GCU baseball players must have hornets buzzing around in their dreams, turning them into full-blown nightmares.
Over the last four games against the Sacramento State Hornets, Grand Canyon University lost each game by one run. That’s four of the last seven games the Antelopes played to close out the 2019 season, and all came within the span of nine days.
But the painful memories of the last two losses to their conference rivals, on Saturday and Sunday, will be the ones the GCU players will carry with them for a lifetime. Those losses kept the ‘Lopes from winning the Western Athletic Conference Tournament that would give them a berth in the NCAA regional tournament.
It also knocked them off the path to becoming the first sports team at GCU to reach the NCAA Division I Tournament since the school went through a four-year transition from D-II and became eligible to play in the D-I tournament two years ago.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” said GCU head coach Andy Stankiewicz after yesterday’s loss. “We were in a good spot and we had some opportunities (but) we didn’t take care of them yesterday and today.”
Despite losing the final two games of the regular season, both to Sacramento State, the Lopes had a huge rebound as they started the playoffs with a barrage of 16 hits that buried CSU Bakersfield in an 11-2 first-round victory. Kona Quiggle, the junior left fielder from nearby Greenway High School, led the assault with three hits that included a home run and a triple.
That gave the Lopes the momentum to roll through their next two games, a 5-0 shutout of UT Rio Grande Valley and a seventh-inning, four-run rally that gave them an 8-3 decision over top-seeded New Mexico State. GCU had outscored its first three tourney opponents, 24-5, in the games played at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa.
But then Sacramento State returned once again to throw a wet blanket over their party — and put an end to the program’s winningest season in D-I. The Lopes finished the season 36-24, 18-9 in conference, and won 19 of their final 25 games.
Quiggle got the Lopes off to a good start in Saturday’s game with a double that was followed by singles from senior Austin Bull and freshman Johnny Weaver to give the Lopes a 2-0 advantage. The final GCU run came in the fifth off singles by Tyler Wyatt and Quin Cotton. But the Hornets rallied back to win the game, 4-3, and force a final game for the title on Sunday.
Sacramento State lost its opening game, but strung together six wins in the double-elimination tourney to eventually win it all. Saturday’s loss was GCU’s first.
In Sunday’s finale, the Hornets struck first by scoring a run in the first inning and two more in the top of the third – all home runs – before GCU got on the board with a home run of its own by senior center fielder Preston Pavlica in the bottom of the third to make it 3-1.
Sacramento State added a couple more runs to their lead, scoring once in the sixth and again in the eighth before the Lopes used a three-run rally in their half of the eighth to close the gap to 5-4. But it ended in the ninth inning when Pikai Winchester, who had contributed a deep single to left to help his teammates mount the three-run rally in the eighth, hit a ground ball for the final out.
Winchester wrapped his senior season with a .381 tournament batting average and was named to the All-WAC Tournament team, along with teammates Bull and junior pitcher Kade Mechals.
(Photo: GCU Athletics)