GCU baseball feeling confident ahead of WAC tournament

In their first season of Division 1 postseason eligibility, Grand Canyon University baseball is the number one seed in the WAC tournament. 

The Lopes are 2018 regular season champions, finishing the season with a 33-22 record. As the number one seed, GCU will get the bye on Wednesday and start play on Thursday night.

“We’ve been waiting on this for awhile,” GCU senior infielder Ian Evans said. “Our goal always in the past was just to win the regular season, we couldn’t play in the tournament, so now that we have the opportunity, we’re pretty excited.”

GCU head coach Andy Stankiewicz said getting to have one more weekend and potentially more with this group of guys is what he’s excited about.

“A lot of these guys came here knowing there was no postseason eligibility, but they came anyway,” Stankiewicz said. “As a coaching staff, we’re grateful that they would understand that and see the big picture and say ‘okay, I’m going to get better and I’m going to develop into a good player and I want the program to get better and become a better program.'”

Lopes’ ace Jake Wong was one of those players who came to GCU inspired by what was to come for the Lopes’ program. Now, he has become one of the best arms in college baseball.

“It’s all come full circle,” Wong said. “If you talked to me a couple years ago, I probably wouldn’t have told you I’d be where I’m at. I couldn’t be any more thankful for the GCU program, the GCU staff, and the opportunity to be where I’m at.”

Wong will be the probable starter for Thursday’s tournament opener, Stankiewicz said.

“Jake will probably get the ball with game one and then we’ll figure that one out after that,” Stankiewicz said. “(Jake) Repavich or (Ethan) Evanko are our other two guys, so we’ll map that out a bit. We’re not going to get too tricky.”

The pressure of the big moment in GCU’s first Division 1 postseason doesn’t bother Wong, he said.

“It’s not pressure, it’s just more excitement,” Wong said. “This is something we’ve worked for. Going in we’re pretty confident being as we were the regular season champs, that gives us a little more confidence…There’s going to be times of pressure, close games, it’s going to be intense, but that’s what we live for, that’s what we work for.”

At the beginning of the season, the Lopes saw some early struggles. Stankiewicz said at the time, that a big part those struggles was a lack of team identity. Fast forward to the end of the regular season, ahead of tournament play, Stankiewicz said everyone has “found their roles” and it’s paid off.

“It’s been kind of fun to see guys say ‘hey, it’s not about me, it’s about my teammates, it’s about the program,'” Stankiewicz said. “That’s been a big part of it (success).”

Evans said that he would describe the team’s identity now as “gritty.”

“One through nine, everyone on the field contributing, just never giving up no matter what the score is, giving it everything you have,” Evans said. “We found that out pretty quick once we started going through a little bit of a rough patch towards the beginning, we didn’t really look to far ahead, we just wanted to take it game-by-game, pitch-by-pitch, I think that’s where we found our identity.”

The postseason is a clean slate, anything can happen, Stankiewicz said.

“It doesn’t matter who’s the one who’s the six,” Stankiewicz said. “Everybody’s earned the right to be here. It’s just a matter of who plays really good baseball to continue to play.”

The Lopes won six straight to end the regular season, including a sweep of No. 4 seed Seattle U, who they will play on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. Seattle U beat No. 5 Northern Colorado 8-3 on Wednesday afternoon. 

“As of right now, we’re playing our best baseball,” Evans said. “That’s what coach has been saying, is we want to be playing our best baseball towards the end of the season. So for this tournament, I think we’re ready to go.”