2017 Softball Schedule/Results

34-14 overall | 14-6 GPAC | Season Stats

Woodward teaches softball, swims with sharks in South Africa

Travel to South Africa. Check. Swim with sharks. Check. Play softball in a large stadium in a foreign nation. Check. Impact children while teaching the game you love. Another Check. What more could Concordia junior-to-be Michaela Woodward want?

Says Woodward, “I thought it would be an opportunity of a lifetime so I went for it.” So how’s your summer going?

The native of Cortland, Neb., had never before ventured outside of the country, but there she was this past June mingling with 10-foot great white sharks in the South Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Town, South Africa. Scared? Nah. Said Woodward, “We went into the caves and had sharks swimming around us. That was pretty awesome.”

The first team all-conference performer was granted such opportunity thanks to a program called the South Africa Softball Tour, put on by Beyond Sports in partnership with the Cape Town Softball Association. Woodward traveled along with former Bulldog teammate Julia Tyree and several other collegiate softball players for a stay that lasted from June 19 through July 1.

Most rewarding for Woodward was her time spent teaching local youths through free clinics.

“The camps were a lot of fun,” Woodward said. “The kids were so eager to learn. They just didn’t know about softball. They were asking us why we were there. We were like, ‘Oh, we’re playing softball.’ They would respond, ‘We didn’t know they played softball down here.’ It’s cool to branch out the sport and get people to learn about it. Some of them were really good.”

Woodward and the other travelers were treated with the chance to play at Turfhall Softball Stadium, a 3,000-seat pavilion located in Athlone, Cape Town. Woodward played in three games while showcasing her pitching talents that Bulldog softball fans have witnessed over the past two years.

Softball was only a portion of the excursion, which offered the opportunity to soak up South African culture. Woodward and her companions visited Robben Island, the Castle of Good Hope, District 6 Museum, hiked Table Mountain and enjoyed a Big Game Safari.

Of course the food was a departure from home cooking.

“The food was a little bit different,” Woodward said. “They eat rice with just about everything and have a lot of salad and a lot of juice. It was pretty good. One day after a game we had what was basically their barbecue. After I was about done eating, someone was like, ‘How was the lamb?’ I was like, ‘Uh, what?’ I had no idea that it was lamb. It was different. It was good.”

Living accommodations were exceptional for the group, which stayed about 45 minutes away from the stadium. Woodward described the location as a welcoming place where everyone was “super nice.”

Woodward says she would be open to doing something similar in the future. Many aspects of the journey opened the eyes of the biology major, who made new friends and developed a greater appreciation for the advantages she’s been afforded back home in Nebraska.

“You can’t take anything for granted,” Woodward said. “I did a hitting station and we had three separate tees. We didn’t have very many balls. We had two balls per tee with probably four kids at a tee. Resources were limited. We can’t take for granted what we have at Concordia.”

She also won’t take for granted the unique adventure in South Africa. Said Woodward, “Everyone was super excited to be there and super excited to play softball. We all really enjoyed each other.”

More can be learned about Beyond Sports tours by visiting www.beyondsportstours.com

Softball releases 2017 schedule complete with 22 dates

SEWARD, Neb. – For the second-straight season, the Concordia University softball team will begin a new year at the Cowtown Classic in Fort Worth, Texas. This year’s event will take place Feb. 10-11 in the Lone Star State. Head coach Todd LaVelle’s varsity squad is set to play on a total of 22 dates during the spring of 2017, as announced on Thursday (Sept. 8).

The 2017 Bulldogs will make their home debut on March 14 when Kansas Wesleyan University pays a visit to Plum Creek Park. Concordia is scheduled to play a total of 14 games in Seward, with each of those contests earmarked between March 14 and April 26. The Bulldogs will take on GPAC defending champion Morningside in Sioux City, Iowa, on April 1.

Once again Concordia will use its spring break to journey to Arizona for the annual Tucson Invitational. While not all details for the Tucson Invitational have been released, the Bulldogs will play in Arizona on March 5, 6, 8 and 10. Concordia has gone a combined 25-7 over the past three years in games played in Tucson.

