Head coach Andy Stankiewicz and the Grand Canyon baseball program unveiled their 2018 schedule on Tuesday, featuring a 55-game regular season slate with 31 games at the new on-campus facility that is set for completion in February.
For the first time since the 1990s, GCU will be eligible for the Western Athletic Conference Tournament in Mesa, Ariz. at season’s end with a chance to punch its ticket to the 64-team NCAA Tournament. The Lopes schedule currently features four opponents who qualified for postseason play last year including two College World Series participants.
The excitement gets going immediately as the Lopes will host a reigning College World Series qualifier on opening weekend for the second straight season. TCU visits Phoenix for a three-game series where the Lopes will open their new ballpark. The Lopes and Horned Frogs will meet for the first time since 1997.
“It’s going to be a great way to open up our new stadium,” Stankiewicz said. “They’ll be a top 2 or 3 team in the country. It will be a huge challenge for us. Part of it is knowing we have a nice stadium to host them in, and I think they recognize that as well. It’s going to be an exciting weekend of baseball.”
In the first mid-week action of the year, Pac-12 foe Washington State visits for a single game. GCU leads the all-time series against the Cougars 3-1-1, but the two programs have not met since 1996.
GCU will end a loaded first month by participating in the Tony Gwynn Classic, one of the preeminent college baseball tournaments in the country. Hosted in San Diego, the tournament field includes Arizona, San Diego, San Diego State, Arkansas, Michigan and more. The Lopes schedule of opponents in the tournament will be released at a later date.
“We’re really thrilled and honored to be asked to particpate in that tournament,” Stankiewicz said. “It’ll have some national contenders there. We’re going to get challenged right away this season.”
Home for seven straight to open March, GCU hosts its own tournament with CSUN and Valparaiso, playing each team twice. Then the Lopes welcome in Penn State of the Big Ten for the first ever meeting between the two programs.
To wrap up non-conference play, the Lopes take on Cal State Fullerton, meeting up with the Titans for the first time since 1994. Fullerton is the second of two reigning College World Series participants that GCU is set to face.
“It’s always been our goal out of conference to really schedule teams that have a great history and teams that have been in the College World Series year in and year out,” Stankiewicz said. “Between TCU and Cal State Fullerton, there’s two teams with unbelievable history. I want our guys to get in these environments to challenge us.”
Grand Canyon sneaks in one mid-week series before WAC play begins, meeting up with Kansas for the fifth consecutive season.
Conference play begins with Chicago State at home on March 23. GCU’s home series in WAC play feature the Cougars in addition to Utah Valley, New Mexico State and Sacramento State. The Lopes will hit the road to face WAC foes Northern Colorado, UTRGV, CSU Bakersfield and Seattle U.
“WAC will be tough, it always is,” Stankiewicz said. “It’ll be a dog fight all the way to the end. We’re going to have to get better as conference play continues.”
The Lopes are set to continue a home-and-home series with in-state opponent Arizona for the second straight year. GCU hosts the Wildcats, who are once again coming off of a tournament appearance, on April 10 and will travel to Tucson on May 8.
“Arizona will be every bit as good this year,” Stankiewicz said. “To be able to host them at our new ballpark and go down to Tucson is great for the state. All our guys are going to know their guys. Their guys know our guys. I think there’s a mutual respect between both programs and that’s what helps make it competitive.”
GCU continues the trend of playing mid-weeks against Mountain West competition, hosting both UNLV and New Mexico.
To fill the bye week in the conference schedule, GCU will take on Illinois on the road, the first meeting between the programs.
Grand Canyon is eligible for the WAC Tournament, a double-elimination tournament at Hohokam Stadium in Mesa that will feature the top six teams in the WAC standings. The tournament runs May 23-27.
“For four years we’ve had to finish the season on the outside,” Stankiewicz said. “Now we get to go out and play with them. We’re looking to be in that top six so that, once the season’s over, we’ll get to that WAC Tournament and play for an opportunity to go to a regional.”