Seniors Expect Big Things From ’Lopes Baseball
By Doug Carroll
Seniors Tyler Bair and Colin Courtland have a feeling that a breakthrough season is on the way for GCU’s baseball team.
How do they know? Let us count the ways:
- The Antelopes’ record of 28-24 in 2010 represented a 12-win improvement over the previous season. Several key players are back. Bair hit .411, Courtland .336.
- GCU took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning against Arizona State University on March 9 before losing, 4-2 — an indication that the ’Lopes can hang with anyone.
- The addition of shortstop Ernesto Ortiz, a transfer from Division I Gonzaga University, has given early indications of being a difference maker.
- Brazell Stadium was a busy place in the offseason, with several players working out on their own, sometimes on holidays.
“I’ve never been on a team that works this hard,” says Courtland, adding that 35 to 40 wins isn’t out of the question for 2011. “We want to get this program moving in the right direction. We want to get it going forward again.”
The Antelopes are ranked ninth in the West Region and have been picked to finish second among five teams in the Pacific West Conference, behind Dixie State College. They’ll begin to see what they’ve got at 4 p.m. today and Thursday against visiting Arizona Christian University (formerly Southwestern College).
Bair says this is the most talented team he has been on at GCU. When practice began on Jan. 5, he says he could tell that something was different.
“The first couple of weeks, we had better practices than we’ve ever had here,” he says. “As a whole, each player will be able to carry their load. There are new faces, but everyone kind of gets it. You can see we all want the same thing.”
Freshman third baseman Jackie Samora of Glendale (Apollo HS) figures to join Ortiz for an all-new left side of the infield. Courtland and sophomore Brady Wager return to the pitching staff, which has been bolstered by transfers David Wydeven of Indian Hills Community College (Iowa) and Coltin White of Brigham Young University.
Coach Dave Stapleton is cautiously optimistic about his 10th season at GCU.
“Just because you work hard, that doesn’t guarantee wins or championships,” he says. “It just gives you an opportunity for those. But I like this group. I think they’ve jelled and can go far.”
Last year’s ASU game was a bit of a revelation to everyone in the program — and beyond.
“It was a positive for us within the baseball community,” Stapleton says. “It kind of put us back in the conversation. Afterward, I told their coach, Tim Esnay, ‘Well, we made you sweat a little.’ And he said, ‘No, Dave, I’m soaking wet.’
“We need to match that every day we come out to play this year.”
Even a conference championship provides no assurance of postseason play for the Antelopes. The top four teams in the West Region will make the Division II tournament, and one of those will be the California Collegiate Athletic Association champion, which receives an automatic bid. The PacWest winner gets no such favors.
“If we want to avoid sitting and waiting (for a bid), we’ve got to win lots of games and put it out of reach,” Stapleton says.
“We’ve got a better team all around, but we haven’t seen another color of uniform in four months. So we’ll wait until they get into the other dugout and see what we’ve got.”
Reach Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.