Lopes to face #3 Sonoma State in 1st round of double-elimination tournament Friday at noon
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
“Baseball is a very humbling sport, and we were humbled early on.”
By early April, senior pitcher Emilio Artica and the rest of the Grand Canyon University Club Baseball team had already lost their first-ever three-game conference series early in the season to UC-San Diego, and were watching both UCSD and Arizona State University begin to pull away from them in the standings. That’s when Lopes’ Head Coach Rich Warnol laid it out for his team: win our last 9, and we’ll get back to the playoffs. Lose, and spend the summer wondering why.
No one in the room thought it was an insurmountable task.
“We had a good core of guys (that came back from last year’s team) that led the way to help the new guys understand what we were heading for,” said Warnol. “It’s definitely a different group, but they still figure out how to win ball games.”
They figured out how to win all nine, blow past UCSD, and catch ASU atop the standings at the end, thus earning their 2nd straight National Club Baseball Association (NCBA) Southern Pacific (SoPac) South Conference conference crown by winning the head-to-head tiebreaker with ASU. That’s why the 2nd-seeded Lopes will open up play in the NCBA Division I SoPac Regional Tournament this Friday, May 10, against the 3rd-seeded Seawolves of Sonoma State University. The matchup will be one of a pair of games that will commence the three-day, four-team, double-elimination tournament on Friday at Antelope Valley College in Lancaster, California.
Despite the hot streak, the Lopes are learning from their ride a year ago as they head west.
“Last year, we felt we could walk into Lancaster and just run through it, and we didn’t do that,” said Warnol about the 2018 team that lost their first game at regionals before winning out to win the title. “This year, the pitching staff’s a little different. However, if our starters can give us some innings, while our relief pitchers follow up like they have been lately, we’ll be all right. Plus, our offense needs to carry us.”
“They’re two totally different teams, but the one thing both teams have is grit,” added Artica. “We don’t let anyone make us play their style of game. There’s definitely that confidence that we can play with anyone, but we know to keep ourselves in check.”
The Lopes (15-3 overall, 12-3 SoPac South) head to central California seeking their 2nd straight SoPac Regional crown and another set of plane tickets for the NCBA Division I World Series, which will be held May 24 through 30 in Holly Springs, North Carolina. Turning that nine-game winning streak into a 12-game streak will do just that, but they could find themselves rustier than their first-round opponents, since the Lopes haven’t played since sweeping Northern Arizona University at Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark 11 days ago.
The Seawolves have no such problem. Multiple rainouts early in the year backloaded SSU’s schedule so much that they were forced to play seven games over the final eight days of the season, including ending the regular season with a rare four-game series at home against San Jose State University. Six wins in those seven games – including finishing a sweep of the SJSU series Sunday – propelled the Seawolves (13-5 overall, 11-4 SoPac North) past both Cal-Berkeley and UC-Davis in the standings to win their first outright SoPac North title by a game (they tied with Nevada for the title in 2015).
The Lopes and Seawolves lead off the tournament schedule with their first-ever meeting Friday, May 10, with a noon first pitch at AVC. The winner of that matchup heads to a semifinal matchup Saturday morning at 9 am against the winner of Friday’s 3 pm game pitting top-seeded and SoPac West Champion University of California-Santa Barbara (17-2 overall, 14-1 SoPac West) against 4th-seeded Arizona State University (17-5 overall, 12-3 SoPac South). The losers of the two opening-round games will decide who goes on in the tournament with an elimination game at noon Saturday.
The SoPac Regional Championship game will be played Sunday, May 13 at 9 am (and noon if a second championship game is necessary).