Under LaVelle, the Bulldogs have put up a combined record of 91-57. Concordia won 32 games in 2014, 29 in 2015 and 30 in 2016. The 2015 squad captured the GPAC tournament title and became the first team in school history to win a national tournament game.

LaVelle's Bulldogs picked third in GPAC preseason poll

GPAC release

SEWARD, Neb. – Hopeful of a return to the national stage in 2017, the Concordia University softball team has been pegged third in the GPAC preseason softball poll, released on Wednesday (Jan. 18) by the conference. Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad earned 76 points in the poll, putting it just ahead of Dakota Wesleyan (75).

The Bulldogs finished in a tie for fifth in the GPAC standings in 2016 while producing a league mark of 10-10. Concordia went 30-18 overall, marking the sixth 30-win campaign in program history. The Bulldogs have gone a combined 91-57 in the first three seasons under LaVelle’s direction. They qualified for the opening round of the national championships in both 2014 and 2015. Concordia captured the GPAC tournament title in 2015.

This year’s squad returns two first team all-conference selections in third baseman Autumn Owens and pitcher/first baseman Michaela Woodward and a second team all-league choice in catcher Taylor Huff. The team’s top two pitchers, Woodward and Kylie Harpst, are also back in the fold.

The Bulldogs are set to open the 2017 season at the Cowtown Classic (Feb. 10-11) in Fort Worth, Texas. On the opening day of the event, they are scheduled to play three times.

2017 GPAC Softball Preseason Coaches’ Poll
1. Morningside – 99 (9)
2. Doane – 87 (2)
3. Concordia – 76
4. Dakota Wesleyan – 75
5. Hastings – 70
6. Midland – 50
7. Dordt – 49
8. Northwestern – 39
9. College of Saint Mary – 29
10. Briar Cliff – 20
11. Mount Marty – 11

SEASON PREVIEW: 2017 Concordia softball

At a glance
Head coach: Todd LaVelle (91-57, 4th year)
2016 record: 30-18, 10-10 GPAC (T-5th)
Key returners: Kylie Harpst (OF/P); Taylor Huff (C); Leah Kalkwarf (2B); Diana Mendoza (OF); Autumn Owens (3B); Megan Ruppert (OF); Michaela Woodward (P/1B)
Key loss: Julia Tyree (OF)
Key newcomers: Delaney Nance (IF/P); Janey Pasold (OF); Taryn Thomas (OF); Ronee Watson (IF)
2016 GPAC all-conference: Autumn Owens (first team); Michaela Woodward (first team); Taylor Huff (second team); Julia Tyree (second team); Kylie Harpst (honorable mention) 

Outlook
The core four hitters return from last season’s lineup that produced nearly 6.5 runs per game. Naturally, the Concordia softball program expects more from itself in 2017 after finishing the 2016 campaign with a 10-10 GPAC record. That wasn’t quite what the Bulldogs had in mind after jumping out to a 12-2 start that included a near perfect run through the Tucson Invitational. 

Concordia flashed potential as a team capable of competing right at the top of the conference. On April 9, it stunned eventual NAIA Softball World Series qualifier Morningside by the 10-run rule in the second game of a doubleheader in Sioux City, Iowa. However, the Bulldogs split eight of their 10 conference doubleheaders while struggling for consistency.

“We had 30 wins and it was somewhat successful, but we strive for much better than that,” said head coach Todd LaVelle, who led the program to national tournament appearances in 2014 and 2015. “To be real honest and transparent, it didn’t meet our expectations. I didn’t point the finger at anybody but myself. I said, ‘Hey, I think it’s a little bit broke. We need to fix it.’ I spent a lot of time looking at it and thinking about what we could do different. I think we’ve made some positive changes. So far the girls are buying into those changes. The expectations for 2017 are a lot higher.”

Though Concordia finished in a tie for fifth place in the 2016 GPAC standings, league coaches bumped the Bulldogs up to third in the 2017 preseason poll. The preseason buzz likely has something to do with the presence of the aforementioned quartet of Concordia sluggers that each hit .350 or better last season: Kylie Harpst (.392), Autumn Owens (.392), Michaela Woodward (.380) and Taylor Huff (.355).

