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Coro: Ortiz kept eye on rewarding return

26 Th11 2021 | 04:44

This success story starts with a 134-pound Grand Canyon freshman who hit .200 and transferred to a junior college because his opportunity to play as a Lopes sophomore appeared bleak.

It bookends with that player, Channy Ortiz, becoming the slick-fielding, consistent-hitting, surprise-slugging senior who returned to GCU and led the Lopes to their first NCAA Division I postseason appearance.

Ortiz never had issue with any wall in front of him, whether it be a redirected college baseball dream or the the family house.

Ortiz bounced back like the tennis balls he threw off the side of the family house for years as he grew up 3 miles north of GCU. He wore the notion that he needed to improve as well as the glove that rarely came off his boyhood hand, especially at his older brothers’ baseball games.

“The journey was a long one but it was the best decision to go juco and then come back here and wear a Lope uniform,” Ortiz said. “A lot of people might quit after that. I faced the truth. It hit me but I knew what I had to do to help myself and figure out how to win games to bring it back to GCU. I learned a lot about myself.”

And now the college baseball world is learning about Ortiz, who climbed the Lopes batting order to become a consummate leadoff hitter with a .318 batting average, an unexpected power source for the team home run lead and a defensive marvel at shortstop.

When GCU makes its NCAA DI tournament debut at national No. 5 seed Arizona on Friday night, Ortiz’s 10th-inning walk-off home run to upset the Wildcats on April 13 will be aired as a photo of the celebration already hangs inside GCU’s Tim Salmon Clubhouse.

“I don’t remember running the bases,” Ortiz said.

But all of the Lopes recall the diving play he made in the hole to save two runs that would have put GCU into a 6-1 hole in the WAC Tournament championship round. Ortiz’s gem set up the Lopes’ rally that has them cast as a dangerous No. 4 seed in the Tucson Regional.

“We knew he’d have the baseball IQ and be a defender,” GCU head coach Andy Stankiewicz said. “I didn’t anticipate eight homers. We anticipated a scrappy hitter. But what he’s done for us in the leadoff spot makes the hits a bonus. If you make the starting guy work and work more than one pitch, it allows for our guys to see what’s coming.”

All Ortiz has known is how to work, an ethic that he and his older brothers, Hector and Ernesto, learned from their father, Ernesto. Their dad labored in the water damage restoration industry to provide baseball opportunities for his sons. He made sure they had enough for a backyard batting cage, equipment and travel clubs and they repaid him by all earning college scholarships.

The younger Ernesto played on Stankiewicz’s first team at GCU, where Channy always wanted to play and committed as a Glendale Apollo High School sophomore.

Saturday’s WAC Tournament championship celebration was not Ortiz’s first championship dogpile. He ran on the field when Ernesto, nine years older than him, won a high school state championship with Scottsdale Chaparral.

“He always had a glove and always wanted to play catch with whoever,” Ernesto said. “He would always have a tennis ball and would throw it off any wall he could find. That’s how he started off his defensive abilities, just playing catch on his own, throwing the ball off the wall, fielding it and throwing it back.”

Now it is Ortiz’s 3-year-old niece, Bella, running on the field to join his championship celebration while wearing one of the “ORTIZ 14” jerseys that Ortiz bought for her second birthday.

Just thinking about his family’s devotion brings a tear to Ortiz’s eye. Before each game, he blows a kiss to his mother, Maria. She walked him to and from school every day through sixth grade. His parents never miss a game now that his father started his own business.

“My dad has done everything for us,” Ortiz said. “He has given up so much for our family. He works an extreme amount of hours so we can have this.”

Despite captaining Apollo for three years, the college game blew Ortiz away as a freshman. Pitches, decision-making, and hits’ exit speeds overwhelmed a slight GCU freshman relegated to spot duty.

“I thought I was ready for this,” Ortiz said. ” I was going to try to win a starting spot, but I noticed quickly how fast the game was and how far I was behind. The game was so fast. I was like, ‘Sheesh.’ ”

Ortiz, his brother Ernesto and Stankiewicz talked the following summer about transferring to Yavapai College, where he could start every day and get the at bats he needed. It was an ideal spot with a staff that included Hall of Fame prep coaching legend Jerry Dawson, Ernesto’s high school coach.

At the Prescott, Arizona, junior college, Ortiz matured as a player and person while hitting .309 for head coach Ryan Cougill.

“Channy bought into it and played short and second every day and got 175 at bats, which is what you need,” Stankiewicz said. “He came back and hasn’t missed a beat. He’s been our every-day shortstop ever since he got back.”

Ortiz has been rock steady for GCU, carrying over what he began as a junior when the COVID-19 pandemic cut his junior season short just as he was on a 10-for-24 hot streak.

Longing for another chance after a taste of success, Ortiz locked down this season’s infield defense at shortstop and ascended quickly to the top of the batting order. The All-WAC first-team honoree leads the Lopes in hits, home runs, total bases, walks and stolen bases.

“He never gets too high or too low,” said his brother Ernesto, who played for GCU in 2011-12 and married a GCU softball player, Vanessa Chavez. “He just enjoys playing the game. If he’s 4 for 4 or 0 for 4, you’ll never know. He can affect the game so much on the defensive side of things that he can’t let his at bats get to him and take it out to the field.

“He has so much fun when he plays the games that it allows him to be free.”

Ortiz, the lightest player in the lineup, hit one home run ( against Tucson Regional team Oklahoma State) for February and March before an off-day batting cage slugging session with ex-Lopes players Quin Cotton and Tyler Wyatt prompted a power surge.

The switch-hitting Ortiz belted seven home runs from April 1 to May 1, including the game-winner against Arizona.

“I definitely have surprised myself here and there with some of the plays that I made,” Ortiz said. “I’m like, ‘Did I really just do that?’ That ball (vs. Arizona) was hit so hard. I look back at it and that ball was smoked.”

One feat would top that feeling – beating Arizona on Friday night in the four-team, double-elimination Tucson Regional.

“I get absolutely excited that I get to play another game,” Ortiz said. “To me, it doesn’t matter who we play. Just put me on the field, give me my glove and my bat and let’s go.”