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Rebound season cut short for USC lefty Gursky

By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Brian Gursky’s bounce-back baseball season was getting rave reviews when the curtain came down much sooner than expected.

A left-handed pitcher at the University of Southern California, the Indiana native started against visiting Xavier University on Wednesday, March 11.

Gursky recalls the unusual atmosphere when he took the mound at Dedeaux Field.

“Only essential personnel were allowed in the stands,” says Gursky. “It was like a travel ball game. Only parents were there.”

Gursky tossed the first two innings, facing eight batters with three strikeouts and yielding one hit as the first of seven USC pitchers.

“The next day I wake up and my phone is blowing up,” says Gursky of what turned out to be a COVID-19 pandemic shutdown. 

Thinking the situation would blow over, he spent about a week at his uncle’s house in Orange County then came home to Granger, Ind.

“I had not been in Indiana in March in years,” says Gursky. “We were having a great start to the year then comes the sad news. We worked so hard in the fall.”

The Trojans were 10-5 when the 2020 slate was halted. Southpaw Gursky was 1-1 in four appearances (three starts) with a 0.00 earned run average. He fanned 12 and walked three in 12 innings. Opponents hit .105 against him. On March 3, he pitched the first six innings against UC Irvine and held the Anteaters hitless with seven strikeouts.

USC coaches talked about placing Gursky in the Cape Cod Baseball League in the summer. But that league canceled its season and with all the uncertainty, Gursky opted to take 15 weeks away from throwing and reported to USC this fall fully-refreshed. 

An online accounting class taken this summer will help Gursky on his path to graduating with a Business Administration degree next spring.

Gursky played three seasons for head coach John Gumpf at South Bend St. Joseph High School (2014-16).

“That was a fun time,” says Gursky of his days with the Indians. “I have a lot of great teammates.”

Some of Gursky’s pals were Danny Torres, Tony Carmola, J.R. Haley and Carlos Matovina.

In his senior year (2017), Gursky played for former major leaguer Chris Sabo at a IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Gursky enjoyed a solid inaugral campaign at USC in 2018, but struggled in 2019.

“I had a good freshmen year and a disaster of a sophomore year,” says Gursky. “I was in a bad place.”

Playing for then-Trojans head coach Dan Hubbs, Gursky made 22 appearances (two starts) as a freshman, going 3-1 with a 4.93 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 34 2/3 innings.

His second college appearance was at Cal State Long Beach’s Blair Field, where played for the Brewers in the 2015 underclass Area Code Games and was named to the upperclass game in 2016 but did not play because of a forearm injury.

As a sophomore, Gursky got into 12 games (five starts) and was 0-1 with a 9.82 ERA. He struck out 18 in 22 innings.

“I thank (Hubbs) so much for getting to come to the school of my choice,” says Gursky.

In the summer of 2019, the lefty played for the Newport (R.I.) Gulls of the New England Collegiate Baseball League, where Kevin Winterrowd was the manager and pitching coach.

“I was kind of inconsistent,” says Gursky. “I working on stuff at the same time I was competing and trying to win games.

“But that was a the beginning of the turnaround. It set up a good fall and spring.”

Back in Los Angeles, Gursky had a new head coach (Jason Gill) and pitching coach (Ted Silva) in the fall of 2019.

“(Gill) has continuous energy,” says Gursky. “We all love playing for him. We feed off that energy.

“(Silva) helped me out. He saw something in me. He’s straight forward like Sabo.”

Gursky appreciates the approach of Sabo, the former Cincinnati Reds third baseman and current University of Akron head coach.

“He never sugar coated anything,” says Gursky. “He was a great guy to talk with in general.”

Another ex-big leaguer — Steve Frey — was the IMG Academy pitching coach.

“He was great communicator,” says Gursky of Frey. “We connected very well. 

“We’re both lefties  so we felt the same way.”

Back in northern Indiana, Gursky has gotten pitching pointers from Curt Hasler, who pitched for the 1988 South Bend White Sox and is now the bullpen coach for the Chicago White Sox. Son Drew Hasler has pitched in the White Sox system.

“He’s great with the mental game,” says Gursky of Curt Hasler. “I like that he’s been around guys who’ve pitched at the highest level possible.”

A 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who played basketball through his freshmen year at St. Joseph describes his aggressive athletic mindset.

“I’m an attacker,” says Gursky. “Either I’m attacking the basket or attacking the strike zone.”

Delivering the baseball with a three quarter-plus arm slot, Gursky throws a four-seam fastball, two-seam fastball, change-up and curveball.