The starting catcher and transfer from NCAA Division II University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, Huff doesn’t hesitate when asked which teammate puts on the biggest show at practice. That would be Owens, who routinely punishes softballs. Huff has no doubt about the explosive potential of this team’s lineup.

“We have great batters coming back and we also have some great girls coming in as freshmen,” Huff said. “Our lineup is stacked. We will hitting the ball so hard and scoring a lot of runs. It’s going to be really nice. It’s going to take some pressure off the pitchers for sure.”

The fearsome foursome combined for 23 of the team’s 28 homers in 2016. Owens broke out and became a star in her sophomore season, equaling a school single-season record with nine home runs. She also topped the team in RBIs (45), total bases (99) and slugging percentage (.692). In addition, she draws attention with her rocket of an arm from the hot corner. That type of offensive production won’t be easy to duplicate, but her head coach thinks the native of Henderson, Nev., has room for growth.

“She has very quick hands,” LaVelle said. “She has a goal in mind. She works hard towards what she wants to do and there’s no doubt that she will be a force once again. She tied a single-season record for home runs last year and I think she’s pretty motivated to beat that this year.”

Woodward is perhaps the most recognizable figure on the team, having logged nearly 350 innings in the circle over her first two collegiate seasons. She put together a memorable series of performances while pitching every inning during the 2015 GPAC tournament, which resulted in a Concordia championship celebration on Morningside’s home field. Woodward is also a middle-of-the-order bat with a career average of .386. Said LaVelle, “Michaela’s been awesome.”

Woodward will likely be counted upon for plenty more innings this spring, but the pitching staff also includes additional returnees in Harpst (13-11, 3.34 ERA in 121.2 innings in 2016) and AJ Wygant and newcomers such as freshmen Baily Clear (Alliance, Neb.) and Delany Nance (Gilbert, Ariz.). The goal is to keep Woodward fresh for the stretch run of the conference season.

“I believe pitching is going to be one of our strong points this season,” LaVelle said. “Michaela isn’t going to have to pitch every game. We’ve had to go to her probably more than I would have liked to in the past. She’s going to be able to hand it off to Kylie, Amanda Wygant and Baily Clear. That’s going to help. She’s not going to have to do everything herself.”

While Owens and Woodward are cornerstones on the infield corners, there’s also experience in the outfield with center fielder Megan Ruppert (.319 average) and left fielder Diana Mendoza (.290 average). Mendoza has piled up 132 hits during her career as a Bulldog. Ruppert made a seamless transition after making her way to Seward via McCook Community College. LaVelle also plans to find room for freshman Taryn Thomas, who hit a school record .696 during her senior campaign at Blue Valley Northwest High School (Kan.). Another freshman capable of making an impact is Ronee Watson (Riverside, Calif.), who figures to see time at first base when Woodward takes the circle.

In the middle infield, Leah Kalkwarf and Jamie Lefebure have swapped positions with Kalkwarf going to short and Lefebure moving to second base. Kalkwarf batted .310 with 11 doubles in her freshman season. Lefebure also possesses a strong arm and is a plus defender.

LaVelle might have trouble narrowing down a nine-person lineup with the array of heavy hitters at his disposal. Concordia hit .336 over 46 games in 2016.

“We’ve got great offensive firepower,” LaVelle said. “I would hate to be an opposing pitcher trying to dissect our lineup. Right now we’re looking at 12 to 14 girls that could really contribute with their bats. Any given day, one through nine is going to be pretty crazy. I would say seven or eight of those girls have home run potential as well. They’re not just hitting for base hits or playing small ball, they have the ability to take it deep. It’s definitely going to be fun.”

The biggest focus is making sure the fun continues throughout the GPAC slate. Concordia hopes a different approach will keep it fresh when the most significant part of the season beckons.

“Last year we started off really strong,” Huff said. “I think at the end of the season things fell out of place. We had some injuries that held us back a little bit and we were getting a little worn out. This year we’re taking a much better schedule as far as how we’re working out and how we’re practicing. We’re trying to have our best play during our conference season. We don’t want to just start off strong and then fall off later in the season. This year we’re working harder, but in a more organized and easier way that will really meet our potential.”

