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Arizona baseball: Wildcats pounce on opportunity to schedule Grand Canyon Antelopes

Getting another in-state game is big for the overall schedule

Rachel Huston

When the Arizona Wildcats face the Grand Canyon Antelopes on Wednesday night at Hi Corbett, it won’t be the first time the two teams have faced each other since GCU started its transition to Division-1.

But it will be the first time since the Pac-12 lifted its scheduling ban of the for-profit school.

“Immediately,” Arizona head coach Jay Johnson said of how long it took to reach out to GCU after the Pac-12’s decision. “Greg Byrne said yes, I got on the phone with Coach (Andy) Stankiewicz, and we got it done. I’m glad we get a chance to play each other.”

When the two schools met back in 2014, former UA head coach Andy Lopez had said how nice it was to have another in-state team to play midweek games against, and Johnson echoed those sentiments ahead of Wednesday night’s clash.

“It makes life easier, I will say that,” Johnson said of the benefits of being able to play GCU. “The RPI is such a big part of what we do, and it all comes down to scheduling. They’re traditionally, I believe, going to be a really good program in the WAC, and they could end up with a good win-loss record, so that’s the first part of it; it’s good for us in terms of positively affecting the RPI in the long haul.

“And just logistically, getting two more games that you can just put in there on a Tuesday and not have to go searching for where we’re going to stay over and those types of things.”

This could also help UA’s recruiting efforts in Phoenix.

“Playing a road game up there will give us an easy opportunity to expose the program in maybe our most important recruiting ground,” Johnson said.

The Wildcats will play at GCU on Tuesday, April 11.

But back to Wednesday night’s game. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. PT, and it’s not like Arizona’s just easing back into things after a tough weekend at No. 1 Oregon State.

“They have some good players,” Johnson said, previewing GCU. “Five guys at the top of the lineup that I’d love to have on our team, and I know their weekend pitching has been pretty good.”

GCU will come to Tucson with an overall record of 9-13, but it did take two-of-three from Oklahoma State in Phoenix on opening weekend, and started WAC play by sweeping a pretty good Cal State Bakersfield team at home last week.

“They’re gonna play good baseball,” Johnson said about GCU’s big wins. “They’re gonna catch the ball on the infield, they’ll have some ability to execute on offense, and just like us, it depends which guys you’re rolling out on the mound — which versions of themselves show up.”

Wednesday night’s game will not be shown on TV, but it will be streamed online. Arizona had not decided on a starting pitcher as of Tuesday afternoon, but Johnson did say the plan is to have five guys lined up to get through the game.

GCU will start freshman LHP Tyler Hansen from Snowflake, Ariz.

Hansen has pitched in two games (both wins) this year, going just 1 13 innings in each appearance. He’s given up one earned run (a home run) and three hits. According to his bio, Hansen’s brother Zach has battled leukemia, and “My brother would die for the game of baseball and he cannot play for himself, so I play for him."