GCU opens tourney on come-from-behind win

26 Th11 2021 | 04:35

MESA, Ariz. — Grand Canyon senior right-hander Nick Hull tossed 4 2/3 innings of scoreless relief with a career-best nine strikeouts, as the Lopes chipped away at an early three-run deficit to top No. 4 seed New Mexico State 5-4 in their 2021 WAC Tournament debut at Hohokam Stadium on Thursday night.

GCU (37-19-1) broke its record for most wins in a Division I season and advanced to play No. 2 seed Sacramento State on Friday at 7 p.m.

The Aggies (20-33) put three runs on the board in the first inning and reclaimed a three-run lead with another score in the third, but GCU’s senior bullpen trio of Hull, Coen Wynne and Frankie Scalzo held New Mexico State scoreless for the final six frames.

“I figured I was going to have to eat up some innings there,” said Hull, who improved to 3-1. “That’s what I’ve been doing lately, that’s been my role out of the ‘pen. Unfortunately we don’t want to see Carter (Young) stumble like that a little bit early, but I figured I’d have to get it going early if I was going to come in today.”

Hull matched his career high for pitches thrown with 85, set during his freshman campaign in 2018. The right-hander threw 39 more pitches than his next-highest outing this season.

Nick Hull has been lights out,” Lopes head coach Andy Stankiewicz said. “He’s on a bit of a mission here. Senior year and he’s just been — last month and a half — he’s been fantastic. Just exciting for him.”

Hull has allowed one run in his last 25 1/3 innings of work.

“Best thing about this game is that it’s a team game,” Stankiewicz said. “Carter Young didn’t fare as well as we liked. The best thing about it is that you had some older guys that picked him up today. Carter Young is going to do that the next couple years for some young guy.”

After the Aggies plated three runs in the first inning, the Lopes responded with one-run tallies in the second, third and fourth innings. After a pair of hits from senior center fielder Brock Burton and junior second baseman Jonny Weaver, senior shortstop Channy Ortiz hit into a fielder’s choice to score GCU’s first run.

In the third and fourth innings, it was clutch two-out hitting. GCU freshman right fielder Cade Verdusco doubled in a run with two outs in the third, and Lopes freshman first baseman Elijah Buries singled in a run with two outs in the fourth. Buries’ RBI came with added drama as a bang-bang play at first relied on a video replay reversal of an initial out call.

“We didn’t really drive the ball, but we just kept putting the ball in play,” Stankiewicz said. “When you keep doing that, you give yourself a shot.”

GCU completed the comeback in the sixth by plating two. Verdusco and Burton teamed for back-to-back RBI singles, Verdusco’s to tie and Burton’s for the lead.

“We’re just going to punch back,” Verdusco said. “They put up three, we’re going to put up one, one, one. All of a sudden, it’s a tie game. We always say that ‘a storm is coming.’ Throughout the game, we always stay positive. We’re going to get those runs in. We’re going to do it. We’re going to win. You just got to stay positive. You can’t let the negative thoughts get to you.”

Wynne and Scalzo ensured GCU’s 6-5 edge would stand after each senior tossed a scoreless frame. Scalzo stranded the tying run at second base to end the game. Defense was key down the stretch, as Ortiz made a sliding grab in foul territory to help the cause in the eighth, and Burton tracked down a fly ball to deep right-center field to keep the tying run from scoring in the ninth.

Buries’ game-high four hits set a GCU record for WAC Tournament action.

The Lopes outhit the Aggies 13-10 but stranded 14 runners on base.

GCU matches up with Sacramento State at 7 p.m. Friday at Hohokam Stadium with the winner clinching its place in Saturday’s championship round.