The Bulldogs open up the 2017 season at this weekend’s Cowtown Classic (Feb. 10-11). Concordia will play three times on Friday and then twice more on Saturday in Fort Worth, Texas.

Bulldogs take two of three in season's opening day

FORT WORTH, Texas – Picked third in the GPAC preseason coaches poll, the Concordia University softball team opened up its season in Fort Worth, Texas, on Friday with a trio of games. The Bulldogs defeated Bethel College (Kan.), 8-2, and Sterling College (Kan.), 9-6, before falling to Columbia College (Mo.), 7-4, in the final contest of the day.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad is spending its weekend in Fort Worth as part of the Cowtown Classic. Concordia will play twice more on Saturday.

“It was a good start. It gave us a sense of where we are this early in the season,” LaVelle said. “I felt it was very promising. We definitely witnessed a lot more positives than negatives. It was our first time out on the dirt in 75 degree weather. We were out her from 7:15 this morning to 6:30 at night. I like the way our girls handled that and stayed focused mentally.”

LaVelle used a different starting pitcher each game, employing Kylie Harpst, Amanda Wygant and Michaela Woodward throughout the day. Woodward struck out six and scattered nine hits in her seven innings of work. At the plate, Taylor Huff, Autumn Owens and Woodward each had two hits each in the final game of the day.

It was a solid offensive opening for the Bulldogs, who last season averaged nearly 6.5 runs per game. LaVelle made mention of several individuals who had fine days at the plate, including Woodward, Megan Ruppert, Owens and Ronee Watson, who made her collegiate debut. Watson doubled and scored in the sixth inning of the third game.

LaVelle isn’t overly worried about the day’s only loss, which came against a Columbia team that impressed him.

“We’re right there,” LaVelle said. “We just need to look at what we did today and improve on it. That starts as early as tomorrow.”

Concordia will get its Saturday started at 9 a.m. CT on day two of the Cowtown Classic. The Bulldogs will start the day by playing Oklahoma Wesleyan University. They will finish their excursion in Texas by taking on William Penn University (Iowa) at 11 a.m.

Pitching and defense carry the day in Texas

FORT WORTH, Texas – A fruitful opening weekend of the 2017 season was capped with two more wins for the Concordia University softball team, which took part in the Cowtown Classic in Fort Worth, Texas. In Saturday morning’s action, the Bulldogs got stellar pitching from Kylie Harpst and Michaela Woodward while defeating both Oklahoma Wesleyan University and William Penn University (Iowa) by identical 2-1 scores.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad emerged from the weekend with a 4-1 record. Concordia also picked up victories over Bethel College (Kan.) and Sterling College (Kan.) on Friday.

“It was definitely a good first weekend,” LaVelle said. “We would have liked to have been 5-0, but they played hard and gave us a good measuring stick for the weeks to come. We had 11 one-run games that we lost last year. We’ve put a point of emphasis upon being mentally tough at the end of games.”

Senior Kylie Harpst went the distance in the first game of the day and surrendered just four hits against an Eagles program that went 36-19 overall in 2016. In the weekend capper, junior Michaela Woodward limited the Statesmen to five hits. Harpst completed both of her starts on the weekend and picked up two wins.

LaVelle liked the way his team shut the door on its opponents in the seventh innings of both contests. Harpst retired the side in order versus the Eagles in the early-morning affair. Later in the day, William Penn mounted a seventh-inning threat by putting runners at first and second. Woodward then coaxed a key grounder that went off the glove of Autumn Owens at third and then kicked over to shortstop Leah Kalkwarf, who scurried to the bag for the force out.

“They feel really confident in that situation,” LaVelle said. “That was really nice to see. Our bats took a dip today, but they’ll be back. I’m not worried about that.”

The Bulldogs are scheduled to return to action the weekend of Feb. 25-26 when they take a trip to Kansas. On Feb 25, Concordia will be at University of Saint Mary for a 1 p.m. CT doubleheader in Leavenworth, Kan.

