(Photo credit to GCU athletics page, seen here)
The Magical Season of 2017
Grand Canyon University had a storybook ending to the 2017 baseball season. In their last year of ineligibility of the NCAA College World Series tournament, they finished with an overall record of 29-25, but earned an outstanding record of 20-4 in conference play to win the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). Brazell Stadium played kind to the Lopes last season, having a 15-8 record under the friendly lights of home.
Once conference awards came around, the Lopes were strongly represented. Junior right fielder Garrison Schwartz was named WAC Player of the Year posting a .384 average, five home runs, 32 RBI, 12 Doubles, and an OPS of 1.189. The coach of the Lopes, Andy Stankiewicz, was granted WAC Coach of the Year honors, the first of his career. Stankiewicz has a lifetime record of 71-33 at Grand Canyon University.
The All-WAC First Team had a thundering GCU presence. Representing the Lopes was first baseman Ian Evans, third baseman Tyler Wyatt, outfielders Garrison Schwartz, and Tom Lerouge, and relief pitcher AJ Franks.
Antelopes Thrive in the Heat of Summer
The Lopes have had success in the past but this is the year for them to show their success on a national level. With College World Series eligibility, Stankiewecz is finally coaching for the playoffs instead of just the regular season. Quin Cotton, a sophomore outfield from Parker Colorado, raised some eyebrows this summer when he was honored with the MVP of the Alaskan Baseball League. He hit .331 in 46 regular season games and is known for being a power bat, but during the summer he focused on not striking out and just putting the play with solid contact. One opposing pitcher, Jared Morton of UCR, said, “He has sneaky pop, you want to pitch around him.” Cotton hopes to earn a starting spot in the outfield along with Preston Pavlica, Kona Quiggle, and freshmen Nate Gawelko.
Another player who impressed over the summer was Jake Wong who shut down the Cape Cod League out of the bullpen as a setup man. Wong finished the summer with a 2.65 ERA, partially due to his second outing of the bullpen. Jake stated that “(Relief pitching) was a change of pace for me, but I adjusted well.” After that lapse, he finished the summer with a 0.86 E.R.A in his last 17 appearances on the Cape. Wong will be the ace of this GCU team and remains a high-valued prospect if he continues his success from the summer. D1baseball ranked Wong in the top 20 among right-handed pitchers entering the 2018 MLB Draft this fall. Of course a lot of things can change from now until the season, but expectations are high not only for Wong, but the whole GCU pitching staff.
Zack Malis hit .305 this summer in 69 games. He also had five home runs and 18 doubles for GCU as he looked to develop more pop over the summer. Malis will look to anchor the infield with his play defensively and offensively. With a plethora of infielders, there will be some key positional battles but Malis will fit in, whether it is at third base or first. Tyler Wyatt, Marc Mumper, Ian Evans, and Austin Bull all look to return and improve upon last year.
The Future is Bright and New
As Grand Canyon enters the 2018 campaign there will be one noticeable change. GCU’s Brazell Stadium had a facelift during the offseason that will make it one of the best collegiate baseball stadiums in the country. This new facility is part of GCU’s “10 in 2” program, where the university is building 10 new athletic facilities in two years. The stadium will include chair-back seating surrounding the infield and a grass berm down the lines. A press box featuring two broadcast booths are also under construction. With the Lopes coming off a year where they were regular season champions of the WAC, this season is more anticipated than the last with it also being their first year of postseason eligibility. The Lopes are returning their top three starting pitchers for this season, who combined for a 3.96 ERA as coach Stankiewicz looks to improve on that number this season.
Tom Lerouge, Greg Saenz, and Garrison Swartz combined for 30% of the team’s hits in the 2017 campaign, all of whom will not be returning for the coming year. The Lopes are looking towards Zach Malis to have a breakout season after batting .285 with 18 RBI. Malis will look to be one of the power hitters for the Lopes, so the team hopes he will have multiple opportunities to drive in runs.
Austin Bull will look to solidify himself at shortstop, an improvement that is expected by Bull is to limit the number of strikeouts from 20% in his at-bats, the highest percentage on the team.
Center and right field is where position battles reside. Sophomores Kona Quiggle and previously mentioned Cotton are front-runners for these vacant positions. It is possible top freshman recruit Nate Gawelko out of Mountain Ridge High School in Phoenix could mix into the battle and challenge Quiggle and Cotton. The Lopes have high expectations for this season and look to reach the tournament in their first season of eligibility.