13 hits in first 5 innings power 4th-seeded Lopes to 14-4 win over Wisconsin
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
The ‘new kid in town’ felt right at home.
In an impressive show of power at the plate and speed on the basepaths, the Grand Canyon University Club Baseball team opened up play at their first-ever National Club Baseball Association (NCBA) Division I World Series appearance with an emphatic 14-4 win over the University of Wisconsin Saturday morning at Ting Stadium in Holly Springs, North Carolina. The victory sends the 4th-seeded Lopes to the winner’s bracket and a Sunday afternoon showdown against the top seed in the eight-team tournament, the University of Oregon. The loss drops the Badgers to an elimination-round matchup against 8th-seeded Texas A&M University Sunday morning.
For a team that many wondered whether they’d have any first-game jitters on making their trip to the national tournament, the Lopes looked like cagey veterans even before they exchanged lineup cards at home plate.
“When we got to the field, they were pretty loose,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Rich Warnol. “They were tighter at regionals, but you could tell there was a different look in their eyes today. Guys were having fun.”
After an uneventful top of the first inning for UW, GCU’s Taylor Brooks introduced World Series fans to the Lopes’ offense by crushing the first pitch of the inning from Badgers’ starter Nolan DeGreef over the outfield wall. DeGreef didn’t help his own cause later in the inning by allowing Matt Dolewski to come around to score on a single, two wild pitches and a catcher’s error to give GCU a 2-0 lead.
The Badgers got on the board in the 3rd after Chase Zernich’s two-out double scored Gus Turner Zick to cut the Lopes’ lead in half, but Lopes’ starting pitcher Joel Thomas picked Zernich off of 2nd base just seconds later to end the rally. That would be the closest UW would come to threatening GCU the rest of the day. In the bottom half of the frame, the Lopes set several trends for the rest of the game, batting around for the first time of back-to-back innings, and using crafty baserunning to rattle the Badgers’ defense. After Reid Magnaghi’s one-out sacrifice fly scored Dolewski from 3rd to start the scoring,
Warnol pulled off a delayed double steal to perfection, forcing a throw too late to stop Magnaghi from stealing second base, then sending Zach Broussely home with a successful steal of his own. That allowed Nate Downs to single home both Magnaghi and Justin Horton home one batter later, and the rout was on, thanks to something Warnol saw early in the game.
“In the first inning, I saw their catcher take a pitch off his forearm,” Warnol said. “When he threw the ball around later, it seemed like it made a difference. The pitcher’s delivery was a little slower as well, so I figured we’d try to take advantage of it, and we’d go until they threw us out. They never did.”
The 4th inning ended the suspense of the game’s outcome as the Lopes again sent 9 hitters to the plate, and cashed in another three runs-all with two out. DeGreef retired Brooks and Dolewski to start the inning, but would hit the showers after walking Broussely, giving up a double to Magnaghi, then uncorking an errant pickoff throw to 3rd base that allowed both Broussely and Magnaghi to score on the error, giving GCU a commanding 9-2 edge by the end of the inning.
Warnol continued to test the Wisconsin defense, and continued to give his team extra confidence. In the bottom of the 5th, after a Magnaghi RBI single, GCU’s Justin Horton skied a popup to shallow left field that dropped between a pair of Badger fielders. Magnaghi scored from 2nd, then Michael Doty (who was hit by a pitch) first advanced to 3rd base on the play, then scampered home when the Badgers didn’t react. 12-2, Lopes. Game, set, match.
“(The extra running) wasn’t part of the game plan, but it’s part of the feeling with these guys all the time,” Magnaghi said. “We stay aggressive, and it’s nice to see that our guys take advantage when they see it. It makes it easier at the plate for guys to stay aggressive when you see that on the bases.”
The Badgers finally chased Lopes’ starting pitcher Joel Thomas with a pair of runs in the sixth, but by that time, it really was just an excuse for Warnol to get his starter out after a 90-pitch outing to keep him fresh for the rest of the week, as well as give a few of his relievers (Emilio Artica, Alex Johnson and Josh Gainer each threw at least an inning to finish it out) their first taste of World Series action. Thomas (7-1) never seemed flustered on the hill, allowing just five hits and two earned runs in his 5 1/3 innings of work, striking out six while walking four. DeGreef (5-1) suffered his first loss of the year for Wisconsin, allowing nine runs (two unearned) and ten hits over just 3 2/3 innings, and uncharacteristically uncorking three wild pitches.
All nine GCU hitters had at least one of the 15 Lopes’ hits. Magnaghi commenced his World Series career with a 3-for-5 day with a double, three runs scored, an RBI and a stolen base. Dolewski, Broussely, Doty and Horton each contributed a pair of hits, with Broussely and Downs both knocking in 2 RBI.
“We felt pretty confident after Taylor’s home run,” Magnaghi said. “He’s my roommate, and seeing him do that just helped my confidence. We were feeling loose in the cages, and we knew our bats would be on fire today.”
Zernich and Jared Eichorst led the way for the Badgers (18-3 overall) at the plate with 2 hits each.
The 4th-seeded Lopes (23-3 overall) now move on to face top-seeded Oregon (23-1 overall), the only other of the top four seeds to advance to the winner’s bracket. The Ducks needed a bases-loaded walk in the bottom of the 9th inning in their opening-round game Friday night to beat Texas A&M, 2-1. The Lopes and Ducks face off in the third and final game of Round 2 tomorrow (Sunday) afternoon at 4 pm Arizona time. It’s the first meeting ever between the two squads. While there’s no live video coverage of the tournament, the NCBA will provide live stats and a live radio broadcast of each game on its website (http://www.clubbaseball.org/world-series/).