By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
For many, a 12-3 league record and finishing second in conference is considered a success. For Grand Canyon University Club Baseball, it’s not enough.
In their first season at the Division I level last year, the Lopes finished one game behind Arizona State in the Southern Pacific South Conference – narrowly missing an at-large bid to the National Club Baseball Association’s regional playoffs. They finished nationally ranked in the top 30 and made it as high as No. 14. Ever since, GCU has used it as motivation heading into the 2018 season.
“We feel like we were clearly the better team,” Lopes’ junior catcher Justin Horton said. “But that’s just turned to fuel for the fire for this year. We’ve moved on, but at the same time, we have it in the backs of our heads. We can’t leave it up to a panel this year.”
With 15 returners, GCU will look to use their veteran squad as the prime reason for a championship run. Senior pitcher Jarrett McDonald led the team with 2nd Team NCBA All-American honors and 1st Team Southern Pacific All-Region honors. He also led the region with a 1.20 ERA and held an overall record of 5-0. Along with P.J. Cardiasmenos and added depth in the rotation, the Lopes have the arms to keep the opponents’ bats quiet.
“We have a lot of freshmen and transfer students who have come in, and some of them are pitchers who can really help us,” McDonald said. “It’s really nice to see the new arms that we have coming in.”
At the plate, the Lopes have returning firepower as well. Michael Doty and his team-leading .440 batting average returns along with Kadin Breeze, who led the team with 23 hits. GCU has already shown their offense to be a strength, winning the 2017 Wildcat Classic in October where they outscored their opponents, 33-6.
“We have a mentality that we are going to score a lot of runs every time we take the field,” said Lopes’ junior first baseman Zach Broussely, who led the team with 18 runs scored last season. “But we can’t get complacent with where we’re at. We have to keep putting in the work.”
The Southern Pacific South Conference will once again be a difficult path. Not only defending conference champion Arizona State, but past conference champions such as Northern Arizona and University of California-San Diego all have a solid lineup returning to put more pressure in the conference.
“It’s a good conference,” Horton said. “There’s a lot of rivalry that goes on in the state of Arizona. That brings a new aspect to the game. We feel like we have one of the harder conferences, but we’re excited for the challenge.”
Before conference play begins, GCU will go through a stacked non-conference slate. The Lopes will take on multiple junior colleges from around Phoenix starting with Chandler-Gilbert Community College January 26 and 27. The schedule also includes NJCAA Division II World Series participant Phoenix College and a doubleheader with Colorado State University, which finished at No. 7 in the NCBA last year.
“When we play the non-conference games, we play upper-tier teams,” McDonald said. “I think we’re the best team in our conference by far. But we’re able to play those non-conference games to get ready for the postseason.”
With how last season ended, the Lopes won’t be holding anything back. Broussely, Horton and McDonald each described last season’s missed bid to the regional playoffs as “disappointing.” But each are looking forward to putting the past behind them with a renewed mindset.
“We can’t put ourselves in that same position,” Broussely said. “We have to win the conference and lock in a spot. We have to take care of business on our own, and don’t let someone else’s decision play a part.
“We’ve been saying it since Day 1: our goal is to get to the World Series and win it.”