By Jesse Vineyard/GCU Staff
If you’re a baseball fan that is built for rivalries, storylines and drama, this was a good weekend to pay attention.
No. 5 Grand Canyon University Division I Club Baseball (18-2, 13-2) played host to No. 16 Arizona State University at Brazell Stadium in a three-game weekend series, and came away with their first-ever conference title and their first-ever trip to regionals, starting on May 11. The Lopes needed to win two of three over ASU to clinch the Southern Pacific (SoPac) South Conference crown, and earned both in Saturday’s doubleheader.
GCU received a strong mound performance from freshman pitcher Joel Thomas in Game 1 for a 3-0 win, then used their offense to come from behind in Game 2 for the conference-clinching 6-3 victory.
In the de facto championship game for GCU in the second game, ASU jumped out to an early 3-0 lead with two runs in the first inning and another run in the third. However, the Lopes quickly erased the deficit with a three-run rally in their bottom of the third. David Macias started the inning with a single, then Reid Magnaghi walked. After Matt Dolewski flew out to center, Zach Broussely, Kadin Breeze and Michael Doty strung together three straight singles to tie the game.
The Lopes were held scoreless in the fourth, but Doty hit a two-run single in the fifth to drive in Dolewski (who doubled to start the inning) and Broussely to give GCU the lead for good. Breeze was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the sixth to send home Macias for another insurance run.
Freshman Josh Gainer pitched a 1-2-3 seventh inning to earn the save and give GCU the conference title.
“It’s always tough to win it in the last series, but when you get that opportunity, you want to win it on Day 1, and we were able to win it on Day 1,” Lopes’ Head Coach Rich Warnol said. “It’s awesome.”
Starting pitcher Jarrett McDonald battled through a 27-pitch, three-walk first inning, but settled down to go six innings with five strikeouts to record the win. Broussely led the offense on Saturday by going 5-for-5 in the two games with two home runs, three RBIs, three singles and four runs scored.
“He’s kind of a sleeping giant right now. [He’s] just crushing the ball,” Warnol said of Broussely. “He seems like he can do no wrong right now.”
In Game 1, Thomas lost a no-hit bid in the seventh inning, and had to fight out of a last-inning jam to secure the win. With a 3-0 lead, Thomas was able to get the first two batters out in the seventh via a popout and a groundout, but ASU’s Matt Kothe ended the bid when he laced a single to center – one that started a late Sun Devil rally. Ryan Frankel and Jason Reynolds both earned walks to load the bases, but Thomas got Max Hartgraves to fly out to center on a 3-1 count for the last out.
Thomas threw 30 pitches in the last inning, and 119 overall. This win keeps his record perfect at 6-0 and lowers his conference-leading ERA to 0.89.
“I just kept trusting my defense behind me,” Thomas said. “I was just pitching to contact, and letting them do the work.”
Broussely helped give Thomas all the run support he needed as he hit two majestic solo home runs to left field in the third and fifth innings. Broussely finished 3-for-3 (including a single in the first inning). Azael Lopez-Chairez doubled home Justin Horton in the second inning for the game’s first run.
Sunday was Senior Day for the Lopes, but ASU came away with the win, 8-2. The Lopes honored Anthony Alamillo, Josh Castaneda, Michael Doty, Austin Grijalva and Jarrett McDonald before the game.
GCU now has three weeks until they travel to Lancaster, California for the Southern Pacific Regionals May 11-13.
“The tough thing is having a couple weeks off,” Warnol said. “We need to get some games in with somebody, or find some guys to play, because we have to stay fresh.”
Division II Club Baseball Receives At-Large Bid for Regionals
GCU Club Baseball’s Division II team, ranked 19th in the country, received the one and only at-large selection to the four-team Pacific Regionals April 27-29 in Lancaster. In the double-elimination format, the Lopes will first play Pacific North Conference Champion San Jose State University April 27 at 3 pm. Sixth-ranked San Diego State University earned the No. 1 seed by winning the Pacific South Conference. They will play No. 3 seed California State University-Northridge which won the Pacific Central Conference.