Head coach: Ryan Dupic (88-67, 4th year)
2017 record: 34-22 overall, 19-9 GPAC (1st place)
Key returners: Wade Council (OF/LHP); Jake Fosgett (RHP); Kaleb Geiger (IF); Nick Little (RHP); Christian Meza (2B); Jason Munsch (LHP); Desmond Pineda (RHP); Logan Ryan (SS); Tanner Wauhob (RHP).
Key losses: Jake Adams (OF); Casey Berg (IF); Ryan Fesmire (C); Jason Galeano (1B/DH); Christian Montero (OF); Tyler Nelson (OF); Josh Prater (LHP).
Key newcomers: Keaton Candor (OF); Luciano DePamphilis (IF); Dylan Jacob (OF).
2017 GPAC all-conference: Ryan Dupic (coach of the year); Casey Berg (first team); Jason Galeano (first team); Jason Munsch (first team); Ryan Fesmire (second team); Christian Montero (second team); Desmond Pineda (second team); Josh Prater (second team); Jake Adams (honorable mention); Wade Council (honorable mention); Nick Little (honorable mention); Christian Meza (honorable mention).
There will never be another Concordia baseball season like the one that occurred in 2017 when the Bulldogs grew closer together during a time of struggle for head coach Ryan Dupic, who battled a form of cancer called squamous cell carcinoma. Instead of using such misfortune as an excuse, Dupic and his players continued the upward trajectory of the program while claiming their first conference championship since 1986. Concordia also piled up a school record 34 wins and advanced to the national tournament for the first time ever.
Naturally, outside expectations are much higher than they have ever been for the program. The Bulldogs checked in at No. 1 in the GPAC preseason poll and picked up votes in the national coaches’ poll. The ratings are symbolic of a soaring baseball program, but they have no bearing on what will unfold this spring.
Says Dupic, “Within this specific team, I barely, if at all, even acknowledge it. This team hasn’t done anything to earn it at all whatsoever. Neither have we as a coaching staff. It’s absolutely the byproduct of the work and effort that the previous teams have put in. We actually went back and did a little research on that. Of the last nine teams to be picked to win the conference championship, I think only one has won it.”
In order for Concordia to repeat, it will need the pitching staff to come through. On paper, this is the team’s biggest area of strength. When Dupic arrived in Seward prior to the 2015 season, he made it a priority to add as many quality arms as he could find. Those efforts have paid off. Of the nine Bulldogs to throw at least 20 innings in 2017, seven return to the team. That number includes four hurlers with ERA’s south of 4.00.
At this point, Dupic plans to deploy six pitchers to shoulder the lion’s share of the innings. That group consists of senior Cade Moring (6.75 ERA, 18.2 IP), junior Tanner Wauhob (3.03 ERA, 29.2 IP) and sophomores Wade Council (3.83 ERA, 51.2 IP), Jake Fosgett (5.52 ERA, 29.1 IP), Nick Little (4.37 ERA, 70 IP) and Jason Munsch (3.07 ERA, 55.2 IP). Fellow sophomore Desmond Pineda (2.76 ERA, 42.1 IP) was arguably the GPAC’s most valuable reliever in 2017. He and Fosgett, owner of a sharp curveball, could battle for the closer role.
Munsch, winner of the program’s first Carl T. Obermueller Pitcher of the Year award, has the ability to be dominant. He led the staff with 64 strikeouts in 2017 and was trusted to take the mound in the team’s first game in the opening round of the national tournament. Meanwhile, Moring is primed to make a big leap after an offseason that caught the attention of Dupic. Moring and company will be counted upon to keep the team in games if and when a young lineup goes cold.
“We’re ready to accept the challenge as a pitching staff,” Moring said. “We have a lot of guys that have some really good stuff. Even if we don’t have our best stuff all the time we’re out there competing. We’re playing for each other. If you’re playing the game the right way it will reward you.”
The quick rise of the young 2017 staff made a GPAC title a realistic proposition. Dupic can take comfort in knowing there are a lot fewer question marks about his pitchers than there were this time a year ago. He knows they have the mental capacity to react positively in pressure situations.
“Last year at this time I don’t think we knew what we had,” Dupic said. “We were so young and trying to figure out what we were going to be like on the mound. This year I feel like we have a little bit better understanding with a year under the belt for so many of those guys. The talent is most certainly there for us to be able to have a very good pitching staff. It’s a new season. Things change so much year to year that I can’t really take anything for granted.”
From a position player standpoint, the most proven commodity is slugging first baseman Kaleb Geiger, who has been a key contributor in each of his three collegiate seasons. The Sedalia, Colo., native enters this season with a chance to move up the program’s all-time lists and even break some records. He owns an impressive career slash line of .315 (BA) / .419 (OBP) / .512 (SLG) over 145 games.
Bulldog baseball fans will also see familiar faces in the form of Council (an outfielder when not pitching) and juniors in second baseman Christian Meza and shortstop Logan Ryan. Meza and Ryan both possess two years of starting experience in the middle infield. Meza is a gap hitter capable of making dynamic plays in the field. Ryan contributes most significantly as a defender and leader.
Gone are regulars Jake Adams, Casey Berg, Ryan Fesmire, Jason Galeano, Christian Montero and Tyler Nelson. That’s a lot of production to make up for.
“I’m very proud of the offensive group,” Dupic said. “They’ve worked very hard. It certainly is a new group. There will be a lot of young players competing for opportunities. There will be some players that have been in our program and have made some nice progress and have developed that will be competing for chances. Coach Berg has been working them hard and I think they’ve really accepted that responsibility. We’re trying to challenge our guys to not only do some of the basic things offensively but to be better in other areas in terms of plate discipline and finding the right pitches to hit.”
GPAC broadcasters and public address announcers will have to learn how to pronounce Luciano DePamphilis’ name. Capable of playing second base, third base or elsewhere, the native of Vista, Calif., has shown that he belongs from day one. He’s earned about as high of praise as Dupic is willing to give a freshman who has yet to play a collegiate game. DePamphilis and fellow rookies Keaton Candor (Merrill, Iowa) and Dylan Jacob (Escondido, Calif.) have also stood out among the newcomers. Candor and Jacob figure to be in the mix in the outfield.
There are other returners vying for spots in the lineup. Sophomore Evan Bohman and junior Thomas Sautel have improved their games. Dupic will also need a new catcher with Fesmire having graduated. Johnny May and Drew Woods could end up splitting time behind the dish.
A baseball season is unpredictable, but the talent level and the culture has progressed to the point that the Bulldogs expect to win.
Said Moring, “If you ask every guy in the program, everyone has the desire to compete and be the best in our conference. The last few years the culture we’ve instilled has been about competing in everything you do. We have a target on our back as defending conference champs and we still have a lot of work to do if we want to stay at the top. We have to come every day ready to face good teams.”
Dupic says that the conference race is difficult to pinpoint due to the roster turnover experienced by many of the teams that finished towards the top of the 2017 league standings.
“You look at the two other teams that finished at the top of the league, Midland and Morningside, both graduated so many players,” Dupic said. “Projections are kind of nice when you know who’s coming back but when you don’t, it’s kind of hard. There’s a big gap this year with that. I look at the league this year and I think it’s so wide open. I don’t think you’re going to have one team that’s just going to go dominate and win the league by three, four or five games.”
The 2018 season is slated to officially get underway on Friday, Feb. 23 with a road trip to Springfield, Mo., home of Evangel University. The two sides will go head-to-head in a four-game weekend series.