Unhittable: Pitching powers propel GCU softball to record season, WAC crown

GCU’s pitching staff has been lights-out, posting a 2.48 ERA to end the regular season and power the Lopes’ upcoming WAC tournament run. (Photo courtesy of GCU Athletics)

PHOENIX – Earlier this season, GCU coach Shannon Hays said pitching was a bright spot for the 2024 GCU softball team. His words remain true with three games remaining.

Grand Canyon softball is performing exactly how the team envisioned as the reigning WAC champions. Behind a program record 42-11 and a 20-3 record in conference play, the Lopes earned their fourth regular-season championship and have all but clinched the top seed for the upcoming WAC softball tournament, which begins Wednesday.

Since March 15, the Lopes have posted a 22-4 record while losing just one conference game behind their strong arms.

In GCU’s 22 wins, pitchers allowed three runs or less in 17 of those games with a strong collective effort. The team’s six pitchers posted a staggering 1.17 WHIP and 2.48 ERA, numbers that cemented GCU’s dominant run over the last six weeks.

“The cool thing about our staff is they’re all different,” said pitching coach Maribeth Gorsuch. “We can use them as starters, we can use them as relievers, and they all work really well together.”

One person stepping up is senior pitcher Hailey Hudson, who has become a critical piece in helping Grand Canyon stay in games when the offense stalls. Despite being overshadowed at the beginning of the year by teammate and Preseason WAC Pitcher of the Year, Meghan Golden, Hudson appeared in a team-high 29 games for the Lopes this season and posted 17 starts. She holds a 13-4 record as a starter and ranks highest in innings played, with over 100.

“Hailey in particular really has had a 180-degree shift in her game from last season to this year,” Gorsuch said about Hudson.

The difference between this season and the last is simple.

“Last year I put a lot of pressure on myself, and this year, I trusted in my team and defense,” Hudson said. “That’s helped me tremendously this year just knowing I have such a great team to back me up.”

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The Lopes pitchers keep hitters guessing through their versatility as a rotation. Each player brings a different role and style to the game.

“With players like Hailey, we can move her anywhere. She can play any way that is successful,” Gorsuch said.

The connection and bond between the Lopes pitchers is evident at practice, where they are always together, talking and working to get better.

At the plate, power hitters Kristin Fifield and Ashley Trierweiler lead the way but the duo is far from the only one stepping up to the plate. One of those players is Kayla Rodgers.

Rodgers, another senior, is a transfer from Yavapai College in her second season with the program. The outfielder is batting .380, which sits third on the team in batting average among players with more than an at-bat.

“I think as a whole team we’re doing really well. We’re together as a whole and coming together offensively,” Rodgers said about the season.

A big reason for success is how the team capitalizes on big moments that are presented, and Rodgers has certainly been involved in all of them recently.

The last trip to Nacogdoches, Texas, saw the Lopes complete a three-game sweep over the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Game 1 went the distance, all the way to nine innings. Hudson played a complete game, gave up zero runs total and allowed just three hits.

Rodgers scored the winning run for a 1-0 clutch win. The Lopes followed that thriller with shutouts, giving up zero runs on the weekend.

Rodgers, who had hits and RBIs in all three games, is continuing to terrorize pitchers at the plate. She’s recorded hits in 12 straight games and RBIs in nine of the last 13 games.

After losing Tuesday to Arizona, 3-2, GCU returns home Friday and Saturday to host senior weekend against Abilene Christian University.

Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Connor Manning expects to graduate in May 2024 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Manning has interned as a sports play-by-play announcer, play analyst and radio show co-host for Varsity Media Foundation in Phoenix.