Hopewell Valley High School baseball coach Ken Harrison has only one expectation when senior pitcher Greg Gasparro is on the mound.
Gasparro, a hard-throwing lefthander, much more often than not rewards his coach’s confidence. Last year, Gasparro went 7-2 for Hopewell Valley and posted a microscopic 0.86 ERA. And following this season, he will head to the University of North Carolina Asheville and try to do more of the same for another group of Bulldogs. In November, Gasparro signed a national letter of intent to attend the Division I UNC Asheville on a scholarship.
“When I went to visit the campus, I thought I would fit in as soon as I got there,” said Gasparro, who considered more than a half-dozen colleges. “After discussing it with my parents, we thought it was the best option. It was so stressful in the summer [during the recruiting process]. Now the stress is gone and it’s just fun to play baseball.”
And while it is fun, winning is foremost on Gasparro’s mind.
“I hate losing,” said Gasparro, who when he’s not on the mound can be found in right field for Hopewell Valley. “Whatever we’ve got to do to get the win, we’ve got to do.”
His coach most admires Gasparro’s competitiveness.
“He wants to win and he wants to win bad,” said Harrison, who has followed Gasparro’s development since middle school. “He wants to be the best. When he’s on the mound, he wants to dominate. When he’s hitting, he’s got that swagger where you’re not going to get him out. I would take him in any clutch situation, either on the mound or hitting. He wants to be in that position. His competitiveness is second to none. Every time he pitches, I expect a win. That’s the bottom line. He’s that good.”
Gasparro has pitched throughout his baseball career, going back to the earliest days of Little League. At one point, though, he considered giving up pitching to focus on hitting. The decision not to, he says, paid off.
As a sophomore, Gasparro flourished in the role of the Bulldogs’ closer. Last year as a starter, he struck out 72 batters in 49 innings and allowed only 24 hits. His arsenal features a fastball in the mid- to upper 80s, sometimes hitting 90, as well as a curveball and changeup.
Gasparro spent time in the offseason playing American Legion ball and in showcases around the country. He also took pitching lessons and spent several days a week in the gym.
“It’s just about getting bigger and stronger,” Gasparro said. “Going to the gym and developing arm strength, but also improving your mechanics. Basically, it all comes together to create more velocity. Every day I was doing something to try to get better. That’s what it comes down to. It’s just about being consistent and throwing the ball where I want to.”
At the plate last season, Gasparro batted .395 with 21 runs scored and 19 RBI.
“He’s a very good all-around baseball player,” Harrison said. “He can run, he can steal bases, he can bunt. He can play any position in the outfield and he’s got a very good arm. As a batter, he’s probably going to bat top three in our lineup. I expect him to get on base and steal bases and drive in runs. He’s going to be kind of a catalyst for our offense as well. We’re very lucky to have him. He’s a great talent. He’s going to lead by his actions. He’ll speak up a little bit, but he’s going to do whatever is within his powers to help us win.”
Although Gasparro is a fine hitter, he will concentrate on pitching in college.
“The first couple calls I got from college coaches, they said I might be able to do both,” Gasparro said. “But after going to the tougher tournaments in Georgia and Florida last summer, I knew that I needed to focus on pitching because my hitting just wasn’t there at the moment.”
Hopewell Valley returns a number of starters from last year’s 19-7 squad. The Bulldogs will need to replace standout catcher Scott Bradley, who is now playing as a freshman at the University of Indiana, but Harrison and Gasparro are confident the team can put together another strong campaign.
“Our goal is to compete every day,” Harrison said. “If you’re competing, if you’re playing hard, if you’re playing tough, the wins and losses will take care of themselves. We expect to compete every year for a division title, a county title, a sectional title. We lost some guys that will tough to replace, but we have guys ready to step in. I expect us to be very competitive this year.”
Added Gasparro, “It’s just about getting your teammates to follow your lead. We’re all there for each other. As long as you’re up-tempo and keep the momentum going everything will be fine.”
With Gasparro leading the way on the mound, Hopewell Valley figures to be more than fine. After all, he has come a long way since Little League.
“Definitely a long way,” Gasparro said, laughing. “Back then I was just hoping to get the ball over the plate and get some outs. Now, it’s a lot more than just that.”