His four-seamer has a high spin rate and occasionally touched 94 mph in the spring.

His two-seamer sinks and run and was usually 88 to 91 mph.

“My change-up is very slow,” says Gursky of a pitch clocked at 76 to 78 mph. “It’s been my main strikeout pitch the last two years. 

“I grip it petty deep and pretty hard. It’s not in my palm.”

His sweeping curve comes in 79 to 82 mph and breaks left to right — away from left-handed batters and into righties.

Born in Bloomington, Ind., Gursky moved to Granger at 5 and attended Saint Pius X Catholic School. His first baseball experience came at 10 or 11 at Harris Township Cal Ripken.

He played for Rob Coffel with the Michiana Scrappers at 12U and for Ray Torres (father of Danny) with the South Bend Rays at 13U.

After that, Gursky was with a number of travel teams around the country.  Locally, he did a couple stints with the South Bend Cubs and manager Mark Haley (father of J.R.). 

“He knows the bigger picture,” says Gursky of Mark Haley, who played at the University of Nebraska, coached at the University of Tennessee and was a manager in professional baseball for 12 years, including 10 with the South Bend Silver Hawks (2005-14) before becoming general manager of the 1st Source Bank Performance Center and executive director of the South Bend Cubs Foundation. “He’s big on development.”

Gursky’s grandfather, Will Perry, was a pitcher at the University of Michigan. A broken leg suffered in a car accident kept him from a starting role with the 1953 national champions. He was later sports information director and assistant athletic director for the Wolverines.

Uncle Steve Perry played baseball at Michigan and was selected in the first round of the 1979 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 6-foot-5 right-hander advanced to Triple-A in 1983 and 1984.

“He taught things when I was younger,” says Gursky. “Now I get what he was saying.

“When you have a growth mentality, you take what other people are saying and apply it to yourself.”

Perry was one of three first-round draft picks for Michigan in 1979. Outfielder/first baseman Rick Leach and left-handed pitcher Steve Howe both went on to play in the majors. 

University of Notre Dame employees Matt and Susan Gursky have three children — Elena (24), Brian (22) and Natalie (18). Westland, Mich., native Matt Gursky is a mathematics professor. Ann Arbor, Mich., native Susan Gursky is a pre-medicine advisor. Elena Gursky played softball at St. Joe. Natalie Gursky is an equestrian.

Brian Gursky pitches for the University of Southern California.
Brian Gursky, an Indiana native who played high school baseball at South Bend (Ind.) St. Joseph High School and IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., has pitched for three seasons at the University of Southern California. (USC Photo)

From San Juan Capistrano to Valpo, Ferketic enjoys baseball odyssey

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By STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Trey Ferketic was with his third college baseball program — all in California — when he tore the labrum in his pitching shoulder.

Three screws were inserted in that right shoulder, the one that helped him make high-speed deliveries for JSerra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Cal State Long Beach and the University California San Diego.

The very first intrasquad scrimmage in late September at UCSD, Ferketic tore the labrum.

There were doubts about his ability to bounce back.

“Coaches and teammates told me I’d never pitch again,” says Ferketic. “I wanted to prove it to myself and anyone else that I could.”

Ferketic pitched in four games and worked 3 2/3 innings for UCSD in 2016, but the pain was just too great and he was shut down.

Thinking he had played his last, Ferketic finished his communications degree at the NCAA Division II school in the La Jolla neighborhood of San Diego.

There was a sense of closure.

But rehabbing the injury, Ferketic got the idea he could still pitch and he wanted to do it at the Division I level — like he had in 2015 with the “Dirtbags” of Long Beach, where he made six appearances for 9 1/3 innings.

So he appealed to the NCAA to give him back a year of eligibility, claiming a medical hardship.

He was turned down the first time.

On the second try, he provided more information.

A lot more information.

Ferketic turned in more than 60 pages of paperwork.

“It was super extensive,” says Ferketic, who had to submit all his academic records from all his college stops, including summer classes taken elsewhere, and all his medical records. “It was a ton of work.”

This time, he was granted another year. He reached out to some of his connections. He had been recruited by Valparaiso University coming out of junior college ball at Saddleback and that’s where he decided his baseball odyssey would take him next.

“After I got my shoulder surgery, I wanted to play somewhere and I thought it be awesome to come out here and play in front of some new eyes and come to all these new states, new teams and places I’d never heard of,” says Ferketic. “That’s why I chose to come out here.”

