By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
Grand Canyon University’s baseball program, fresh off its first trip to the NCAA Division II College World Series, is already going to work on its next obstacle to conquer.
Players went through exit interviews with the coaching staff on Tuesday and will soon scatter across the country to places such as Oregon, Minnesota, New York, Texas and California to play in summer leagues and work on their skills.
When they return in August, they’ll do so as part of a Division I program as GCU makes the jump to the Western Athletic Conference beginning in the 2013-14 school year.
“I think we are set up well for the move to Division I,” said GCU Coach Andy Stankiewicz. “We have a good group of young men who understand how we want to do it, at least. Whether or not we’ll be real competitive next year, I believe the guys here know our system and realize what it takes to have success.”
For Stankiewicz, that system revolves around strong pitching, sound fundamentals and a solid work ethic.
“Pitching and defense, the last I looked, have been successful in major league baseball,” Stankiewicz said. “If we do that, I really believe we’ll continue to have success at the Division I level.”
In just the second year with Stankiewicz at the helm, the Antelopes went 40-19 this season – their highest victory total since winning 43 games in 1990 – and reached the College World Series for the first time in 15 years as a Division II program. The trip to the postseason was their first since 2002 and gave them their first playoff victories ever at the D-II level.
The quick turnaround didn’t surprise Stankiewicz because he knew he had three strong pitchers to build his team around in freshman Andrew Naderer (9-3, 2.38 ERA), sophomore Jorge Perez (8-4, 2.86) and sophomore Coley Bruns (7-3, 2.93).
“After the first year, we felt good about where we were coming into the season,” Stankiewicz said. “But so much of it has to do with players staying healthy. We knew if those guys stayed healthy all year, and we continued to develop and move forward, it would be interesting at the end.”
Stankiewicz, who played seven years in the major leagues and spent time as an assistant coach at Arizona State University, understands the types of players needed to succeed at the Division I level.
“We’ve got a ways to go and there will be some initial struggles,” Stankiewicz said. “The players we are going to be facing are bigger, faster and stronger. The starting pitchers we were hitting against in the World Series, those are D-I pitchers. We’ll be seeing those types of arms on the mound all the time.
“So we’ve got to get better offensively… and we’ve got to get bigger and faster as well. That’s where our recruiting will be important moving forward.”
Stankiewicz loses only five seniors off this year’s team – most notably third baseman Derek Mendoza and closer Mark Jarrett – but others also will leave because of the jump to Division I. The roster limit in D-I (35 players) will be a factor; D-II allows an unlimited roster, and GCU had 39 players at the end of this season.
Stankiewicz said he has 10 or 11 recruits committed for next season and is always looking for more. More importantly, he’s still got his trio of returning starting pitchers.
“I’ve watched a lot of good D-I pitchers throw 88 mph and still get guys out because they can throw their offspeed pitches for strikes and move the ball around,” Stankiewicz said. “I feel good about our starters being able to be competitive with a D-I schedule.
“We’re set up to at least be a competitive ballclub in Year 1. I don’t want to go anywhere and get kicked around. I want to represent the University well. I want to represent the program well. I want to represent the alumni well.
“I want people to say, ‘You know what? They may not be the most physically talented team, but they play hard and are a good fundamental ballclub.’”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or [email protected].