Grunenwald doubles down Horizon hitting award
At a time when baseball players for the Merrill and Tomahawk high school teams dream of games, MHS alumnus Alex Grunenwald has put together a couple of dream weeks.
Grunenwald has twice been named the Horizon League Batter of the Week in the early-going of this year’s spring campaign.
The redshirt senior first-baseman–playing his second season at the University of Illinois at Chicago–flexed his hitting muscles during the weeks of Feb. 18-24 and March 4-10.
In the latter two-game series with Purdue he hit 7-for-10 with 7 RBIs. Grunenwald drove in three runs with four hits in Friday’s 9-2 home-opener win. He went 3-for-5 with four RBIs in Saturday’s 17-10 loss, including his fourth home run of the year. The Boilermakers are the reigning Big 10 champions.
Alex crushed three homers on the way to seven RBI to help UIC take two games from Santa Clara in a three-game series on Feb. 22-23. Grunenwald homered twice in Friday’s 5-3 victory, and rapped a double in Saturday’s opening loss. He smacked a three-run homer in the first inning of Saturday’s twin, and ended up 2-for-6 with four RBI. UIC crushed 17 hits in the 15-8 triumph.
Grunenwald also singled to keep the Flames from getting no-hit by second-ranked Vanderbilt on March 1.
“It’s been a good opportunity,” Alex said. “I keep growing here as a player. I’ve got good players all around me. When your line-up is as deep as ours, you’ll see lots of pitches, and the last couple of weeks, I’ve taken advantage of them.
“I’ve been playing pretty well. I’m very comfortable after getting last year under my belt. I’ve taken on a little more of a leadership role and that’s a good thing.”
Grunenwald leads the team in slugging % (.561), RBIs (by 5 with 16) and home runs (4), as well as ranking second in batting average for starters (.316), but he’s not taking his strong start for granted.
“Baseball is one of those games where you’ve really got to take it one game at a time or you’ll get ahead of yourself,” Alex said. “But, yeah, I’ll try to keep it rolling and keep doing what I’m doing.”
Although, the Flames are getting their games in, the weather has been anything but balmy.
“It’s been freezing,” Alex said. “We’ve already had 3-4 games where it snowed. It reminds me of home, when we had snow in (an MHS) doubleheader with Rhinelander.
“We can play through it because we have the turf field. It’s something I’m used to because of playing in Merrill, but it’s definitely not fun.”
The negative of the turf field is playing in poor weather. But the positives are showing up when Alex fields his position.
“It’s going good,” he said. “Defense is always something I’ve been comfortable with. What makes it easy is playing on turf. You get a lot of true hops. I don’t have to deal with divots and bad hops a grass field gives you.”
The team is off to a 7-9 start, and was 2-1 in the Horizon League after Sunday’s 8-1 triumph over Youngstown State.
“Our team is heading in the right direction,” Grunenwald said. “We’re trying to get better every day. That’s what’s important.
“I think we’ll be really good. We have a lot of seniors, a lot of returning guys. Our entire offense is back. Our pitching has gotten a lot better. Hopefully, we’ll make regional and try to make some noise in the (NCAA Div. 1) tournament.”
Grunenwald made the Second Team and All-Newcomer teams for the Horizon League last year. He played two seasons for Chandler-Gilbert Community College.
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