Area Colleges: CSR’s Harper has right stuff

In high school and college, the pitchers with the best stuff are often starters. That’s not necessar

In high school and college, the pitchers with the best stuff are often starters.

That’s not necessarily the case at The College of Saint Rose, where freshman pitcher Ryan Harper has excelled as the Golden Knights’ closer.

The 6-foot-4, 190-pound right-hander from Niskayuna High School owns the CSR single-season record for saves with nine. Although that may not sound like many, consider the fact that the Golden Knights used to play seven-inning games instead of nine-inning contests.

“Saves hadn’t been a big category in our program,” admitted CSR head coach Casey O’Connor. “We used to play seven-inning games, and now we play strictly nine innings. People don’t realize that we didn’t really have closers back then. Our best pitchers often pitched seven-inning complete games. Now, playing nine-inning games no matter what, it becomes more important to have a closer.”

O’Connor said he has been tempted to use the hard-throwing Harper in other roles.

“The hardest thing for me to do right now is to keep him as the closer. It’s hard to keep him in that role because he’s got electric stuff. “

Harper throws close to 90 miles per hour and so far has fanned 21 batters in 202⁄3 innings. He has walked seven and given up 23 hits. Although he has a 1-2 overall record and a 4.79 earned run average in 15 appearances overall, Harper has been much better in Northeast-10 competition, with a 3.12 ERA, five saves and a 1-1 record in six games.

“Ryan proved to us early that he is a guy who can go out on the mound and really show his composure. Regardless of the competition, he is very mature for a freshman. Going into the season, I didn’t project him as our closer, but when I saw his velocity on the radar gun, I knew he could get it done on the back end,” said O’Connor.

“Basically, he’s a closer, and that’s what he is. When he gets an opportunity, he usually nails it down. He’s a guy with great stuff — upper 80s with his fastball and a sharp slider. I’ve toyed with the idea of making him a starter, but he shortens the game for us. We just need to get to the eighth inning, and then we know we have a chance for a win. He’s not a guy who gets frustrated.”

It’s fitting that Harper’s favorite athlete is New York Yankees’ ace reliever Mariano Rivera.

“He’s been my favorite player since I began pitching,” Harper said. “I throw a fastball, curve ball and slider, but mostly a fastball and curve when I come in for just one inning. I do have a change-up, but I mostly use hard stuff in the last inning.”

Like many young pitchers, Harper has switched roles on the mound throughout his career.

“When I was younger, I was used as a closer quite a bit, and I got the nerves out on the mound. I became a starting pitcher in high school, but now I’m back to closing, and I feel comfortable in that role. I know the situation and the fact that the game is on my shoulders when I come in, but I just pitch in the moment.”

Harper, who lettered in bowling and football in addition to baseball at Niskayuna, said the biggest change between his roles as a starter or a reliever is how hard he throws the ball.

“It’s not a physical thing but rather a mental one,” he said. “I used to try and pace my arm when I was a starter, because I knew I was going to be in the game for a long time, but as a closer, I just throw it. I’m getting more strikeouts in college than I ever imagined, but I think it’s because I straightened out my mechanics with the help of coach Tim Christman. Now, I can throw 88-89 miles per hour, and they think I can throw it even harder over the next few years.

“In high school as a starter, I pitched to contact, but now I try to strike guys out.”

Harper, who didn’t move up to varsity until he was a senior at Niskayuna, was a late bloomer, according to O’Connor.

“He’s a kid who has really worked on his game,” the coach said. “Last fall, he came out as a walk-on. He probably threw 76 to 78 mph. He was a guy who we thought really couldn’t help us at that time, so we cut him. He worked hard with the long toss and came back here in the spring throwing more than 10 mph harder than he threw before. He’s also found a tough slider that guys just can’t hit. He has such an easy motion.”

A business administration major with an interest in sports management, Harper has become accustomed to waiting around for his chance to pitch.

“Sometimes, it gets difficult going a whole week without pitching, but I throw every day, and I usually run every day to keep my legs strong,” he said.

“When I do get my chance to pitch, I’m always ready. I’ve pitched in back-to-back double-headers and then closed the next day, as well. I can usually bounce back pretty quickly.”

Categories: College Sports

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