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Grand Canyon's unlikely tournament run ends in regional final

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TUCSON – Fourth-seeded Grand Canyon had just a few hours to build up more history before turning its attention to something the program has never experienced – competing in a regional championship late Sunday.

GCU had 19 hits and, thanks to outstanding relief pitching by side-armer Walter Quinn, was able to overcome an 8-3 deficit and eliminate Dallas Baptist 12-10 in the NCAA Tucson Regional at Hi Corbett Field on Sunday afternoon.

GCU had to recover quickly before facing third-seeded West Virginia in the regional title game on Sunday at 6 p.m. But the Mountaineers were too strong in the second game, defeating the Lopes 10-6 to advance to the Super Regional round and end Grand Canyon's season.

West Virginia scored all its runs in the first five innings, then called on starter Derek Clark to get the final two outs and send Grand Canyon home. With two runners on base, Clark, who pitched 101 innings and had eight strikeouts in a first-round win over DBU on Friday, struck out Eli Paton and pinch-hitter Beau Ankeney to send the Mountaineers to their first Super Regional.

“That was never the plan until the ninth inning,” said WVU coach Randy Mazey, who will retire after this season. “But we put all our cards on the table. If we had to play tomorrow, would you still be eligible to play?

“We missed a lot of balls in that game, and once Derek got in, tomorrow's game would have been a real problem. That's what we had to do to win back then. As soon as the game ended last night (a 5-2 win over GCU), Derek came to me and said, 'I'm ready to go tomorrow.' He's a guy that can throw a lot of shots. The number of shots depends on how you coach the guys. He coaches in a way that he can handle it better than a lot of people.”

GCU got a two-run homer from Zack Yorke in the ninth inning after Maxx Yehl came in to replace Carson Estridge, who threw 3 2/3 innings. Mazey wasted no time getting his ace to end the game.

After GCU drove out starter Hayden Cooper in the first inning and the first five batters reached the field, including back-to-back doubles by Tyler Wilson and Cade Verdusco, Aidan Major, who hadn't pitched in a month, came into the game and held GCU to just three runs in the first inning.

He took the Mountaineers through 4⅔ innings, with the offense overwhelming the GCU pitchers with 10 runs and 15 hits in the first five innings.

“We would have loved to get to a super regional, but to make it to a regional championship round was special for us,” GCU coach Gregg Wallis said. “I think that's what sets our program apart, it's a top-40 program. And to be in the final 32 was incredible.”

GCU had no termination in the regional

The Lopes had already demonstrated their resilience earlier in the day.

“I don't know if we looked at this as fourth place,” Wallis said after the previous game. “We just approached it with the idea of ​​playing great baseball and having fun. There's good baseball all over the country. What we're doing here shows that our (WAC) conference is really good.”

A week ago, the Lopes (36-25) were simply grateful to be among the 64 NCAA teams participating in the tournament.

Wallis, who has coached the GCU program for 12 years, including the last two as head coach, fought back tears when asked what it means to him that the team has made it this far. When the Lopes defeated No. 1 seed Arizona 9-4 on Friday, it was the school's first NCAA Tournament victory.

After scoring three runs in the fifth inning, four runs in the sixth inning, and then taking advantage of four walks by closer Conner MacKay in the eighth inning to break a 10-10 tie in Game 1 with two runs, GCU made history by reaching a regional championship game for the first time.

GCU had an 0-4 record in two regionals in 2021 and 2022 before appearing in a regional again this year, only because Tarleton State, the winner of the WAC tournament, was not allowed to participate in the regionals because this was the fourth and final year of its transition from a D-II school.

“This is a big moment, a special moment,” Wallis said. “We've reached a new standard. I'm touched because I've been here for 12 years. This is what we've been working towards.”

“We said at the beginning of the year that this group with these guys is going to take the program further than it's ever been before. And that's going to be the legacy for our seniors who have been here for four years. And now we've done that. We hope that's the new standard. We looked at Dallas Baptist and said, 'This is what we want.' They've been to 10 straight regionals and they're used to playing on Sundays.”

This elimination game on Sunday began with Patriots fans chanting “DBU” in the first inning as red-hot Tom Poole hit his third two-run home run in two days to give his team a 2-0 lead.

Lopes fans began to drown out DBU fans in the second inning, as GCU scored three times, with Michael Diaz, Dustin Crenshaw, Alton Gyselman, Emilio Barreras and Tyler Wilson all delivering hits. That wasn't the only five-hit inning for the Lopes. They did it again in the sixth inning, when they scored four runs to take a 10-9 lead. Eddy Pelc, who moved up from seventh to third in the order, had one of GCU's three doubles in the inning.

Zach Yorke and Crenshaw also had RBI doubles.

This attack was the most relentless in GCU's NCAA DI tournament history, with 19 goals.

But after DBU (45-15) tied the score at 10-10 in the seventh inning with Luke Heefner's sacrifice fly, GCU needed just one hit in the eighth inning to score two runs. With one out and the bases loaded, MacKay walked Cade Verdusco and Pelc, giving the Lopes a 12-10 lead.

That was all Quinn needed. He got back into form after allowing two batters to walks and a single in the seventh inning. It started with a pick-off by Nathan Humphrey at second base that ended the seventh inning. Quinn had a 1-2-3 eighth and then made it through the ninth inning, facing only four batters.

“That was a really big deal because we have some pitchers that are banged up,” Quinn said. “I'm just really thankful that Wally put me in there and trusted me to keep going. I just had to be there.”

Who will Wallis throw to the mound now?

Carter Young, who was a substitute in Saturday's loss, will start Sunday night against WVU and see how things go. Basically, it's all hands on deck at this point and we hope the bats continue to run well.

Pelc was GCU's top hitter in the region and Wallis rewarded him by moving him from seventh to third for DBU. Pelc had three hits, two RBIs and was stopped twice by walks.

The Lopes needed everyone in the lineup to survive another monster game from Poole, who had a home run, two doubles and six RBIs in his first four batting appearances.

Wallis said his decision to change the lineup had something to do with the pairings.

“I sat down early this morning and started writing the lineup,” Wallis said. “I thought to myself, this guy (Pelc) here has thrown our best at-bats. He's been great. He's been performing. I said, 'If this is the last game of the year, I want to put Eddy in as much as possible.' I'm glad I made that decision.”