26 Th11 2021 | 04:33
For the second time in three seasons, Grand Canyon enters the WAC Tournament as the top seed. GCU is in search of its first Division I NCAA Tournament appearance and can accomplish that by winning the WAC Tournament and the accompanying automatic bid. The Lopes’ tournament journey begins on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Mesa’s Hohokam Stadium.
GCU earned a bye on the tournament’s first day and will play No. 4 seed New Mexico State who opened its tournament action with a 7-5 victory over No. 5 Seattle U on Wednesday night.
The Lopes wrapped an impressive regular-season slate that included a 29-7 record in WAC play. GCU shared a WAC regular-season title with California Baptist after the teams split a four-game set to end the regular season. The Lopes will not have to deal with the Lancers due to CBU’s status as a transitioning school.
GCU is competing in its third WAC Tournament since rejoining the D-I ranks for the 2014 season. The Lopes entered as the top seed in 2018 and dropped their first two games. GCU bounced back in 2019 as the No. 4 seed. The Lopes won games against CSU Bakersfield, UT Rio Grande Valley and New Mexico State to advance to the championship series against Sacramento State. GCU fell victim to a hot Sacramento State team with the Hornets claiming back-to-back one-run victories to steal the tournament title.
Throughout the regular season, the Lopes posted a 16-4 record against the other teams in the tournament field. GCU swept No. 4 New Mexico State and No. 5 Seattle U. The Lopes claimed 3-1 series victories against No. 2 Sacramento State and No. 6 Utah Valley. In the conference-opening series, GCU split with No. 3 UTRGV.
GCU enters tournament play with the newly-minted WAC Pitcher of the Year (Pierson Ohl) and WAC Coach of the Year (Andy Stankiewicz). The Lopes took home 10 accolades to pace the conference in end-of-season awards released earlier in the week.
Ohl anchors a GCU starting pitching rotation that also features senior Dawson McCarville, freshman Carter Young and senior Zach Barnes. Ohl went a league-best 8-0 in conference action with a sparkling 2.20 ERA. McCarville was the owner of the league’s lowest ERA among starting pitchers in conference action (1.30) and was an All-WAC honorable mention selection. Young made it 11 career starts before being handed his first career loss last weekend but still holds a 7-1 record that netted him a spot on the All-WAC second team. Barnes began the year as GCU’s opening-game starter before moving to the back of the rotation of late.
Collectively, the Lopes feature a 3.92 staff ERA — a mark which paces the tournament field. GCU pitchers are allowing opponents to hit just .244, the program’s lowest mark since 1976.
While GCU’s deep pitching staff has been successful, the Lopes’ offense has been equally impressive. GCU also leads the tournament field in batting average with a .286. Six of GCU’s nine typical starters feature batting averages over .300. Elijah Buries, Channy Ortiz and Jacob Wilson earned first-team All-WAC honors, while Tayler Aguilar and Brock Burton landed on the second team. Buries, a freshman, paces the Lopes in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and stolen bases.
With a win on Thursday night, the Lopes would advance to another 7 p.m. first pitch on Friday to face the winner of Thursday’s Sacramento State-UTRGV matchup.
All tournament games will be streamed on ESPN+ (subscription required) or on the WAC Digital Network for international viewers.