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2-run 9th sends GCU Club Baseball to NCBA DI World Series semifinals

Baseball vs Iowa
May 26, 2019

Macias’ 2nd RBI of game helps down top-seeded Iowa

By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director

(Photo Courtesy: Alex Johnson, GCU Club Baseball)

As easy – uh, make that difficult – as 1-2-3.

After breaking the tie in the top of the frame, the Grand Canyon University Club Baseball team needed an unconventional 1-2-3 double play with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning to shut down top seeded University of Iowa, 4-2, Sunday night at Ting Stadium in Holly Springs, North Carolina.  The win sends the fourth-seeded Lopes to the semifinals of the NCBA DI World Series for the second consecutive year, and drops the Hawkeyes to an elimination-round matchup Monday night against the team GCU defeated in the opening round, Florida State University.

After never trailing in a 9-0 shutout win over FSU Saturday morning, the Lopes spent much of Sunday playing from behind. The Lopes’ offense picked up in Sunday’s first inning where it left off Saturday, putting the first three men on to take the lead. GCU shortstop Taylor Brooks was hit by a Frankie Mauro pitch to lead off the inning, headed to second base on a David Macias single, and was cashed in on a Zach Broussely scorcher to the right field wall for an RBI double and a 1-0 GCU lead. However, the next three Lopes’ hitters were retired in order to prevent more damage, the offensive opportunities dried up for a few innings, and the man in charge wondered if GCU had given up their best chance for a rally.

“We talk all day long about what to do when you have less than two outs: hit a ground ball to shortstop or second base just to get that one guy from third base in,” Lopes’ Head Coach Rich Warnol said at the postgame press conference. “That was tough when we left those guys on. Their pitcher was just locating the ball well. Sometimes, a good pitcher beats a good offense, and we were getting beat for a while there.”

Mauro wouldn’t allow a Lopes’ runner to get past second base over the next five innings, which allowed his Hawkeye offense to battle back to take the lead – with some help. Lopes’ starting pitcher Matt McWilliams methodically retired the first eight Iowa hitters to face him, and got Brandon Schleder to hit a dribbler up the third base line that could’ve ended the third inning, but Macias’ throw to first was offline to keep things going. That momentarily rattled McWilliams, who he gave up the lead over the next three pitches, giving up a first-pitch single to Mark Primrose, hitting Jack Cappelli with the next pitch, then leaving the next one over the plate for Matt Shaver to send into left center field to score a pair of unearned runs and put GCU in its first deficit of the tournament at 2-1.

Like Mauro, though, McWilliams regained his form quickly in the next inning – by remembering what he was there to do.

“I always use my defense behind me, because I’m a ground-ball pitcher,” McWilliams said. “(Iowa’s) ‘claim to fame’ is the amount of left-handed hitters they have in their lineup. Any pitch that’s away from them? They were going to be rolling it over, and we were going to be using our defense nearly every play.  I’m not going to get many strikeouts, because we’re trying to feed them (pitches to hit for) ground balls.”

McWilliams performed as advertised after that, ringing up only a single strikeout, but allowing just three hits from then on – all singles – in battling his way into the ninth inning.

“He’s been a workhorse all year long,” said Warnol about McWilliams, who grew up just five hours southwest of the Iowa campus in Lees Summit, Missouri. “He was dealing from the first inning, and kept hitting his spots. He was only at about 75 pitches in the seventh inning, and everything just kept rolling until the ninth.”

Meanwhile, the Lopes’ offense was running out of chances until the error bug worked in their favor in the seventh. Shaver’s throwing error on Easton Babe’s grounder to short with two out chased Mauro, and the Lopes greeted a pair of relief pitchers with back-to-back singles from Brooks and Macias to score Babe and tie the game. That gave McWilliams a second wind as he retired the side in order in both the seventh and eithth innings to keep the game tied.

In the ninth, the Lopes didn’t let Iowa’s new reliever, Connor Young, get comfortable. Babe drew a one-out walk, headed to second base on a wild pitch, then Brooks followed Warnol’s earlier directive by grounding out to the right side to put Babe at third base with two out, opening the door for Macias.

“I was looking for a ball over the plate to hit and a good hitter’s count, and I got them in the seventh and in the ninth,” said Macias. “The pitcher gave me a curve ball over the plate, and I was able to hit it up the middle for a hit both times.”

The senior from Sunrise Mountain High School in Peoria took Young’s 2-1 pitch into center field, and Babe coasted home to break the tie. The Lopes added an insurance run two batters later when Reid Magnaghi beat out a slow chopper to the right of the mound, and Young’s throw went past first base to allow Macias to score from second for a 4-2 Lopes’ lead.

McWilliams took the hill for the bottom of the ninth with just 94 pitches under his belt, but had nothing left. A Joe Argo infield single and a hit batter put the tying runs on for Iowa with one out, and sent McWilliams to the showers. Lopes’ reliever Eli Graham came in for the second straight day, and added to the drama with a walk to load the bases with Schleder due up. Schleder fouled off a pair of 0-2 pitches, then hit a chopper back to the mound that Graham snatched, threw back to the plate to force the lead runner at home, and GCU catcher Malik Flores completed the 1-2-3 double play with a throw to first base to get Schleder and ice the 4-2 win.

McWilliams’ World Series debut was a banner one: 8 1/3 innings of five-hit ball without allowing an earned run in picking up his eighth win of the season without a loss. Graham – who Warnol confirmed again after the game will be the team’s Game 3 starter – picked up the save for the Lopes (19-3 overall).  Macias had three of GCU’s seven hits on the night, scoring once while racking up both the game-tying and game-winning runs batted in. Young gave up two hits, two walks, and two runs in just 2/3 of an inning to suffer the loss for the Hawkeyes (29-4 overall), which became the second straight No. 1 seed in as many years to lose to the Lopes in Round 2.

The fourth-seeded Lopes now get a day off to scout their next opponent as second-seeded Texas A&M University tries to avenge their first-round loss to upstart No. 7 seed Boston College in an elimination-round game Monday morning at 11:45 am to determine who moves on to face GCU in the semifinals.

Tuesday’s semifinal game will also be an 11:45 am (Arizona time) start, and a GCU win sends them straight to Thursday night’s championship game. For the first time in the 19-year history of the tournament, the NCBA will provide a live simulcast of each game on its Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/CollClubSportsRadioNetwork/?hc_ref=SEARCH), and live stats on its website (http://www.clubbaseball.org/world-series/).

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