Last night was the opening night for the Grand Canyon University Antelopes. You may never have heard of this program, but you likely will in the future. Although a rich baseball tradition has existed at GCU, they’re only two years back in their climb to a D1 program. They’re ineligible for post season play for two more seasons, but this program has the chance to become a major powerhouse in the hotbed of Arizona baseball. The roster is well rounded, with returning veterans such as senior Paul Panaccione, the 2015 player of the year in the Western Athletic Conference, and sophomore Garrison Schwartz, the 2015 rookie of the year in the WAC, and newcomers such as highly touted high schooler Tyler Wyatt, who started at first and hit 6th in GCU’s lineup last night.
The game opened coach Andy Stankiewicz’s fifth season at the helm of the Antelopes. Stankiewicz has guided the Lopes to an impressive 129-87 record in his first five years. Coach Stankiewicz also managed to earn a top 35 recruiting class recognition by Baseball America, the only team in the Western Athletic Conference to do so in 2015. Along with Arizona State, GCU is the only other D1 program to recieve this recruiting recognition. Stankiewicz is a former MLB player with the Yankees and most recently the Diamondbacks, and although GCU is a college team, you can feel Coach Stankie’s major league presence on the field. Assistant Gregg Walls coached third base while Stankiewicz remained at his perch in the dugout, like a true MLB manager.
Under a 74 degree, clear February night in Phoenix, the pregame ceremony included handing out the Western Athletic Conference rings from last season, and also the unfurling of the huge banner that towers over the right center wall. With a packed house of nearly 1,500 and a local television broadcast and live stream on ESPN 3, fans from all over the country were exposed to this up and coming program, who took care of the Gonzaga Zags 7 to 1.
Highlights of the game included the return of senior redshirt Jorge Perez, who picked up the win, hurling a scoreless 5.2 innings, which is a good sign for the Lopes after sitting out last year with an injury. Brandon Smith led the Lopes’ offensive attack going 3 for 5 at the plate with 2 RBI’s. Here’s a complete game recap.
The Lopes have three more against the Zags, with a double header today and one on Sunday, all at GCU’s Brazell stadium.