GCU baseball moves into national rankings at No. 23

A top-25 national ranking for the Grand Canyon University baseball team has brought with it some validation for a move made by the school two years ago when it fired its former head coach 18 games into the 2011 season.

The ‘Lopes entered the Collegiate Baseball Poll at No. 23 this week, as Andy Stankiewicz continues to see improvement over last year’s 27-23 record and a third place finish in the Pacific West Conference.  This year’s squad is 20-5 overall and has lost just once in its 16 conference games to earn a seat atop the PacWest.

Stankiewicz came on board amid a storm of controversy following the dismissal of Dave Stapleton, who played his college ball at GCU and had been with the program for 17 years, 10 as the head coach.  Stapleton, who was just the third head coach in the history of the program, was removed from the position in March of 2011 and assistant coach Ryan Bethel took over the reins until a coaching search came up with Stankiewicz, who brought a bigger ‘name’ to the program.    The former big league player was also an assistant coach at Arizona State from 2007-09.

Last season saw gradual improvement and this season held a lot of promise since there was a solid core of returning players and incoming talent among the 27 newcomers to blend with it.  The ‘Lopes also had in the fold the PacWest Pre-season Player of the Year in its senior third baseman, Derek Mendoza.

Mendoza, who graduated from Red Mountain High School in Mesa, is in his second year at GCU after transferring in from South Mountain Community College.  Last year he was named the PacWest Co-Newcomer of the Year after posting a .407 batting average with 39 RBIs.

But early optimism took a tumble when the team lost both games of the opening series against UC San Diego, which was ranked No. 23 in the nation at the time.  To make matters worse, it was a home series.

That’s all a distant memory now, as the ‘Lopes won their 12th straight game last night in beating Cal Poly Pomona, 3-2, in the opener to a two-game home series.

As might be expected with a roster that includes 31 local players on a 45-man roster, Stankiewicz was able to rely on home-grown talent to notch last night’s win over Cal Poly.  Steven Swingle, the junior catcher who transferred in from Mesa Community College, got the ball rolling by scoring the first run of the game and then finished the night with a pair of hits that included a double.

Paul Panaccione, a freshman infielder from Liberty High School in Peoria, also singled and scored in the fifth to push the lead to 2-0, and then Mendoza padded the margin with a sixth-inning home run.

Malcolm Purdy, a junior right-hander from Paradise Valley High School who played at Chandler-Gilbert CC, earned the win and Mark Jarrett, another JUCO transfer, was credited with the save. It was the sixth save on the season for Jarrett, who graduated from Red Mountain High School before moving on to Mesa CC.

Who says you can’t win with talent from your own back yard?  Not Andy Stankiewicz.

(Photo: GCU Athletics)