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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)

Batesville, Louisville graduate Britton drafted by Blue Jays

BY STEVE KRAH

http://www.IndianaRBI.com

Zach Britton might have to wait to put on a uniform and stride to the plate in a professional baseball game for the first time.

But he is ready for that to happen.

Britton, a lefty-swinging outfielder/catcher at the University of Louisville, was selected Thursday, June 11 in the fifth round (No. 136 overall) of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays.

The 2017 Batesville (Ind.) High School graduate has two years of college eligibility remaining with a extra year being granted by the NCAA when the COVID-19 pandemic caused the 2020 season to be stopped in mid-March.

But he came out of high school with 21 college credits thanks to Advanced Placement classes, took summer classes prior to his first year at Louisville and during two collegiate summer league seasons (2018 with the Newport Gulls in Rhode Island and 2019 with the Orleans Firebirds on Cape Cod) and finished his Sport Administration degree this spring.

“I feel confident that I’m going to sign with the Blue Jays,” says Britton, who has been consulting with area scout Nate Murrie. “I’m excied to start my career with them.

“I’m a winner. I’m a guy who plays the game hard.”

With no live baseball at the moment and the 2020 Minor League Baseball season in doubt, Britton awaits his next move.

“It’s a waiting game,” says Britton, 21. “I’ll see what (the Blue Jays) tell me to do.”

Before the 2020 season was stopped, Britton was hitting .322 with one home runs, 12 runs batted in and an NCAA Division I-leading 12 doubles in 17 games (all starts) for a 13-4 team.

In what turned out to be the final game, left fielder Britton batted No. 3 and went 3-of-5 and plated three runs against Chicago State on March 11.

After the shutdown, Britton spent a few weeks training in Florida then came back to Batesville and has been there ever since.

Always a left-handed hitter since he began organized baseball at 5 or 6, Britton grew up big leaguers with lefty swings like Ken Griffey Jr., switch-hitter Chipper Jones and Chase Utley.

“I definitely watched those guys coming up,” says Britton. “I took pieces of their swing and tried to put it into mine.

“I like to think of myself as a professional hitter with a good approach. I like to use the whole field and hit the ball where it’s pitched. I’m not going for home runs and I’m never swinging out of my shoes. I take what the pitcher gives me and I know the situation.”

Britton played for head coach Dan McDonnell at Louisville.

“He’s a very intelligent baseball mind,” says Britton of McDonnell. “He knows what it takes to win. He knew what I had to do to get into pro ball and one day become a big leaguer. He helped me tremendously along the way.

“He taught us how to be professional on and off the field and to be accountable. He does a good job of running a team and a program.”

Eric Snider is the Cardinals hitting coach.

“We’ve worked together a lot the last few years,” says Britton of Snider. “He’s been a tremendous help to me.

“He’s always a guy I can talk to and learn from in terms of the swing.”

Britton played four varsity baseball season at Batesville — two for head coach Alex Davis and two for current Bulldogs head coach Justin Tucker

A 2017 Rawlings-Perfect Game Honorable Mention All-American and three-time all-conference selection, Britton hit .553 with six homers, 16 doubles, 27 RBIs and 41 runs scored as a Batesville senior.

Chosen as a catcher for the South in the 2017 Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association North/South All-Star Series, Britton did not play because he was already enrolled in summer school at Louisville.

He’s been mostly an outfielder in college. So where does he play as a pro?

“Wherever they want to develop me, I’ll be happy to do that,” says Britton.

After playing in local leagues, Britton began travel ball at age 10 with the Indiana Prospects. He was with the Indiana Nitro at 11 and 12 and then the Indiana Bulls from 13 until he went to college. Sean Laird and Dave Taylor were among his Bulls head coaches.

Zach is the son of Barry and Debbie Britton and has two older siblings. Half brother James  served in the U.S. Marines and played football at Franklin (Ind.) College. Half sister Devin played volleyball at Anderson (Ind.) University.

Zach Britton, a 2017 graduate of Batesville (Ind.) High School and 2020 graduate of the University of Louisville, was selected in the fifth round of the 2020 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. (University of Louisville Photo)