The National Club Softball Association World Series offered the Grand Canyon University club softball team a chance to see how far it could go.
The Lopes just did not realize in how many ways that would be true. GCU returned to Phoenix on Monday with a proud third-placing showing in its NCSA World Series debut and quite a story for what it took to finish there in Columbus, Ga.
GCU was rusty in pool play after a month-long layoff, going 1-2, but found its stride when the double-elimination tournament started Saturday. The Lopes played six games Saturday, beating Virginia Tech 4-3 in an elimination game that started at 10:45 p.m. in Columbus.
“I could not be more proud of every single player on this team and how we were able to push each other to the next inning and the next game,” GCU junior center fielder Bobbi Fry said. “It was all worth it. That was way more than anyone expected. We all fought extremely hard.”
The Lopes believed their work was done Saturday once GCU avenged a pool loss by beating Ohio State 7-3 in its fourth game Saturday. But they played another elimination game against Penn State and found out during that 9-7 win that they would follow it with a sixth game against a rested Virginia Tech team.
The Lopes did not leave the stadium for 17 hours, trying to get energy from sandwiches that their coaches bought, snack-bar munchies from their parents and late-night cold pizza from the tournament staff. They slept less than five hours and were spent physically when they lost 11-0 to two-time defending champion James Madison in a play-in game to the championship.
“They exceeded my expectations,” GCU club softball head coach Lindsey Collins said. “That was fun, to take teams completely by surprise. I am beyond proud of them taking third.
“Just wait until next year. Now they know what to expect.”
The Lopes were led by Fry hitting about .700 with five triples over the Lopes’ 10 tournament games and freshman Jaden Palmer batting near .600. Pitchers Annamarie Cassidy, shaking off a line-drive to her shin Friday, and Alex Burcham teamed to handle 42 innings of mound work Saturday.
It was worth it when Brianna Gainer smacked a tie-breaking RBI single up the middle in the seventh inning and Cassidy retired the Hokies in order for GCU’s fifth win of the day. Until then, it was trying with every player limping from fatigue.
“As a coach, I was exhausted and I didn’t play,” Collins said. “They couldn’t walk. They were limping. Their feet were hurting. It was hot and humid. They were tired and sweating. I had players saying, ‘Coach, I don’t think I can do this.’
“They got delirious. It got to be hilarious because they were saying things that didn’t make sense. But because they were so relaxed, things clicked in our favor.”
The Lopes scored most of their runs with two outs and made adjustments in the field to compensate for limitations from soreness or lack of energy.
“We figured out how to play our game,” Fry said. “We looked up to Coach (Collins) and she guided us where we needed to go. She’s where we got our confidence from. We were able to figure out how to work as a team.”