It has been a long journey for Andy Stankiewicz.
When the former Major League baseball player took over the Grand Canyon University baseball program in August of 2010, the plan was to someday take a team to the NCAA Division I tournament.
However, at that time the Phoenix school was still playing in Division II, without a specific timetable for when it might be able to move up to D-I. But the administration knew that’s where they wanted to go.
That process started three seasons later when GCU began a four-year transition period to full D-I status.
Stankiewicz guided the Antelopes through that transition, still keeping that original objective in mind. And now, in the program’s third year of D-I postseason eligibility, he has guided them to the first step toward national recognition.
The ‘Lopes won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament last Saturday to become an automatic qualifier for this year’s NCAA Tournament.
While the ‘Lopes are entering uncharted territory, they should find some comfort in the fact that they know something about their opponent. GCU (39-19)-1) will play the University of Arizona Wildcats (40-15) tomorrow in the double-elimination Tucson regional, a team they have met twice in the regular season and beat once.
The ‘Lopes won the first game, 5-4, in mid-April thanks to a walk-off home run by shortstop Channy Ortiz in the 10th inning. But the Cats came back three weeks later with a chip on their shoulders and rolled to a 13-2 victory.
GCU may find it a tougher job this time getting past the Wildcats. When they met during the regular season, Arizona was ranked No. 13 nationally. Since then, they have risen to No. 6 and won the Pac-12 Tournament. Arizona is the No. 6 national seed.
The Cats got caught looking past the ‘Lopes in that earlier loss. That won’t happen again.
And the Wildcats aren’t likely to experience any kind of stage fright from playing under the national spotlight. They’ve been to the national tournament 40 times now and were runner-up finishers just five years ago.
It’s also playoff time, when there’s more on the line. The Pac-12 team that GCU will meet tomorrow will likely most resemble the one that beat the ‘Lopes by a double-digit score. The one that piled up 13 base hits, six of which went for extra bases, with five different players pounding out multiple hits. The team with the defense that held the ‘Lopes to just five hits.
But it’s also win-or-go home for the small Christian school with big aspirations. Andy Stankiewicz has waited 10 years for this opportunity.
He’ll have his boys ready to play.
(Photo: GCU Athletics)