The Grand Canyon University softball team poked the bear – and paid for it. But not before the ‘Lopes posted one of the most significant wins in program history.
Yesterday, the Antelopes shocked the No. 1 team in the nation to become the first athletic program at the private Christian school in west Phoenix to take down a No. 1 in any sport since the school moved up from Division II to D-I for the 2017-18 season.
After the 5-3 victory over top-ranked Florida State in the first game of a doubleheader at GCU Softball Stadium, the Seminoles quickly re-discovered their mojo and came back in the nightcap to post an 11-1 rebound win.
But that loss couldn’t take away from the fact that one of the smallest schools in the Western Athletic Conference, unranked going into the game, took down an SEC power and handed the nation’s top team its only loss in 23 games this season, breaking a 28-game win streak that goes back to last season.
“What a great night for the program,” said GCU head coach Ann Pierson after the game. “I am so proud of the kids. To just come out with this crazy, focused energy… to just compete.”
Pierson, who started the GCU softball program and is in her 16th year as head coach, led the ‘Lopes to the WAC championship in 2014, the first year of a four-year transition to full-fledged Division I membership. The next two years, they finished runner-up, and then shared the 2017 crown. Last season they won it outright.
And that ‘focus’ she referred to after the FSU opener is exactly what the ‘Lopes needed to recover from the gut punch they suffered when the Seminoles started the game by smacking back-to-back home runs in the first inning to jump out to a 2-0 lead. When FSU added another run in the third it began to look like the game was going to get away from GCU. But a defensive gem turned the momentum toward the ‘Lopes.
Shortstop Shea Smith from Verrado High School made a diving catch of a line drive up the middle of the infield and touched second base for an improbable double play that put the fire out. And ignited one under the underdog ‘Lopes.
Sophomore catcher Kaileigh Holland (Willow Canyon HS) led off the bottom of the third with a home run and GCU began building some confidence. In the fifth inning, the ‘Lopes added two more runs, thanks to back-to-back doubles by Sierra Smith (Verrado HS) and Savannah Tourville, to cut the lead to a single run. Senior left fielder Maddie Dowdle (Pusch Ridge Christian Academy) tied the score at 3-3 with an infield single.
Tourville and Dowdle combined to bring home the win, knocking in the final two runs in the sixth inning. Tourville doubled to score pinch runner Christine Bellavia (Canyon del Oro HS) and Dowdl’s single over third base brought Tourville home for the final score.
GCU starter Yessie Morrison picked up her fourth win of the season, settling down after giving up those first two home runs and allowing just four hits the rest of the way. The sophomore allowed three runs and seven hits, while giving up just one base-on-balls.
FSU started its ace, Meghan King, but the ‘Lopes were able to tag her for seven hits over 5 2/3 innings. Prior to the game, King’s 0.72 ERA ranked 14th in the nation.
The ‘Lopes are 12-9, barely above .500. But bringing a giant to its knees has a way of attracting new-found respect.
(Photo: GCU Athletics)