HASTINGS, Neb. – While the Concordia University softball team was unable to rekindle the postseason magic it found in 2014 and 2015, the 2017 edition managed to equal the 2003 squad for the second most wins in a season in program history. Having dropped their second game on Friday in the Hastings Bracket at the GPAC tournament, the Bulldogs had no margin for error on Saturday. After a 7-5 come-from-behind win over Dakota Wesleyan, Concordia fell to host Hastings by the same score, 7-5.
The 2017 Bulldogs are also the winningest team during Todd LaVelle’s four years at the helm of the program. They finished with an overall mark of 34-14, two wins shy of a school record for victories in a campaign.
“We lost a heartbreaker last night and the girls did the best they could to regroup and tackle today,” LaVelle said. “We fell behind against Dakota Wesleyan early and they stayed within themselves and worked hard to claw back in. We made enough happen at the end to get the victory.
“We came with a lot of energy and emotion against Hastings. We never quit fighting, it’s just tough. I tip my hat to the six seniors we had. They were all great seniors. Thirty-four wins. They did a great job and led this team all year.”
In the double elimination format, Concordia staved off elimination, at least for one more game, by rallying from a 4-0 deficit while taking on Dakota Wesleyan, a team it beat 3-2 on Friday. Jamie Lefebure initiated the comeback with a leadoff double in the bottom of the fourth. After Lefebure came around on an error, Kylie Harpst drove a two-run homer to center. Diana Mendoza tied it an inning later with an RBI single. Then in the sixth, the Bulldogs took the lead for good with a three-run frame.
On her final day as a collegiate softball player, Harpst played a crucial role in the victory over the Tigers (20-34). She relieved Michaela Woodward in the circle and tossed the final three innings. At the plate, she went 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBIs.
It was just one bad inning that cost Concordia a chance to keep hopes of a national tournament bid intact. With Harpst again working in the circle, the Bulldogs took a 3-0 lead to the bottom of the fourth. That’s when second-seeded Hastings (34-21) struck for six runs in an outburst that was aided by two Concordia errors. Kaitlynn Knott kick started the rally with a two-run homer. Twelve Broncos came to the plate during a nightmare inning for the Bulldogs.
Saturday marked the end not only for Harpst, but also the accomplished Woodward, a hero in the team’s 2015 postseason run. Fittingly, Woodward’s final collegiate at bat resulted in a home run to right field. With that blast, she pushed her school record single-season total to 11.
As is usually the case for GPAC softball teams, national tournament dreams are often realized or dashed solely by conference tournament proceedings. Concordia could have been in the Hastings Bracket driver’s seat, but suffered an excruciating 4-3 walk-off loss to Hastings on Friday. It’s a tough way to go out after the best run of regular season play during LaVelle’s four years. The Bulldogs went 14-6 in conference play and won 16 out of 19 games during the meat of the schedule.
The biggest question mark moving forward will be how the team deals without innings eating pitchers in Harpst and Woodward. In terms of position players, Concordia will bring back a lot of talent, including second baseman Leah Kalkwarf, who made a big leap from her freshman to sophomore season.
“We have a lot of underclassmen returning and we have a good recruiting class, which is exciting,” LaVelle said. “We’ll continue to build. This will hurt for a little bit, but we’re going to rebound. We’ll sit back and really enjoy all the great things that happened this season.”