By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
The NCAA Division II College World Series schedule sets up well for pitchers, with several built-in days off early in the tournament, and GCU is well-stocked in that department.
Andrew Naderer (9-2, 2.52 ERA), Jorge Perez (7-4, 3.12) and Coley Bruns (7-2, 2.30 ERA) give the Antelopes a trio of starters as good as any in the tournament. And, if things get dire as they did in the regional tournament, when GCU played six games in four days, the pitching staff has proved to be pretty resilient as well.
Malcolm Purdy (2-0, 6.86) made his first start of the season in the regional, tossing five effective innings Saturday night as GCU defeated Sonoma State, 8-7, to reach the championship round.
And in the second game Sunday against Chico State, Naderer and Perez both pitched on short rest to help the Antelopes punch their ticket to the CWS.
Naderer, who threw six innings
in the regional opener on Thursday, wanted to pitch Saturday against Sonoma but was denied by Coach Andy Stankiewicz. With an extra day of rest, he came back Sunday against Chico and threw four scoreless innings.
“I felt like I had my stuff,” Naderer said. “My fastball didn’t have quite as much zip and pop, but my curveball was pretty good. That was the pitch that kept me in the game.”
Perez, who pitched nine innings Friday, finished up the championship game with three innings of work (closer Mark Jarrett already had pitched in the early game Sunday against Chico).
“I went up to Coach and told him my arm felt fine,” Perez said. “I definitely wanted to pitch and give our team a chance to get in the College World Series.”
Perez allowed just two hits and two unearned runs, and he struck out Eric Angerer to end the game.
“I felt like I had the best stuff I’ve ever had. I was pitching on straight adrenaline,” Perez said. “When I struck out that kid, my slider felt like it was the dirtiest slider I’ve ever thrown. Right when (the catcher) called it, I automatically said to myself, ‘You have no chance to hit this.’ Just having that confidence and attacking the zone, that’s what helped out. I just tried not to do too much, soak in the moment and make quality pitches.”
A little perspective
How big was GCU’s performance in the West Regional last weekend?
It was the most significant achievement for the Antelopes since winning the Western Athletic Conference North Division in 1998, when they were a Division I program. The following year, GCU athletics jumped from the NAIA to NCAA Division II, and baseball made the switch to D-II as well.
At the D-II level, GCU never had won a playoff game prior to this season and hadn’t reached the postseason since 2002.
Stanley Cup, here we come
GCU players are looking a little scruffy these days.
Borrowing a tradition from hockey players, the Antelopes decided to grow playoff beards once they learned they had qualified for the West Regional tournament.
That was two-and-a-half weeks ago.
“They look good,” first baseman Michael Pomeroy said. “We’ve got one player with a playoff mustache, and we’ve got beards. I’ve got the full thing. Down my neck it’s getting kind of itchy, but it’s worth it.”
Third baseman Derek Mendoza said seniors on the team came up with the idea and approached Stankiewicz about it.
“We just said, ‘You know what, we’ve been clean-shaven all year. What if we do something a little different and try to change things up because we didn’t end the season too well,’” Mendoza said, referring to the team’s 5-11 finish to the regular season after it had a 20-game winning streak during the year. “It just kind of brings us together as a team in a funny way, just being ridiculous about it and being goofy.”
Stankiewicz has a no-facial-hair policy for the team.
“They think they’re hockey players and they’re trying to win the Stanley Cup,” Stankiewicz said. “We do have a no-facial-hair policy, but sometimes you have to know when to bend the rules. … In 10 days, they can do whatever they want.”
Pomeroy said they’re not shaving until they win the College World Series.
“And I might keep it all summer if we do that,” he said.
Getting an early start
GCU players and coaches were on campus at 3:30 this morning, then off to the airport to catch a 5:25 a.m. flight to Raleigh, N.C. From there, it was a quick 12-mile bus trip to Cary, N.C., to get acclimated in time for their first practice on Friday.
The Antelopes’ first game is 2 p.m. Sunday against St. Edward's (Austin, Texas).
Stankiewicz stayed behind in order to watch his daughter graduate from Gilbert High School tonight, then was set to catch a red-eye flight afterward in order to get to Cary in time for practice.
Postseason is in his blood
Hitting coach Ryan Ruiz knows
a thing or three about the postseason. While this is
GCU’s first trip to the College World Series in 15 years as a Division II program, it will be Ruiz’s third trip in six years to this level of competition.
As the head coach at Central Arizona College, his teams reached the NJCAA World Series in two of his four years (and missed a third trip because of an extra-inning, walk-off homer) before he joined GCU last season.
His message to GCU’s players?
“Just enjoy every minute of it. We’ve been here since August doing morning runs, conditioning after practices and pushing their limits. All that stuff is what has gotten us here. Now is the time to enjoy the satisfaction that all that hard work is paying off. … Enjoy the flights and the bus rides, you have to embrace every minute of it, good and bad. We’ll no doubt have to weather some storms in the tournament and even embrace those. It’s not always going to be great, but we’re going there as a team and one unit and I want those guys to remember that feeling because it’s an experience they’ll remember for the rest of their lives.”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or [email protected].