 has started that last five games and is batting .350.

“Markey has stepped up and done a good job offensively,” Hollibaugh said.

And though the team has played 18 games, the lineup is not set in stone.

“I don’t know if everything’s completely settled at this point,” Hollibaugh said.

As a team, Grinnell is batting .252 on the year, well below last season’s average of .308. Hollibaugh sees this simply as a slow start.

“It’s taken awhile for our guys to adjust to game-pitching,” he said. “We have guys like [Rightfielder Matt] Skelly [’12] coming in from basketball who hasn’t had the reps. [Catcher Mike] Nodzenski [’12] didn’t start out hot, like we’d hoped and then we adjusted Drew Davis’ [’13] hitting mechanics. It’s kind of been a work in progress on offense.”

However, after the Pioneers hit .485 as a team against Knox in the first conference game, Gray sees the offense improving.

“I definitely think we’re going to start getting a lot hotter,” he said. “Lately we’ve been focusing on hitting, which has helped us a lot.”

Hollibaugh stressed the need for scoring runs game in and game out.

“Scoring twenty-one runs is great,” he said “We just have to work on a consistent approach that allows us to score runs consistently.”

The pitching staff also benefitted from competing against good hitters over spring break.

“For the most part, the hitters down there were definitely better than the hitters in Conference,” Left-handed pitcher Andrew Kelley ’14 said. “The better competition prepares us for facing the North half in the conference tournament.”

Thus far, the number one and two starting pitchers for Grinnell, Ben Pope ’12 and Will Pahos ’14 haven’t pitched as well as they did last year, but Hollibaugh doesn’t see any need for concern.

“I’d be surprised if they didn’t … start to shut down opponents more because they have the ability and both are experienced pitchers,” Hollibaugh said.

Their record might not reflect it, but this team is very much eyeing the MWC crown this year.

“This is one of the first years where we actually feel we should win it. As long as we put in the time during practice and play within ourselves, there’s really no reason why we shouldn’t,” Gray said.

“We have all the tools necessary,” Kelley said.

Hollibaugh looks forward to seeing how this team will play and improve throughout the rest of the year.

“We still have some things to figure out, which is exciting because we’ve yet to really play our best baseball. In each game we seem to get more comfortable and seem to gain a little more confidence in all phases of the game. But we’re definitely not there yet, which is good,” Hollibaugh said.

Grinnell will attempt to improve their conference record on Saturday, April 14 when the Pioneers play a doubleheader at Illinois College.

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