Alerted to Ferketic’s availability by cousin and Next College Student Athlete representative Jim Sak, Valparaiso head coach Brian Schmack liked what he saw in bullpen session videos so he brought the Californian to northwest Indiana.

“He knows how to handle his business,” says Schmack of the graduate student. “He shows the younger guys how it’s supposed to be.

“We brought him out here to pitch. He gives us a chance every time.”

Ferketic, who is in the starting rotation for the Crusaders, is not the first graduate transfer for the Crusaders. In fact, he is not the only one on the 2018 squad. There’s catcher-infielder Zack Leone, of Pelham Manor, N.Y.

In 2013, Valpo brought in former Cal State Northridge right-hander Chris DeBoo as a grad transfer.

“He was a mature guy and he knew what it took to be successful,” says Schmack.

Valpo has been very successful in luring California players to play in Indiana.

“We’ve got enough connections out there where we’re getting referrals and maybe a couple of kids from the same high school,” says Schmack. It’s a word-of-mouth type of thing.

“Our thought is to go where the players are. We wanted to find guys who were driven to play baseball and we’ve found a niche out there.

“There’s some kids that say ‘I’m never leaving the state of California.’ There’s other that say ‘I want something new.’ Those guys are really accepting of what we have.”

Ferketic is one of 11 players with California hometowns on the roster. The others are redshirt junior infielder-outfielder Blake Billinger, sophomore outfielder Riley Dent, senior outfielder Giovanni Garbella, sophomore right-hander Michael Hardtke, sophomore right-hander Garrett Hill, senior infielder Chad Jacob, sophomore right-hander Jake Larson, junior left-hander Josh Leaverton, junior right-hander Montana Quigley and junior infielder Sam Shaikin.

There’s also two from Arizona — senior infielder-outfielder Jayden Eggiman and sophomore right-hander Easton Rhodehouse.

Ferketic has enjoyed the transition.

“It’s been awesome out here in the Midwest,” says Ferketic. “What sticks out to me is the seasons. In California, we don’t have seasons at all.

“Pitching in 35 degrees, snow and rain has been crazy. I have more respect now for this part of the country for people who have to grind through that. It’s been cool to experience that.”

Another thing is the different styles of baseball.

“On the West Coast, there’s a lot of ‘small ball’ and playing for one run. It’s pitching- and defense-dominated,” says Ferketic. “Out here, these guys swing for the fences. There’s home runs almost every game.”

Sometimes the wind blowing out favors Valpo and other times it works to the advantage of the opponent.

“You’d like to think it evens out over the course of the year — at least you want to believe that,” says Ferketic.

He expresses appreciation for what Valpo coaches — Schmack, full-time assistants Ben Wolgamot and Nic Mishler and volunteer Kory Winter — have done for him.

“They have a lot of trust in their players,” says Ferketic. “It’s a lot easier to play and it takes a lot of pressure off, knowing the coach believes in you and wants you to succeed.”

A focus on the mechanical side has been keeping him directional rather than rotational (with his shoulder flying open).

“I’m a sinker guy and I play off movement,” says Ferketic. “I need to be linear or it goes where I don’t want it to go. I need to have that downhill plane.

“It’s been an awesome experience.”

As a graduate student, Ferketic is working toward a masters degree in sports administration and will likely finish in December.

He chose that route to stay closer to athletics and can see himself running a training facility, scouting program or sporting goods operation.

But he’s still a player right now and he’s soaking that up.

“I would love to play more baseball,” says Ferketic. “I can’t imagine hanging them up. It’s going to be a sad day when I do.

“But I don’t know what my shoulder’s got left. I really don’t. It’s kind of on borrowed time.”

Valpo (18-32) is seeded No. 7 in the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in Dallas and plays No. 2 seed Dallas Baptist Wednesday, May 23. The event continues through Saturday, May 26. The winner earns an NCAA tournament berth.

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Valparaiso University’s Trey Ferketic delivers a pitcher in 2018. He is a graduate transfer from California in his only season with the Crusaders. (Valparaiso University Sports Media Relations Photo)

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Trey Ferketic pitched for JSerra Catholic High School, Saddleback College, Cal State Long Beach and the University California San Diego before landing with Valparaiso (Ind.) Universty in 2018. (Valparaiso University Sports Media Relations Photo)

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Trey Ferketic wanted to make his comeback from shoulder surgery at the NCAA Division I level and the California native decided to do it in the Midwest with Valparaiso University. (Valparaiso University Sports Media Relations Photo)