Lopes fight through hitting woes to beat UCSD in bottom of 9th inning Sunday, 8-7
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
Fighting through hitting woes throughout the weekend, the Grand Canyon University Club Baseball team scratched and clawed their way to score four runs in the final two innings Sunday to win, 8-7, over the University of California-San Diego in the finale of the three-game series at Brazell Field at GCU Ballpark. The win avoided a three-game sweep at the hands of UCSD, who swept Saturday’s doubleheader over the Lopes, 12-7 and 3-2. It was the first time in its history that the Lopes have lost a weekend series in National Club Baseball Association (NCBA) Southern Pacific (SoPac) South Conference play.
Game 1: UCSD 12, GCU 7
After scoring 18 runs in two games to dispatch Colorado Mesa University two weeks ago in their only other matchups against an NCBA opponent, the Lopes had no reason to question whether their offense was good enough to defend the SoPac Division I Regional Championship they won last May. The first three innings against UCSD Saturday reinforced that belief as the Lopes jumped out a 7-1 lead. The first four Lopes’ hitters reached base and eventually scored in the 1st inning, and the Lopes used nine hits in the first three frames (including triples by Taylor Brooks and Jason Ochoa, and a double from Chasen Castilliano) to give GCU starting pitcher Matt McWilliams a hefty cushion. McWilliams used the cushion well as he motored through the Tritons’ batting order, only allowing a run and four singles through four innings.
The 5th inning, though, was McWilliams’ undoing as UCSD strung together five straight singles and used a Lopes’ throwing error to score five runs. Lopes’ senior reliever Emilio Artica took over to start the 6th, but was the victim of a fielding error and a sacrifice bunt that turned into a single with the first two batters. That’s when the floodgates opened again from the Tritons’ offense, and five singles later, UCSD had plated six runs to take the 12-7 edge. That was more than enough for UCSD reliever David Gomez to pitch four innings of one-hit ball to get the win.
“Hats off to the UCSD offense, since when you have that many hits, you’re going to score a lot of runs,” said Lopes’ Club Baseball Head Coach Rich Warnol. “Our pitchers threw strikes, but UCSD’s hitters hit well. This year, we’ve got the guys that can throw strikes, and if they do that, we’ll compete well. But UCSD figured out how to hit a baseball, and things came apart from there.”
Artica (0-1) took the loss, allowing 4 earned runs in 2/3 of an inning. Ochoa, Brooks, Castilliano and Reid Magnaghi had two hits each to pace the Lopes’ offense, but were outdone by an 18-hit Triton attack.
Game 2: UCSD 3, GCU 2
The first four innings of Game 2 are something the Lopes wouldn’t mind forgetting – both offensively and defensively.
GCU starting pitcher Nick Hershey pitched well enough to get the win Saturday, scattering eight UCSD hits in five innings of work. The Lopes’ defense didn’t help him, though, as four fielding errors in the first five innings (including one by Hershey on a pickoff play) gave UCSD a pair of unearned runs. Meanwhile, UCSD starter Jacob Springman kept the Lopes’ offense quiet during that stretch, allowing just three singles and no runs.
Hershey’s ultimate undoing came to start the 6th inning, when he allowed the lone earned UCSD run of the game on a Joey Flores double and a Kyle Tanaka RBI single. The Lopes finally answered back in the bottom of the inning on a Magnaghi single, Malik Flores double, and a two-out single by Alex Johnson to cash them both in. That was the last of the offense, though, as Springman retired the last four men to face him to earn the complete-game win, scattering just 6 GCU hits.
Hershey (0-1) allowed just one earned run while striking out 6 batters in 5+ innings to take the loss. Lopes’ sophomore outfielder Johnny Campbell had a pair of singles and a stolen base to lead the Lopes’ attack.
“We had some opportunities to hit, but we kept hitting into double plays,” said Warnol. “We had decent at-bats, but when balls keep going at guys, you tend to get discouraged.”
Game 3: GCU 8, UCSD 7
If there was ever an example of ‘manufacturing a win’ in baseball, the Lopes exemplified it Sunday. The offensive hangover from Game 2 meandered into Sunday’s game as the Lopes were hitless in the first 3 innings against UCSD starter Ray Estrada. Meanwhile, the Tritons’ bats were alive from the start, scoring four runs on five singles in the first two innings. The jolt that the Lopes’ offense needed came in the 4th inning in the form of last year’s ‘jolt’ leader, senior Zach Broussely. The 2018 Demarini Longball Challenge champion – who was playing in his first conference game of the year after missing Saturday’s doubleheader – showed why he was feared by opposing pitchers through most of 2018 when Broussely took a 1-0 pitch in the 4th and crushed it over the left-field wall for a 2-run homer to get GCU on the board.
Those that were expecting Broussely’s homer to wake up the GCU offense were disappointed… somewhat. While the Lopes managed just five hits on the day, they spent the rest of the game hanging around by manufacturing runs. In the 5th, the Lopes scored twice on a leadoff walk, a fielding error on a sacrifice bunt, a botched pickoff play at 2nd base, an Ochoa RBI sacrifice fly and an RBI bloop single by Brooks to cut the UCSD lead to one, 5-4.
Then in the 8th, the Lopes capitalized on the wildness of the UCSD pitching to take the lead. Tritons’ reliever Matt Hosino began the inning walking Magnaghi on five pitches, then uncorked a pair of wild pitches to send Magnaghi to 3rd base. David Macias cashed him in with a sacrifice fly, then Hosino and ensuing reliever David Gomez would walk three more to see a 2-base throwing error plate pinch-runner Easton Babe and Flores to give the Lopes a 7-5 lead heading to the 9th.
The Lopes gave the lead back in the 9th on a fielding error, a passed ball, a sacrifice fly, and then a 2-out RBI single by UCSD pinch-hitter Joey Flores to tie the game at 7-7. Once again, though, the Tritons’ pitching gave the Lopes more open doors TO walk through in the bottom of the 9th. Gomez walked Broussely with one out, and Magnaghi nearly ended the game one pitch later, missing a homer by inches off the right-field wall and settling for a double that sent pinch-runner Kevin Bebout to 3rd base with the potential winning run. An intentional walk to Macias loaded the bases, and put the pressure on Babe in his first at-bat of the day. The Verrado High School alum came through with a sacrifice fly to left field that allowed Bebout to streak home from 3rd with the game-winner. The Lopes’ 3rd pitcher of the game, Jacob Tighe, gave up the two unearned runs in the 9th, but got the win on three solid innings of three-hit ball. Gomez took the loss for UCSD with four walks in 1 2/3 innings.
“It came together today with using guys’ skills and abilities to bunt a ball here, and sacrifice a run in here,” Warnol said. “I’m not sure where this team’s confidence is about our offense after the last two days. There’s been a lot of talk amongst our guys about getting back to the NCBA World Series (where the Lopes finished 3rd in 2018), and our returners say they know we have the talent to get back there this year. However, you still have to play the game, and do what got you there.”
The Lopes now have nearly a month to work on things before returning to conference play. Their next game is this Tuesday, March 5 in a non-NCBA game at Glendale Community College. First pitch for the single game is 3 pm.