Off The Wall With Grand Canyon's Quin Cotton
Grand Canyon last season was the best team in the Western Athletic Conference and won the regular-season championship. But the Antelopes were in the final year of their four-year process of reclassifying from Division II and were still ineligible for the postseason.
That success led to high expectations for this season, when Grand Canyon would be eligible for the Division I NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. The Antelopes were the preseason favorites in the WAC and opened a new ballpark, creating even more buzz around the program. But they started the season slowly against an ambitious schedule and were 7-13 going into conference play.
Grand Canyon quickly got back on track in the WAC and has gone 16-5 over the last month to improve to 23-18. The Antelopes have sprinted into first place in the conference but face a stiff test this weekend with second-place New Mexico State coming to Phoenix. The Aggies are a half-game behind the Antelopes in the standings and have the conference’s best offense. Grand Canyon will have home-field advantage, however, and is carrying plenty of momentum into the series after last weekend winning a series at then-No. 25 Illinois.
A big part of Grand Canyon’s success this season has been sophomore outfielder Quin Cotton, who last summer was the top prospect in the Alaska League. He is the team’s leading hitter and is batting .347/.413/.456 with eight stolen bases. Baseball America caught up with Cotton to talk about Grand Canyon’s hot streak, this weekend’s showdown against New Mexico State and Chipotle.
You guys got off to a slower start. What’s been the key to turning it around?
“We kind of pride ourselves on playing a tough nonconference schedule early in the year. So, we kind of take some lumps against teams like TCU and San Diego but that really prepares us for later in the year in conference play and for those late series like Illinois where we can really come together as a team and we’re better prepared because we played those tougher teams earlier in the year. It took a while for the offense to get going, but we’re really firing on all cylinders these days and we’re feeling really confident at the plate.”
You’re having a strong season offensively. How are you feeling at the plate?
“I feel good. I feel a lot more relaxed now that I have about 150 at bats under my belt than I did early in the year facing TCU’s Friday guy. It’s just comfort. It comes with getting more at bats, getting more playing time and definitely building confidence going into the WAC Tournament in a couple weeks.”
You mentioned the WAC Tournament. This is the first year you can play in the postseason. Is there a different feeling around the team as a result?
“There’s definitely a different feeling. Last year, our goal was to win WAC regular season title because that’s all we could do. This year we’ve got so many goals, so many aspirations, and of course it starts again with winning the WAC regular season and then getting that first-round bye in the WAC Tournament and going there and doing our thing and getting in the NCAA Tournament. Everyone’s excited, but we’re not looking too far ahead.”
Grand Canyon opened a new stadium this year. What did you think the first time you saw it?
“It was incredible. Coming in, I didn’t know anything about the designs to build a new stadium. Last summer when they started tearing the old one down everyone was getting really excited for it. It’s really incredible that our school cares so much about our baseball program and that they’re willing to invest that much into us so we’re very grateful to the school and we’re really grateful to be able to play in that beautiful facility. It’s really incredible.”
What’s your go-to order at Chipotle?
“I’m a burrito-bowl guy, for sure. I get white rice, pinto beans, usually a double order of chicken. Sometimes I throw queso on there, it depends on the day. Corn, hot salsa and guacamole.”
What is your walkup music and why did you pick it?
“My walkup music is ‘Look Alive’ by Drake and BlocBoy JB. It’s got some good energy, it’s got a good beat to it. With the new stadium, they put in a ton of speakers, so it really gets booming in there, so it gets the crowd fired up and I like it.”
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You played in the Alaska League last summer. What did you enjoy about that experience?
“Alaska is an incredible place. It’s somewhere that I had never planned on being, but I was so thrilled that I got to go there. The strangest thing is the sun’s out for 20 hours of the day, so that definitely took some getting used to. It’s a beautiful place. I got to go salmon fishing and that’s the first time I’d really gone fishing in my life so that was a pretty great experience. The people up there are fantastic as well. It’s definitely a place that I think everybody should visit at some point in their life.”
This weekend you guys have a big series against New Mexico State. What are you looking forward to about that?
“There’s always a lot of energy whenever we play them. Last year at their place it was electric. That Friday night against them was one of best games I’ve ever been a part of. We’re definitely looking forward to that. Tensions are going to be high, energy’s going to be really high. We’re expecting a pretty good crowd so it’s just going to be a good fun time and a nice challenge. They have a high-powered offense, but we’re got Jake Wong on the mound on Friday and then we’ve got two seniors behind him on Saturday and Sunday and with Jake on the mound we always have a chance against anybody.”
You talked about having a lot of goals left this season. What do you guys have to do to reach them?
“We have to take it one day at a time. That’s what we keep telling ourselves. We can’t start looking ahead to the WAC tournament and then overlook New Mexico State this weekend or we can’t be looking too far ahead to playing in the NCAA Tournament and then not pay attention to what we have right in front of us and end up falling short. Just really being present, not looking too far ahead. Of course, there’s a lot to look forward to, but focusing on what’s happening here and now is going to be really important for us.”