Doves' Gruzs minds the mound Western pitcher studies foes, then throws strikes

May 17, 1993|By Kevin Eck | Kevin Eck,Contributing Writer

From the moment an opposing hitter steps into the batter's box, Western pitcher Tracy Gruzs is thinking.

It may appear that Gruzs barely notices as the batter instinctively assumes her hitting stance and takes a few warm-up swings.

But Gruzs is paying attention to every detail as she processes the information in front of her.

"I watch how the hitter stands," said Gruzs, a senior. "I watch their warm-up swing. I find out their weakness and then I throw the ball where they can't hit it. The difference between being a pitcher and just throwing the ball is learning a batter's weakness and attacking it."

Given that criterion, Gruzs is a pitcher in the truest sense of the word.

She keeps batters off balance by setting them up with changeups and then finishing them off with fastballs on the corners.

"She's an excellent placement pitcher," Western assistant coach Shirley Williams said. "She can spot the ball and she can put movement on the ball. And that's more important than putting it past someone sometimes."

Said Gruzs: "I'm not overpowering or extremely fast. I'm more of a finesse pitcher."

Gruzs has finessed her way to a 12-1 record and a 0.13 ERA this season. She has given up just 24 hits -- only one for extra bases -- in 72 innings with seven walks and 116 strikeouts. Gruzs has pitched six one-hitters this season, three two-hitters and four three-hitters.

She has led the Doves to two consecutive City-Wide titles and will try to add a third when she pitches against Southern in tomorrow's championship game.

Not bad for someone who had no pitching experience prior to high school.

"I had played just about every position but pitcher," Gruzs said. "I had never even thought about it."

On the first day of practice during Gruzs' freshman year, Western coach Diane Lawton had everyone take a turn at pitching. It was a routine exercise to see if there was some untapped pitching talent on the team.

Gruzs impressed Lawton with her pitching accuracy and her knowledge of the game.

After pitching on a limited basis as a freshman, Gruzs attended one of Jack Crandell's pitching clinics during the fall of her sophomore year. It was through Crandell, who is regarded as the area's top pitching instructor, that Gruzs learned the art of pitching.

She went 26-2 during her sophomore and junior seasons, including a 4-0 record in the City-Wide playoffs.

"She's not like some kids that have been pitching since they were nine," Lawton said. "She's only been pitching since she was 15. She's worked very hard to develop herself to this point in three years. It's a real testimony to her work ethic."

That work ethic has made Gruzs a better hitter as well. She leads the Doves in hitting with a .522 average and is third on the team with 17 RBI.

"I've worked on my swing and stance a lot because I'm not the strongest hitter," Gruzs said. "I've adjusted. No matter what the pitcher throws I can react in time to hit the ball."

This season has presented some new challenges.

She has had to get used to working with a new catcher (sophomore Kim Aviles) this year after the graduation of Sonya Jones, and most of her teammates are underclassmen who never had played organized softball before high school.

"Tracy is just a rock out there," Lawton said. "She took the mantle of leadership and has been very patient and encouraging to her inexperienced teammates."

Gruzs, who carries a 4.0 grade-point average and is the school president of the National Honor Society, will continue her softball career at Gettysburg College. She plans to major in sports psychology.

How fitting for the pitcher who wins with her mind as much as her arm.

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