Rivalry draws 3,840 fans to GCU Stadium
GCU has been home to the state’s best lacrosse team in recent years and now GCU Stadium looks like the home to that claim too.
Third-ranked GCU (8-1) beat eighth-ranked ASU (7-5) for a third consecutive year with its best effort of the season. Despite trailing 2-0 after the first seven minutes, the Lopes used five unanswered goals and an extended stretch of stifling defense to take command of a win that keeps GCU as the Southwestern Lacrosse Conference frontrunner.
“We came together as a team and that was the biggest thing,” said GCU senior attacker Joe Balestrieri, who scored a team-high three goals. “We didn’t want what happened last time (in a March 6 loss to Brigham Young) to happen this time.
“It’s huge. To be out here on this field, we’ve got to give it to the school. We thank them so much for letting us come out here on this field. The crowd was awesome.”
ASU scored first 88 seconds into the game and took a 2-0 lead in the game’s seventh minute but the Lopes’ defense and goalkeeping of Alex Larson gave GCU a turnaround. The Lopes shut out the Sun Devils for the next 27 minutes. By that time ASU found the net again, GCU was in control after a Balestrieri spinning score put the Lopes ahead 6-2 less than two minutes into the second half.
The Lopes’ five first-half goals came from five different players — Balestrieri, senior midfielder Austin Ekeroth, freshman midfielder Cooper Snowbarger, sophomore attacker Cody Clark and sophomore attacker Cam Wengreniuk.
“It was something else,” Wengreniuk said. “The fans were all hyped. It was getting us hyped. The fans certainly kept us in the game. We had a great bounce-back.
“The rivalry is something I’ve never experienced. Every single player is leaving everything on the field and I absolutely love that. It’s a great game to be a part of.”
Balestrieri’s bullet score from 10 meters gave GCU an 8-5 lead early in the fourth quarter. That looked secure after repeated standout saves by Larson and multiple efforts of team defense. GCU sophomore midfielder Jordan Vicente added a transition score for a 9-5 lead with 2:19 to go before ASU added two late goals for the final score.
In winning a fifth consecutive game, the Lopes held the Sun Devils to seven goals to be near their opponent goals average of 7.3 per game. The outlier was the 13-7 loss to BYU in the first stadium game.
“Guys were trying to do a little too much and pressing to make our first night special,” GCU coach Manny Rapkin said of the BYU loss. “We just weren’t ourselves. Tonight against ASU, we were a totally different team. This is the GCU that we’ve seen for the last five weeks since the BYU game. We took care of business and played our best game so far.”
The Lopes return to GCU Stadium on April 7 to face Arizona.