SEWARD, Neb. – The 2017 Concordia softball team has enjoyed one of the best regular season runs in the history of the program. Now red-hot Leah Kalkwarf and the Bulldogs have an eye on making noise in the postseason. As the No. 3 seed in the GPAC tournament, Concordia (32-12, 14-6 GPAC) will be at the Smith Softball Complex in Hastings, Neb., to take on sixth-seeded Dakota Wesleyan (19-32, 9-11 GPAC) in the opening game of the Hastings Bracket on Friday (12 p.m. CT).
The Bulldogs have experienced considerable postseason success during fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s tenure. The 2014 team qualified for nationals by finishing as the conference tournament runner up. A year later, Concordia also locked up an automatic bid by claiming the GPAC postseason title. Under LaVelle, the Bulldogs are 11-5 in GPAC tournament play.
Said LaVelle after last week’s end to the regular season, “We’re happy that we’ve taken steps in the right direction. The girls work extremely hard. Now we’re at the time of the season when it really matters in the postseason.”
While several freshmen have been factors for the 2017 Concordia squad, LaVelle can also lean upon several battled tested veterans such as Michaela Woodward. The dependable all-conference performer threw every inning of all six GPAC tournament games during the 2015 title run. She’ll again be counted upon in a starring role. She sports a 16-7 record and 3.10 ERA. At the plate, she’s hitting .324 with eight home runs and 35 RBIs.
Few players in the nation are more locked in than Kalkwarf, a sophomore from Omaha. Her numbers over the last 17 games are ridiculous: 28-for-54 (.518) with 20 runs scored, 19 RBIs, 11 doubles, a triple and two home runs. Her batting average has soared from .276 to .369. At the top of the lineup, center fielder Megan Ruppert is batting .373. A key figure in the form of Autumn Owens has been sidelined recently due to injury. She is hitting .350 with eight home runs and a team best .633 slugging percentage.
Since March 21, Concordia has gone 19-5. Among GPAC teams, the Bulldogs rank second in ERA (3.25), second in opponent batting average (.275), second in runs scored per game (6.4), second in hits per game (9.2), third in batting average (.325) and third in slugging percentage (.462).
The GPAC is awarded two automatic bids to the national championships. Morningside has secured one of them via its regular season conference championship. The conference tournament titlist (or runner up should Morningside win the tournament) also receives a bid. The National Championship Opening Round will take place May 15-17 at 10 campus sites that have been pre-determined. The 40 qualifiers and pairings for the Opening Round will be announced Wednesday, May 10.
Friday, May 5, 2017
Game #1 – (3) Concordia vs. (6) Dakota Wesleyan, 12 p.m.
Game #2 – (2) Hastings vs. (7) College of Saint Mary, 2 p.m.
Game #3 – Winner Game #1 vs. Winner Game #2, 4 p.m.
Game #4 – Loser Game #1 vs. Loser Game #2, 6 p.m.
Saturday, May 6, 2017
Game #5 – Winner Game #4 vs. Loser Game #3, 12 p.m.
Game #6 – Winner Game #3 vs. Winner Game #5, 2 p.m.
Game #7 – If necessary (Game #6 winner/loser), 4 p.m.
GPAC Championships Series will be held Monday, May, 8, 2017 at highest remaining seed
*Game times are set for 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. (Game 3, if necessary)