On Tuesday, the Georgia Gwinnett College baseball team was strewn out across the country.
Snow in Denver delayed and stranded many of the players on their way to Lewiston, Idaho, for the NAIA World Series.
Seven made it all the way to Lewiston as scheduled, but the bulk were stuck in Denver and two, including head coach Brad Stromdahl, were still in Atlanta.
But nearly half the team made this trip twice last year — for a mid-season roadie and the World Series — and know travel woes are just part of the deal. The fourth-ranked Grizzlies meet Faulkner (Ala.) today in the opener. First pitch is 2:30 p.m.
“It makes things a lot easier for us that it's not new,” Stromdahl said. “It prepares us mentally.”
Faulkner leads the all-time series 11-4, but the Grizzlies won the most recent meeting 20-9 in last year's World Series.
“It's going to be an unbelievably great matchup,” Stromdahl said. “They won their conference by a long shot and did the same thing as us going 3-0 in the Opening Round.
“They are a formidable opponent, but I think we match up well. It'll come down to the later innings and who makes fewer mistakes. Each of us have a chance to win it all. Hopefully we can lean on some of the things we've done in the past.”
Sophomore Cam Coursey, a Lanier grad, anchors GGC’s attack with a .462 batting average, 96 hits, nine triples and 61 RBIs. The preseason All-American and Golden Spikes Preseason List nominee also has scored 62 runs with 19 stolen bases.
Senior C.J. Ballard is batting .367 and leads the team with 67 runs and 33 stolen bases. Junior Gabe Austin and sophomore Cord Johnson are both hitting at a .360 clip. Senior Brody Wofford and sophomore Nick Barnes each have 10 homers this season. Wofford's most recent homer was the ninth-inning, game-winner that sent GGC to the World Series for the third time in the program's six years of eligibility.
“We've done a good job of not swinging out of the zone,” Stromdahl said. “I like where we're at in terms of what we've learned about ourselves the last few weeks.”
Junior pitcher Pedro Garcia stands 6-1 with a 3.05 earned run average. He went into the ninth inning in his last starting assignment, leading the team to a victory against Union College (Ky.) in the first game of the NAIA Opening Round’s Lawrenceville Bracket. Garcia has recorded 78 strikeouts in 65 innings on the mound this spring.
“He fills up the zone,” Stromdahl said. “He has passion and energy and it excites the team.”
Other strong arms on the staff include seniors Jonathan McKinney, who is 8-2 with a 2.99 ERA, and senior Gregory Loukinen, who has won a team-high nine games. Junior Hunter Caudelle has won all six of his decisions and has a staff best 2.15 ERA.
“What I really like is our resiliency in tough situations in the middle innings,” Stromdahl said. “We're prepared to play in those close games.”
GGC (46-11) won the Lawrenceville Bracket, defeating Georgetown College (Ky.) 2-1 on May 15. The Grizzlies have won all six of their postseason games this spring after claiming the Association of Independent Institutions title on their home field.
“In 2014, we were just happy to be there,” Stromdahl said. “Last year when we went, we really felt like we could win it. That's not the way the ball bounced and we ran up against a couple of hot teams. We're hitting our stride at the right time this year.
“We're having a lot of fun. It's a professional fun, but they enjoy playing baseball. They understand the end goal. They earned the World Series spot.”
The winner of today's game will enjoy two days to rest before playing on Monday. The losing team plays an elimination-round game Saturday.