4th-seeded Lopes lead from start to finish in 7-2 victory Sunday; head to semifinal round for first time
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
They’re paying attention to the strategy. Doesn’t mean they’re able to stop it yet.
For the second straight day, the Grand Canyon University Club Baseball team used crafty base-running and stingy pitching to advance in the National Club Baseball Association (NCBA) Division I World Series. The 4th-seeded Lopes never trailed in a 7-2 victory over the top seed in the eight-team tournament, the University of Oregon, Sunday night at Ting Stadium in Holly Springs, North Carolina. The victory sends GCU to Tuesday’s semifinal round against the winner of Monday’s matchup between defending national champion East Carolina University and 6th-seeded Iowa State University.
In the span of just 18 innings, the Lopes have gone from the team that wasn’t expected to do much-mainly because they’re making their first World Series appearance-to the team no one wants to face. The Lopes haven’t even come close to trailing in their first two matchups of the tournament, and have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 20-6. And while teams are starting to get wise to the aggressive baserunning strategy that Lopes’ Head Coach Rich Warnol has employed so far, opponents are still struggling to stop it.
Unlike Saturday’s opener that saw the Lopes score runs in five of the first six innings en route to a commanding 14-4 win over 5th-seeded Wisconsin, offense wasn’t a factor for either side in the first three innings Sunday. In fact, there was just one hit in the first hour of the game, but that was enough to give the Lopes the lead. For the second straight day, Lopes’ leadoff hitter Taylor Brooks got things started in the 1st inning with a base hit-in this case, a double-and while GCU couldn’t manage another hit in the inning, they still took the lead as Brooks advanced to 3rd base on a wild pitch, then came home on Zach Broussely’s ground ball to the shortstop.
While it wasn’t much of a cushion, it was enough to give Lopes’ starting pitcher Jarrett McDonald the comfort to be nearly flawless in the first three innings, retiring nine of the first 10 Ducks’ hitters to face him. Still 1-0 after three innings, the Lopes gave McDonald some breathing room by stringing together one of the extended innings that helped them dominate Wisconsin. Eight Lopes’ hitters came to the plate against Ducks’ starting pitcher Sean Yao in the 4th, and half of them scored. Broussely led off the inning with a walk, and headed to 2nd base two pitches later on a Reid Magnaghi single. After GCU’s Michael Doty moved the runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt, the Lopes put together three straight singles from Justin Horton, Nate Downs and Anthony Alamillo to score three runs, then David Macias brought home the 4th with an infield groundout.
“Their starter had a good slider,” Horton said of Yao at the postgame press conference. “We struggled with it early on, but once we made the adjustment, we picked it up and put it in play, and when you do that, good things happen.”
The Ducks finally got to McDonald in the bottom of the frame with a leadoff double by Hans Ellenson, and a one-out single by Robby Schlesier to bring him home. McDonald recovered quickly to douse the rally, forcing both Jack McWilliams and Kyle Lussier to pop up to end the inning.
From there, even when the Ducks correctly anticipated the Lopes’ aggressive baserunning moves, it still didn’t stop GCU from scoring. In the 6th, with Horton and Downs on 3rd and 2nd base, respectively, Macias hit a ground ball to 3rd base. Warnol didn’t hesitate to force the defense’s hand by sending Horton home, but the throw home was in time to nail Horton at the plate. It didn’t deter the Lopes, though, as Brooks plated Downs one pitch later on a hard single up the middle to increase the Lopes’ lead to 6-1. In the 9th, with runners at the corners and two out, the Lopes should’ve been guilty of “running themselves out of the inning” after a pickoff throw to 1st base stuck Doty between 1st and 2nd base, but the Ducks’ throw to 2nd base was too late to nab Doty, allowing Broussely to steal home for the final run of the game.
The Ducks’ offense found few opportunities for a comeback against McDonald. In the 6th, Schlesier once again brought Ellenson home-this time with a ground ball to 2nd base to score Ellenson from 3rd. McDonald wouldn’t let another UO baserunner get past 1st base after that, retiring 12 of the final 14 hitters to face him, including sending the Ducks down in order in the 9th. McDonald (9-1) completed his team-leading 5th complete game of the season by throwing just 98 pitches-65 of them for strikes-in sending GCU to its first World Series semifinal berth. The senior from Colorado Springs, Colorado scattered 6 Oregon hits, allowing 2 earned runs, walking a pair while striking out 3 in sending the Ducks to only their 2nd loss of the season. Ellenson and Kyle Botello led Oregon (23-2 overall) with 2 hits each.
“We knew Jarrett was on the hill tonight, and was going to give us a great game,” Warnol told reporters after the game. “He makes them put it in play for the guys behind him. Our defense is strong, and as long as they keep making plays, and our offense keeps hitting, we’ll be all right.”
It was another balanced effort offensively for the Lopes (24-3 overall) as six of the nine GCU hitters had at least one hit. Brooks, Magnaghi, Horton and Downs had a pair of hits apiece, while Horton led the way with a pair of RBI. With the win, the Lopes joined 7th-seeded Penn State University as the only teams to escape the first two rounds unscathed.
The 4th-seeded Lopes (24-3 overall) now get a day off to scout their next opponent as 2nd-seeded ECU and #6 Iowa State will battle at 11:45 am Monday morning to determine who will move on to the semifinals against GCU. Tuesday’s semifinal game will also be an 11:45 am (Arizona time) start, and a GCU win sends them straight to Thursday night’s championship game. 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.