Basketball endeavor paying off for Grand Street’s Zuniga on diamond

Near the halfway mark to the regular season, Jose Zuniga is one of the city’s top pitchers. The Grand Street Campus right-hander is 4-0 with startling statistics: a 0.26 ERA, 50 strikeouts and one earned run allowed in 26 innings pitched, leading the Wolves to a 7-0 mark in Queens A West.

The impetus for this breakout season didn’t start on the mound or in the weight room. It was in the school’s gymnasium, on the basketball court, where Zuniga averaged more than seven points per game for the Brooklyn A West champion Wolves.

Thanks to his busy winter and a changed diet, the 5-foot-10 Zuniga dropped 30 pounds, down to 200 from 230. When there were no games or practices, he put on a heavy sweat suit and shot jumpers until he couldn’t lift his arms any longer.

“I don’t get tired anymore. I can go longer,” he said after picking up his fourth win in a 7-2 victory over Francis Lewis. “I could have [gone] another three innings probably.”

Said Grand Street coach Melvin Martinez: “He’s in better shape. That’s one of the biggest things.”

The seven innings he put forth were more than enough. Zuniga allowed just two hits – both in the Patriots’ two-run fourth inning – and struck out 12 in his 100-pitch gem. He fanned the side twice and retired 10 of the last 12 Patriots he faced. He worked ahead in the count, putting away the Patriots with a fastball in the low 80s and late-breaking curve.

“I kept thinking rock and fire,” he said.

Zuniga’s value to Grand Street goes beyond his right arm, his .400 average as the Wolves’ fifth-place hitter, six RBIs and eight runs scored. He is one of only four seniors on a club that starts four sophomores in its infield, and has a freshman in right field and another in center.

“He’s our leader,” Martinez said. “As he goes, we go.”

For the second straight year Zuniga has now beaten Lewis ace Jonathan Bobea, a hard-throwing right-hander some have considered the city’s best hurler. Martinez feels that title now belongs to his senior leader.

“The best in New York City, I’m telling you right now,” Martinez said. “Last year he threw a no-hitter against them. This year he proved it again, went the distance, didn’t waste any pitches.

“Last week, he said I’m ready,” the coach added. “That’s all he was thinking about, the Francis Lewis game. The great players want the rock when all eyes are watching the game. He strives for the limelight.”

Martinez wasn’t the only one impressed.

“He maintained his composure when things could’ve gotten away from him, he made quality pitches. That’s two years in a row he did a good job against us,” Lewis coach Ian Millman said. “He’s a consistent guy. He pounds the strike zone with two quality pitches.”