Wright State baseball: CJ grad Gongora living up to early-season hype

FAIRBORN — When Sebastian Gongora was pitching early this season, nobody had to look at the scoreboard to see how he was doing.

His body language told the whole story.

The Wright State ace got off to a sluggish start. He was rocked at Arkansas in a one-inning stint, and he never made it past the fifth in any of his first five outings.

“I just didn’t feel like myself out there. There were a couple things mechanically, and there also was (a problem with) the mental side. I wasn’t as confident as I should have been,” he said.

“But I really figured it out this year, and my presence on the mound has been a lot better. I realized if you move confidently and believe in yourself, you’re probably going to pitch like that.”

The redshirt sophomore from Chaminade Julienne — picked in the preseason by D1Baseball and Perfect Game USA as the top Major League prospect in the Horizon League — has had plenty of reasons to hold his high.

The 6-foot-5 lefty has a 9-1 record and a 2.87 earned-run average with 77 strikeouts in 78.1 innings.

He’s first in the league in wins and ERA.

He was 5-1 last year with 81 Ks in 82.2 innings, making the league all-freshman team.

Though he was never really a power pitcher, he found some extra zip on his fastball last winter, reaching 97 mph.

But he learned he needed to throttle back after having trouble locating the plate.

“His velocity was up, and he was losing command,” coach Alex Sogard said. “We tweaked with his mechanics. It’s a constant battle. That’s the way it is with a pitcher — even if you’re in the big leagues. You’re always changing some things.

“He gotten to a better place where he has his fastball command back and his change-up back.”

Gongora tossed eight scoreless innings against Oakland in late March, and he’s led a pitching resurgence that’s helped Wright State (35-20) seize its fifth straight HL regular-season title.

The opening tourney games are Wednesday at Nischwitz Stadium — fourth-seeded Youngstown State plays No. 5 Milwaukee at noon, and No. 3 Northern Kentucky faces No. 6 Purdue Fort Wayne at 4 p.m. — while the top-seeded Raiders play at 11 a.m. Thursday against the lowest remaining seed. No. 2 Oakland plays the highest remaining seed at 3 p.m. Thursday.

Gongora’s nine wins are three off the school record, and his 14 career victories are the most in a two-year span since Ryan Weiss went 17-3 in 2017-18.

“I think he really learned this year how to stay in ball games longer. Last year, he’d be cruising, and then he’d hit a wall in the fifth or sixth,” Sogard said.

“This year, he’s figured out ways to slow it down and get out of jams and give us valuable innings.”

Gongora pitched for a pair of state champions as a sophomore and junior at CJ. His senior year was cancelled by the pandemic, though, and he was scrambling to find a college.

He planned to enroll at Sinclair, but then the school dropped sports.

He had an early walk-on offer with the Raiders but had to check first to see if they still wanted him.

“It was two months until I needed to be on campus somewhere. I was like, ‘I have to find someplace to go to play college ball,’” he said.

“I texted coach (Nate) Metzger, ‘Do you guys have any spots? Is there any way I could possibly walk on?’ He said, ‘Yeah, you can definitely walk on, but you’re probably going to redshirt.’ That was good enough for me.”

He’s put on 35 pounds since high school and is a sturdy 220. And he’s done nothing this year to hurt his big-league prospects.

“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t think about that. It’s been my dream since I was 3 years old. Now, it’s right in front of me,” he said.

“But I’m just trying to stay the course. That’s really been my motto this year. I’m embracing the process and going about my business and not looking at the big picture.”

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