The Grand Canyon University club baseball team wanted to win Monday, as it showed when it rallied for three runs in the ninth inning to take a lead at Arizona Christian University.
But the outcome, an 8-7 loss on an ACU two-out, two-run hit in the bottom of the ninth, was not the point of the crosstown trip. The Lopes were tuning up for a weekend series in Tucson, where they control their chances of winning the SoPac South Conference with three games at Arizona.
The Lopes entered the National Collegiate Baseball Association Division Rawlings Top 20 poll for the first time this season after winning a series against then-No. 5 Arizona State this month. That pulled GCU into a first-place conference tie with ASU at 10-2 in SoPac South play but gives the Lopes the tiebreaker for winning the head-to-head series. The conference champion will get an automatic bid into the May 12-14 NCBA regional playoffs in Lancaster, Calif.
While GCU is closing the regular season this weekend at Arizona (4-8 in conference play), ASU also travels for a three-game series at Northern Arizona (4-8 in conference play).
“We’ve got a good squad this year,” said GCU junior shortstop Michael Doty, a Tucson native who is leading the conference in hitting (.480). “One through nine, we can put some damage up. I like our odds going into the weekend. It’s been a cool experience to see our team grow and get better every year.”
On Monday, the Lopes hammered out 10 hits, including two from rightfielder Izzy Reyes, but they also hit into seven double plays. The final one proved most fateful, wiping out a no-out, bases-loaded situation with a flyout to center and runner thrown out at home on the tag-up.
Trailing 6-4 entering the ninth, GCU loaded the bases with nobody out and got a RBI single from designated hitter Kabe Stucker and game-tying RBI walk from third baseman David Macias before the double play. The Lopes took a 7-6 lead on a wild pitch and was one out from victory when the ACU liner over a drawn-in outfield gave the NAIA program a walk-off win.
Trying to set up the team for the weekend series, GCU coach Rich Warnol used seven pitchers for 10 to 30 pitches each to keep the Lopes’ arms fresh.
“We’re ranked 15th and all these guys feel like we should be ranked higher, ” Warnol said. “I told all these guys to take care of what they need to take care of. It’s the end ranking that you want to be in, not the ranking in the middle of the season. You want to be ranked at the end, when it counts.
“We’re playing decent baseball right now. I think pitching and defense is our strongpoint. If we do what we did against ASU and score a bunch of runs (34 in three games), we’ll be really good.”