Woodward hurls shutout in split at Saint Mary

LEAVENWORTH, Kan. – A shutout performance from pitcher Michaela Woodward highlighted the efforts of the Concordia University softball team on Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs split their doubleheader at the University of Saint Mary (Kan.), winning game 1, 3-0, before falling in game 2, 7-2, in Leavenworth, Kan.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad is now 5-2 on the season. Saturday marked Concordia’s first action since it went 4-1 at the Cowtown Classic Feb. 10-11.

“I thought we came out and played pretty well in the first game,” LaVelle said. “We picked up where we left off in Texas and played a really good defensive game. A couple times we were in trouble with bases loaded and got out without any runs. We buckled down and played good defense. I thought Woodward did a nice job moving the ball around. She didn’t have a lot of strikeouts but got a lot of groundballs. We just need to put more hits together.”

Woodward scattered seven hits and one walk over her seven-inning complete game. She gained steam after wiggling out of a second inning jam. The Spires (3-6-1) loaded the bases with no outs, but Woodward induced two pop outs and then a ground out to retain what was a 1-0 lead at the time. The Bulldog ace didn’t have nearly as much drama in the seventh when she worked around a one-out single and shut the door on Saint Mary.

Concordia pounded out eight hits in game 1. Slugging third baseman Autumn Owens gave her team the lead with a solo homer to left in the top of the second. Then in the fifth, the Bulldogs added insurance. The frame started with back-to-back singles from Megan Ruppert and Kylie Harpst. Ruppert came around to score when Taryn Thomas reached on an error. Another run came home on Woodward’s sacrifice bunt.

The bats were mostly quiet in game 2. Spire starter Carrie Lee held Concordia to one run on two hits over her five innings in the circle. The Bulldogs finally got on the board in the sixth when Harpst doubled in Ruppert. In the seventh inning, Ronee Watson’s RBI groundout drove in Concordia’s final run of the day.

Harpst, who started in right field in both games, enjoyed a solid day out of the leadoff spot, going 3-for-7 with a run and an RBI. Shortstop Leah Kalkwarf went 2-for-3 in game 1 and Owens and Ruppert collected one hit in both ends of the twin bill. On the other side, Alana Renshaw went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBIs in the capper.

AJ Wygant got the start in the circle in game 2 for Concordia. She covered 2.2 innings, allowing four runs on four walks and three hits. She gave way to Delaney Nance, who pitched the final 3.1 innings.

LaVelle wants to see his bunch come out with more energy on Sunday.

“We need to regroup,” LaVelle said. “We definitely don’t want to get in the same rut we got in last year when we kept splitting. They need to bring it every pitch.”

The Bulldogs will remain in the state of Kansas and pay visit to Baldwin City for a twin bill at Baker University (2-4) on Sunday. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m. CT. Baker will provide a live stream of the games via its Stretch Internet portal.

Three Bulldogs rap out multiple hits in game 2 win

BALDWIN CITY, Kan. – After letting game 1 slip away, the Concordia University softball team leaned upon the pitching arm of Michaela Woodward and a solid offensive display to salvage a doubleheader split at Baker University in Baldwin City, Kan., on Sunday afternoon. The host Wildcats won game 1, 4-3. The Bulldogs took the second game, 5-3.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad is now 6-3 after splitting its four road games this weekend. Concordia also split a doubleheader at the University of Saint Mary (Kan.) on Saturday.

“I felt we played a lot better than we did yesterday,” LaVelle said. “The girls competed. Defensively we were solid. Kylie (Harpst) pitched well in the first game and we had our chances. We’re still in a phase where we’re tinkering with the lineup and moving people around in the field. We’re using 12 to 13 girls every game. I was pleased with the total team effort. We had a lot more energy today.”

Sophomore Maddie Fousek homered in the opening game and junior Autumn Owens did the same in game 2. In the circle, Woodward has improved to 3-1 with her second complete game of the weekend. She allowed three runs (two earned) on three hits and four walks. She struck out seven. Woodward put out a fire in the bottom of the seventh by inducing two pop outs with runners at first and second.

