Noah Fleischman, Sports Editor
Many elite Division I pitchers have been on the mound their entire lives from Little League to high school. But junior right-handed pitcher Connor Gillispie is an outlier.
“I played mostly shortstop and corner growing up, but then my junior year I popped on the mound and I was throwing 90 [miles an hour],” Gillispie said. “So I was like screw it, I’ll be a pitcher.”
The Earlysville, Virginia, native boasted a 0.66 ERA his senior year at Miller School. That season, he logged 56 strikeouts and only walked 10. Gillispie’s impressive numbers earned him the Virginia Independent Conference Player of the Year after his senior campaign.
In his freshman season wearing black and gold, Gillispie posted 38 strikeouts and walked 19 batters in 12 appearances.
“Always had a good arm,” coach Shawn Stiffler said. “As a freshman [he] had high strikeout numbers, but he was kind of like a walk-the-bases-loaded, strike-them-out type of guy.”
When Gillispie took the mound his sophomore year, he turned a lot of heads.
“He’s just grown each year,” Stiffler said. “He had a solid freshman year. Then he came in as a sophomore, and I think surprised some people.”
That season, he logged 18 starts, striking out 97 and only walking 20 batters. Gillispie watched his ERA fall from 4.31 his freshman year to 2.57 his sophomore year.
But Gillispie did not sit back after a productive sophomore season, Stiffler said. He worked even harder.
“And now he made another jump from pretty good to really good … Those are the toughest jumps to make,” Stiffler said. “He’s continued to evolve, he’s continued to push himself. He’s continued to push his command and make his pitches better. He’s very faithful to his work.”
This season, Gillispie has recorded 77 strikeouts — best in the Atlantic 10 — and walked 14 batters. His ERA fell again, this time to 1.92.
Stiffler credited the improvement over the past two seasons to Gillispie’s addition of a slider to his repertoire, as well as his relationship with pitching coach Mike McRae.
“To me, it’s been the biggest jump for him,” Stiffler said. “His command has gotten better. He’s on a great page with McRae; they have a great understanding with each other. It’s just really taken off since their relationship started, Connor [Gillispie] has taken off and gotten better each week of the season.”
McRae arrived in Richmond before last season, and Gillispie has drastically improved since.
Gillispie has become comfortable with his slider, using it to his advantage and racking up strikeouts.
“I think the biggest thing for me is my slider command,” Gillispie said. “I can pretty much throw it whenever I want, it’s a tough pitch to hit and not a lot of people want to hit that. So, it’s easy to get ahead with that and I put a lot people away with it.”
Gillispie leads the country in starts with 14 this season.
“Connor [Gillispie] wants the baseball,” Stiffler said. “He’s extremely competitive. And to have a guy that you know wants to take it every opportunity he can is a nice feeling as a head coach.”