GCU softball travels to Hawaii for season’s biggest games

A brand new national ranking is just what the Grand Canyon University softball team needed as they get ready for two of the most important games of the season today.

The Antelopes cracked the top 10 this week after convincing wins over then-No. 18 Notre Dame de Namur, followed up by a dominating sweep of a doubleheader with Dominican University of California in which they outscored the Penguins, 19-2.

In the first game against Dominican, GCU pounded out 18 hits to wrap up a 16-2 victory in just five innings.  The ‘Lopes buried Dominican early by piling up 10 runs in the first inning and just cruised from there.

The ‘Lopes (18-5) are off to a 6-0 start in conference play, powered by outstanding hitting that has enabled them to outscore their conference opponents, 38-4.  Half of the games were shutouts.

That has elevated them from No. 13 in the Division II national polls to No. 7 in the latest rankings.

And they will ride that momentum of confidence into this afternoon’s doubleheader with Hawaii Hilo, with a chance to solidify their hold on first place in the Pacific West Conference.  The Lopes are sitting in first place, one game ahead of Hawaii Hilo (16-11, 4-1), which is also riding high after a  two-game sweep of Brigham Young University – Hawaii.

The ‘Lopes will have to notch the wins on the road, since the games will be played in Waimea, Hawaii.  Today’s doubleheader kicks off a 10-game road trip through Hawaii.

For several years, GCU has been building a presence on the national stage with teams loaded with local players – and this year is no exception.  Thirteen of the 17 players on this year’s roster come from Arizona high schools.

The big win over Dominican in the opening game of that series is a good example of the kind of contributions being made by local athletes.

Haley Walker, a sophomore outfielder from Pinnacle High School in Phoenix, contributed three hits to the offensive onslaught, while Kayla Henry and Claire Zampini each added two of their own.  They hold down the other two spots in the ‘Lopes outfield. Henry, who crossed the plate three times in the win and has now reached base in every game this season, is a sophomore from Canyon del Oro High School in Tucson and Zampini is a junior from Deer Valley High School in Glendale.

Nicole Newbury from Horizon High School in Scottsdale and Stephanie Smith from Sandra Day O’Connor High School in Phoenix also scored twice.

Add to that an all-local pitching tandem of Stephanie Pesqueira from Tempe High and Kailey Regester from Chandler’s Basha High, working together to strike out eight and hold Dominican to three hits over the mercy-ruled five innings.  Pesquiera came back in the night cap to go the distance and push her record to 8-2 on the season.

It also doesn’t hurt that the ‘Lopes have the 2012 PacWest Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year on the roster.  Kelsey Barak had a two-run triple to help blow up the first inning, and then went on to tally three hits, three runs, and four RBIs.

The sophomore shortstop isn’t from Arizona.  She’s an import from Fontana, Calif.

But it’s easy to overlook that small imperfection when she’s wreaking havoc on the opposition.

(Photo: GCU Athletics)