The wait is finally over! After four long years of having their year end at the conclusion of the regular season, as GCU went through the Division 1 transition period, the Lopes are now eligible for the WAC and NCAA postseason tournaments. The WAC Tournament starts today and will be played at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa. “It’s a good time for the guys. They are certainly very excited about what’s in front of them, but at the same time we know there is a lot of work in front of us still.” GCU head coach Andy Stankiewicz said.
The GCU baseball team did great work during the regular season, winning the WAC title with a 19-5 record. The Lopes have won the conference regular season title three of the last four years, including the last two. GCU finished with an overall record of 33-22, the most wins by a Lopes team in Division 1 play, surpassing the 32 victories in 2015.
Yesterday at the WAC Conference’s banquet, Stankiewicz was named the WAC’s Coach of the Year for the second straight season, while sophomore outfielder Quin Cotton claimed conference Player of the Year honors.
Cotton posted a .417 batting average and led the WAC with 32 runs and 45 hits in league play, while ranking second in doubles (10) and total bases (70). Cotton’s .393 average on the year ranks 18th nationally, while his total of 92 hits ranks 3rd in the country. “I’m just doing what the team needs me to do in this lead-off role. I’m just trying to get on base and trying to cause some havoc.” Cotton said.
“Going to Alaska he (Quin) had a good successful summer ball season, so his confidence was strong coming into the fall. He started to use the whole field better. He’s a lot more disciplined at the plate now. His freshman year he was a bit of a free swinger at times, but now he’s really starting to lock in and have a plan at the plate, and he’s really been able to execute. We put him in the lead-off spot when Austin Bull got hurt, and he’s really basked in that role. He really enjoys it. He’s given us good at-bats. He can steal bases. I’m just really encouraged by his development as a ballplayer. We feel like it can continue into this postseason.” Stankiewicz said.
The Lopes had 7 players recognized as All-WAC performers. First team selections were Zach Malis (Third Base), Quin Cotton (Outfield), Tyler Wyatt (Outfield), and Pikai Winchester (Designated Hitter). Picking up second team honors were Jake Wong (Starting Pitcher), Mick Vorhof (Relief Pitcher), and Ethan Evanko (At Large).
Jake Wong is the ace of GCU’s pitching staff and played at Hamilton High School. The junior right hander, who has a record of 9-2 with a 3.09 ERA, is also projected to be an early round pick in a couple of weeks in the MLB Amateur Draft. “Wong has really developed into a front line guy for us. He is our horse on the mound. He’s taken that role and he enjoys that role. It’s been good to see his development as a pitcher. He’s come a long way as a high school kid. He was a strong, physical presence, but just didn’t command the ball real well. Now he’s able to command his fastball in and out, up and down, got a nice breaking ball to go with it, his change-up is starting to come, and he’s starting to sink the ball a little bit more. It’s been fun to watch him develop into a pitcher versus a guy who just throws the ball hard. To his credit, he’s really worked his tail off to become that guy for us.” Stankiewicz said.
For GCU, their full attention is now on the WAC Tournament. After drawing a bye for winning the regular season, the Lopes first game will be on Thursday at 7:00 pm. GCU comes into the tournament on a high note, winners of 6 straight games, and having won every conference series this season. Going back to 2016, the Lopes have won 17 consecutive conference series, the longest active streak in the country.
“It’s huge for us. We pride ourselves on playing well in our conference, and as a mid-major we know we have to play well in our conference, and win our conference tournament to make it into the NCAA Tournament.” Cotton said. Wong adds, “We had a great season and we’re looking to build on that this weekend with the WAC Tournament. It’s something we can hang our hat on and be proud of, but we know there’s a lot more ahead, and obviously the bigger goal is to win the WAC Tournament. That’s our focus now.”
The number one seed has not won the WAC Tournament the past two years. GCU is hoping to buck that trend and earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s huge any time you can get into the tournament. It would be a big thing for us to get in for the first time, in the first year that we’re able to. It would be a big thing for the school, for the program, for the future, and to keep going. It would be amazing if we can go to the (NCAA) regional. That’s the goal.” Former Liberty High School standout and GCU junior outfielder Tyler Wyatt said. Stankiewicz adds, “I told the guys don’t make it bigger than what it is. It’s the first time you’ve gotten this opportunity. Sometimes everyone gets a little tight. Just relax, play ball, do what you’ve been doing all year and we’ll take it from there.”
Stankiewicz, who is in his 7th season leading the GCU program, is hoping to continue what has been a successful season into June. “It would be a nice shot in the arm. The stadium this year has been a nice shot in the arm, where people come here and visit us, and say, oh wow, this is legit. That’s part of the growth of the program, and I think the next step is getting to a (NCAA) regional as we move forward. That would be a nice step in the right direction for sure.”