By Bob Romantic
GCU News Bureau
On the bus ride to St. George, Utah, last week, Charles Wagner never envisioned he’d be leaving that city on the shoulders of his teammates.
But, when pressed into duty because of a teammate’s injury during the NCAA Division II West Regional, that’s exactly where the .067-hitting Wagner ended up.
As the public address announcer informed the crowd at Bruce Hurst Field that Wagner had been named Most Valuable Player of the regional baseball tournament, the Antelope players hoisted Wagner on top of their shoulders while celebrating their regional title and a trip to the D-II College World Series this weekend in Cary, N.C.
“As a coach, to see his teammates pick him up and be excited for him and put him on their shoulders, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said GCU Coach Andy Stankiewicz.
Wagner came into the postseason as a little-used backup sophomore infielder who had gone just 1 for 16 at the plate during the regular season.
But when first baseman Michael Pomeroy dislocated his pinkie finger trying to field a line drive in the second game of the regional, Stankiewicz didn’t hesitate to put Wagner in the lineup in a crucial situation.
“At that point, it wasn’t so much about winning as it was about was about doing it with the right guys,” Stankiewicz said. “Charles earned the right to get on the field and have that opportunity. Whether he succeeded or failed, it really didn’t have that much bearing. He’d earned the right to be there. It was Charles’ turn.
“Is it more special that he’s the tournament MVP? Yeah, absolutely. For the rest of his life, he’ll be the West Region MVP, and nobody can ever take that away from him. He earned that.”
Wagner earned it by going 8 for 17 at the plate with a home run, four RBIs and three runs scored in five games.
College World Series (At Cary, N.C.)
Game 1: Franklin Pierce vs. Shippensburg, 10 a.m. Saturday
Game 2: Grand Valley State vs. Minnesota State Mankato, 2 p.m. Saturday
Game 3: Tampa vs. Coker, 10 a.m. Sunday
Game 4: Grand Canyon vs. St. Edwards, 2 p.m. Sunday
Note: If GCU wins its first game, it will play the Game 3 winner at 4 p.m. Tuesday. If GCU loses its opener, it plays the Game 3 loser at noon Tuesday.
(All Arizona times)
“When I saw Pomeroy was hurt, I just started preparing myself because I knew I would probably be going in,” Wagner said. “I just had to step up.”
Pomeroy, one of GCU’s leading hitters with a .324 average, 32 runs scored and 23 RBIs, became Wagner’s biggest cheerleader the rest of the tournament. After dislocating his finger, he was taken to the emergency room at the hospital. Pomeroy was talking on the phone with his mother, who was at the stadium, when Wagner came up in the fifth inning and belted a homer to left-center.
“I was getting my finger numbed up so they could pop it back in place and I heard everybody screaming on the phone,” Pomeroy said. “Then Carianne (Hunter, a student trainer) and I started screaming in the hospital and going nuts.”
That drew some weird looks in the hospital, but Pomeroy was truly overjoyed for his teammate.
“That’s one of the most amazing things I’ve seen,” he said of Wagner’s postseason surge. “You can’t write a script for something like that. … But I always knew he could hit. He just struggled at the beginning and then was getting spot at-bats, so it was hard getting any kind of rhythm. When he got the opportunity, he definitely took off with it.”
Wagner had tasted success before. As a freshman out of Greenway High School in Phoenix, he started 23 games and hit .282 with 21 RBIs in 78 at-bats. To recapture that feeling this season, Wagner had been doing extra hitting work with Assistant Coach Ryan Ruiz before practice, trying to level and shorten his swing.
“When you’re struggling that much and your batting average is under .100, it’s only natural your confidence is going to suffer,” Wagner said. “But you just stay on it. I can’t afford to be a mess when the team is doing so well. You just play for the team and try to help us win.
“We’re such a tight team. When someone is struggling, it’s not going to be for very long because we pick each other up.”
Pomeroy has been cleared to return to the field and took batting practice Tuesday, which leaves Stankiewicz with an interesting dilemma regarding his starting first baseman (Pomeroy) and reigning regional MVP (Wagner) when the College World Series begins this weekend.
“I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but I’m not the dumbest, either,” said Stankiewicz, who added that he’ll look at matchups and possibly work Wagner into some at-bats as a DH. “We’ll figure out a way.”
Contact Bob Romantic at 639.7611 or [email protected].