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GCU Club Baseball pulls away late to win NCBA DI World Series opener

Baseball
May 25, 2019

Hershey fires 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball to pace Lopes to 9-0 win over Florida State

By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director

(Photo Courtesy: Alex Johnson, GCU Club Baseball)

Does a Hershey melt in the humid heat of May in North Carolina?

Florida State fans know now that it doesn’t.

Showing few jitters in his first-ever performance at the National Club Baseball Association (NCBA) Division I World Series, freshman pitcher Nick Hershey hurled 6 2/3 innings of shutout ball to lead Grand Canyon University Club Baseball in their opening game at its second-straight NCBA World Series appearance to a 9-0 victory over Florida State University at Ting Stadium in Holly Springs, North Carolina. The Lopes’ offense offered support and blew a close game open in the final three innings with five runs in the seventh, and two more in the eighth.

The victory sends the fourth-seeded Lopes to the winner’s bracket and a Sunday afternoon showdown against the top seed in the eight-team tournament, the University of Iowa. The loss drops the Seminoles to an elimination-round matchup against eighth-seeded University of Maryland Sunday morning.

After being lightly regarded at this time a year ago while blowing through the field at their first World Series appearance to finish third, the Lopes headed to the Tar Heel State this year as one of three returning teams from the 2018 event. That’s why there was instant buzz about the tournament’s final first-round matchup, since the Seminoles were also making their second-straight appearance (and third in the last four years), and many felt one of the eventual finalists could come from this game.

“The biggest thing is not having to ‘take it all in’ like last year,” Lopes’ senior first baseman Zach Broussely told the crowd at the postgame press conference. “For the veterans, we have the experience of last year in the backs of our heads.  We’re able to focus a little bit more, and we’re able to let the underclassmen know, ‘Hey, go take it in, but we’re here to play baseball.’”

FSU senior starting pitcher Austin Kunkler – pitching in his third NCBA World Series – allowed just four hits over the first six innings. However, the experience showed for Lopes’ Head Coach Rich Warnol and his resourceful offense, since they used what opportunities Kunkler gave them over that stretch to take a 2-0 lead. In the third inning, Easton Babe drew a one-out walk, Taylor Brooks gave the Lopes their first hit with a one-out double to the right field wall, and David Macias’ grounder to third scored Babe to break the scoreless game. One inning later, Malik Flores and Johnny Campbell, the Lopes’ best offensive 1-2 combination the last half of the season, smacked back-to-back hits to the left field gap to give GCU its second run of the game.

That was more than enough offense to extend the comfort zone of Hershey. The Gilbert Christian High School alum set the tone by striking out three of the first four hitters to face him, and only allowed a pair of meaningless singles in his first six innings. Hershey’s only jam came in the fourth inning, when he walked FSU’s Anthony Fernandez, then a passed ball and wild pitch put Fernandez at third with only one out. Hershey rebounded quickly, striking out David Atkins on a 3-2 pitch, then getting Sean Perry to hit a soft liner that Brooks flagged in shallow left center field to keep the Seminoles scoreless.

“Coach was calling pitches throughout the game, and I only shook him off a couple of times,” said Hershey. “He just wanted me to get ahead with the first pitch, throw fastballs to some of their hitters down in the lineup, mix it up with off-speed pitches to their better hitters and keep them guessing. That really helped me throughout the game.”

The only things that ultimately sent Hershey to the showers was the stifling, humid 87-degree heat, and an eight-pitch walk to FSU’s Joseph Peery in the top of the seventh inning that sent the message to the dugout that his tank was empty.

“117 pitches made that call,” said Warnol about finally pulling Hershey. “He was battling. I appreciated him not wanting to come out of the game, since he was really upset at me for pulling him out. We had Eli (Graham) ready to go, and we wanted to take care of Nick, since we hopefully will get to use him later in the tournament.”

Graham – another freshman pitcher who is slated to pitch the Lopes’ third game of the tournament – used all of four pitches to end the Seminoles’ threat, getting Jorge Alfonso to ground into a fielder’s choice to strand the runners.

That’s when the Lopes’ offense took over the game. GCU sent 10 men to the plate in the bottom of the seventh inning, chasing Kunkler with an RBI single from Babe, then peppering FSU reliever Jose Arevalo to score a total of five runs on five singles and three walks, and the outcome was no longer in question.  Brooks added two more runs in the eighth with his second double of the day, and Graham and Alex Johnson combined to preserve the shutout win for Hershey with 2 1/3 innings of no-hit ball.

Broussely, Brooks and Flores each went 2-for-4 with a run batted in to lead the way for GCU. Babe was responsible for four runs on the day, knocking in one in the seventh and scoring three times himself.  Hershey allowed a total of three hits – all singles – while striking out six in his 6 2/3 innings of work to earn his first World Series win, and send the message to the rest of the field that a youthful staff isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

“We’re set up well for the tournament,” said Warnol at the press conference. “We have only two returning pitchers from last year, so to have these freshmen get after it is really special. It’s good to have some young arms that compete like Nick does.”

Ty Marsh had two of the three hits on the day for the Seminoles (21-8 overall). Kunkler was charged with four earned runs and six hits in getting the loss.

The fourth-seeded Lopes (18-3 overall) now move on to face top-seeded Iowa (29-3 overall), who also used a three-hit shutout to advance out of the first round with a 2-0 win over Maryland Friday night in their opener. The Hawkeyes only managed three hits themselves, but used a bad pickoff throw by the pitcher and a double in the sixth to score the runs they needed for the victory.

The Lopes and Hawkeyes 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. For the first time in the 19-year history of the tournament, the NCBA will provide a live simulcast of each game on its Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/CollClubSportsRadioNetwork/?hc_ref=SEARCH), and live stats on its website (http://www.clubbaseball.org/world-series/).

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