The three-run sixth inning proved crucial in game 2. It got kick started by a Woodward single. She and Audrey Quandt later scored on Jamie Lefebure’s two-run base hit to center. Another run came in when Leah Kalkwarf was hit by the pitch with the bases loaded. Owens’ homer led off the fourth inning.

Harpst (2-for-4, RBI), Owens (2-for-4, RBI, run) and Megan Ruppert (2-for-2, run, walk) all had two hits to lead the offensive attack in game 2. Fousek was 2-for-4 with a pair of runs scored in addition to her home run the first game. Making her first start of the weekend as a pitcher, Harpst went all six innings of game 1 and was charged with four runs on nine hits and two walks.

For Baker (3-5), a member of the Heart of America Athletic Conference, No. 2 hitter Caitlin Hardgrove enjoyed a 4-for-8 day at the plate. She had three hits in game 1. The winning pitcher for the Wildcats was Olivia Brees, who fanned seven Bulldogs in a complete game performance.

Concordia will return to action next Sunday at the Tucson Invitational in Arizona. The Bulldogs are scheduled to play nine games in Tucson from March 5 – 10. On the opening day, Concordia will play both Hiram College (Ohio) and Madonna University (Mich.).

Wygant tosses shutout on opening day of Tucson trip

TUCSON, Ariz. – The Concordia University softball team arrived in Tucson, Ariz., on Saturday in preparation for the start of their nine-game slate at the 2017 Tucson Invitational. The Bulldogs opened up action in Arizona on Sunday with a 13-0 win over NCAA Division III Hiram College (Ohio) before dropping a 4-2 decision to Madonna University (Mich.).

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad is now 7-4 overall this season. The Bulldogs are 26-6 at the Tucson Invite under LaVelle.

“I really felt we competed well. We have some girls learning some new positions and played well in those positions,” LaVelle said. “I witnessed a lot of positives out of our girls even though we lost the second game. I think it was a great learning experience for us at this juncture of our season. We’re still learning what we all need to do in our roles on the team. We’re not satisfied and we know we need to fix some things.”

Senior AJ Wygant whirled a gem in the blowout win over Hiram. Wygant threw all five innings of the run-rule shortened contest and allowed just one hit while striking out seven.

In the second game, Concordia tried to dig out of a 3-0 hole. Maddie Fousek drove in Leah Kalkwarf with a base hit. Autumn Owens later connected for a home run. It wasn’t quite enough offense in a game that Michaela Woodward started in the circle.

LaVelle is closing in on a milestone win total. He stands at 98-61 as head coach of the Bulldogs. He averaged just over 30 wins per season in his first three years at Concordia.

Action from the Tucson Invitational continues on Monday when the Bulldogs will be back under the soon for consecutive games. Next up, Concordia will play Judson University (Ill.) at 10 a.m. CT before taking on Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.) at 12 p.m. The Bulldogs are also scheduled to play three times on Wednesday and twice on Friday.

Bulldogs knock off Judson, Olivet Nazarene; LaVelle picks up 100th win

TUCSON, Ariz. – The Concordia University softball team enjoyed a big day on Monday. The Bulldogs took down two teams from the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference. In the day’s first game, Concordia got past Judson University (Ill.), 6-5, before knocking off Olivet Nazarene University (Ill.), 12-7. Olivet received votes in the most recent national rankings.

In the process of racking up two triumphs, fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle collected his 100th career win as head coach at Concordia. His squad is now 9-4 overall this season and 3-1 during its current Tucson road trip.

“It was a total team effort from pitching to bench play,” LaVelle said. “It took everyone to gain two quality wins. I’m really proud of the girls from past teams that have reached out to congratulate me. They’re as big a part of this 100th win as the girls that won today. I’m just happy we won against two quality opponents.”

In the win over Judson, Concordia found itself down 5-2 before fighting back. Said LaVelle, “We just kept battling, battling and we took the lead and held onto the victory. We felt like that was a really big win. Last year we lost a lot of those one-run games so it was really exciting to see that.”

