3rd-place finish in nation has Lopes enjoying looking ahead as much as looking back
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
“We knew the whole time that we could make it that far.”
If you didn’t know better, that statement from Zach Broussely, star first baseman of the Grand Canyon University Club Baseball team, could easily be branded as hubris. Considering that Broussely helped the Lopes win their first-ever National Club Baseball Association (NCBA) Southern Pacific (SoPac) Region title and earn a 3rd-place finish at the NCBA Division I World Series within the last two months, you could argue that the 1st Team All-SoPac Region selection was just feeling his oats by saying that. However, Broussely may have a loud bat, but a soft-spoken demeanor. His comment was something his entire team had been quietly saying for months, and that quiet confidence didn’t prevent him from gushing about the experience of being part of the first Lopes’ Club Baseball team ever to reach the national tournament.
“Just the fact that we got there,” remarked Broussely when asked about what stood out about getting to the World Series. “It was our goal the whole year, but just even getting there was pretty spectacular and surreal. It’s just different once you actually get there. It was just an overall great experience.”
The Lopes’ skeptics were there all season. Their second-place finish in the SoPac South Conference and a lack of postseason play in 2017 didn’t have many choosing the Lopes to be a deep postseason team for 2018. A 13-2 regular season earned them the conference title in April, but not a top seed (out of four) in the region tournament in May. Even after overcoming that to win the region title (and eliminating the No. 3 team in the nation at that time, California State University-Chico), the Lopes found out when they got to Holly Springs, North Carolina, for the national tournament that many there considered them too inexperienced for their No. 3 seed. All of that is usually ‘bulletin board material’. Something to motivate. Usually.
“A few of us heard that, but we knew we weren’t that team… that we could win there,” Broussely said. “On the other side, a few of us were talking to the guys from Georgia Tech who were there (in North Carolina), and saw us in the bracket. They were telling their friends in the tournament, ‘Don’t sleep on GCU. These guys are good, and they could make a run.’ So we were hearing both sides of it. We felt we were better than that, anyway, so I don’t think we needed that extra motivation.”
“Still hurts a little bit, because we felt we could get to the championship game, and have the opportunity to be national champions,” added Lopes’ Head Coach Rich Warnol. “We all talked about how we were going to get that trophy home on the plane (laughs).”
It was Penn State University that wound up having the problem of lugging the championship trophy home. The Lopes were in the stands that night watching the championship game-the final time they’d be together at a baseball game with their current group. Fortunately for Warnol, the 2018 roster wasn’t a senior-laden group, so there aren’t a ton of holes to fill. Of those five now-graduated seniors, two were backups (infielder Josh Castaneda and part-time starting pitcher Austin Grijalva), but the other three-middle infielders Anthony Alamillo and Michael Doty, as well as staff ace Jarrett McDonald-were every day cogs in the team’s success.
“The middle infielders spent four years together,” said Warnol of Alamillo and Doty. “They roomed together, and knew each other really well. But having Taylor Brooks, a (2018-19) senior who played two years at a (junior college) that’s really a middle infielder that had time to flip with Tony at 2nd base, will really help. The (infield) corners and left fielder are going to be seniors, so we’re going to be set in some places. We definitely need a couple more arms, and a couple more bodies that will secure some places.”
“We’ve got some guys (from the Lopes’ Division II team that went to regionals as well) that could step up,” added Broussely. “Plus, each of the last few years, we’ve had some phenomenal freshmen who’ve come in and stepped up, and I know we’ll get some more of those guys this year.”
The main losses, though, are more cerebral. First, the proverbial ‘voices in the clubhouse’ have moved on.
“There’s not a huge hole that could really hurt us, except that we really don’t have a vocal guy returning,” Broussely said. “Tony and Jared were those guys this year, and we’re losing both of them, so I’m curious to see who steps up and jumps into that role. I don’t know if it will be me. I’ve never been the big vocal guy. More the ‘lead by my actions’ guy.”
Second, unlike most teams that have groups within the big group, just about everyone on the roster spoke during the season about the collective camaraderie that they had. Warnol knows that’s a rarity that may or may not return, but the work ethic of his top players could improve the chemistry going forward.
“We still have that core of guys that get along really, really well,” Warnol said. “We’ve got four rooms (with our guys) on the second floor of Diamondback (Apartments on the GCU campus). They’re all down the hall from each other. Which is scary in a sense (laughs), but they’re right across from our practice field. Knowing those guys, they’ll be out there together getting work in when we’re not out there. You hope that guys are looking forward to returning to Holly Springs, and pushing the new guys to show them that this is what it’s all about.”
As he spends his summer on the GCU campus as a resident assistant in the dorms, Broussely hopes the euphoria and numerous milestones of the Lopes’ 24-5 season won’t just be an incredible memory for his current teammates, but also a fulcrum for others to see and be a part of going forward.
“The people I’ve talked to about playing beyond high school, but don’t necessarily want to play on the NCAA level? I’ve told them about the club level, and they’re interested,” said Broussely. “This is exactly what I would point to, since it proves that this is a legit thing, and you may get just as great an experience as you would with NCAA ball. I wouldn’t have traded this for the world.”