An Arizona native, freshman Delaney Nance started in the circle in game 2. In back of Nance, Michaela Woodward delivered a two-run homer that put the Bulldogs in front in the top of the first. The Tigers led 6-3 after three innings, but Concordia eventually took control with a five-run seventh inning. That frame included a two-run double by Ronee Watson and an RBI single by Autumn Owens.

“We’re just proud of the girls for their effort,” LaVelle said. “They just believe in their teammates and what they can do. We beat two quality opponents. We’ve always felt like our lineup is strong one through nine. Today our bottom half came through time and time again. They did a great job turning the lineup over.”

Judson (9-3) and Olivet Nazarene (3-2) were a combined 11-3 entering their games against Concordia. Olivet Nazarene owns a win over No. 12 Campbellsville University (Ky.). Meanwhile, Judson had been a perfect 6-0 on its Tucson trip before running into the Bulldogs.

Concordia has Tuesday (March 7) off before playing three games on Wednesday (see below) in Tucson.

Wednesday, March 8 schedule
9 a.m. MT / 12 p.m. CT vs. William Penn University (Iowa)
11 a.m. MT / 12 p.m. CT vs. Shepherd University (Calif.)
3:30 p.m. MT / 4:30 p.m. CT vs. Dakota State University (S.D.)

Owens continues home run surge; Bulldogs take two of three

TUCSON, Ariz. – A solid road trip in Tucson, Ariz., continued on Wednesday for the Concordia University softball team. As part of a busy day, the Bulldogs defeated William Penn University (Iowa), 8-3, and Dakota State University (S.D.), 5-1. Sandwiched in between the two victories was a 3-2 loss to the University of St. Francis (Ill.).

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad is now 11-5 overall and 5-2 on the road trip.

“We were really close to getting all three today, but it was a good day,” LaVelle said. “Our bats really came alive and we were better in situational hitting. I felt like the girls really adjusted all day and played well. We’re playing 12 to 14 girls and everyone is stepping up and doing their jobs. I thought the pitching staff did really well today. They’re hitting their spots. You go back to that St. Francis game. That’s a really good team and we had them on the ropes.”

Several players gave good showings at the plate. Leah Kalkwarf went 3-for-3 in the final game and Autumn Owens, Megan Ruppert and Michaela Woodward all homered once in the win over William Penn. Owens has already drilled four home runs during her junior campaign.

“We played really well. We saw William Penn down in Texas,” LaVelle said. “They’re a scrappy team. We came out and hit the ball really well. We hit two home runs in the first inning and just played really well from there on out. They made it interesting by scoring three runs in the bottom of the sixth.”

That’s when Owens answered with a home run to provide some breathing room. But hits were difficult to come by against St. Francis, which went 2-0 on Wednesday and is now 10-2 overall.

“We have to learn how to react to those pressure situations against good teams,” LaVelle said. “That’s what we’re using this time down here for. We have to find ways to come out on top in those games.”

The starting pitchers on Wednesday were Kylie Harpst, Michaela Woodward and Delaney Nance. Woodward struck out six Fighting Saints hitters.

The Bulldogs will take Thursday off before playing twice more on Friday, which will be the concluding day of the Tucson trip. Concordia will wrap up with Lawrence Tech (Mich.) at 9 a.m. MT / 10 a.m. CT and then the University of Jamestown (N.D.) at 11 a.m. MT / 12 p.m. CT.

Woodward dazzles in pair of wins in Tucson

TUCSON, Ariz. – Michaela Woodward did not surrender a single run while pulling overtime duty over a pair of victories for the Concordia University softball team on Friday. The Bulldogs concluded their run at the Tucson Invitational by defeating Lawrence Technological University (Mich.), 1-0, and then the University of Jamestown (N.D.), 6-4 (eight innings).

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle has his team off to a promising 13-5 start. Concordia went 7-2 during its stay in Tucson, where Woodward put forth some of the finest work of her career.

“I would say that was one of her best outings as a Bulldog,” LaVelle said of Woodward’s effort in the shutout of Lawrence Tech. “You could argue it was better than when she threw those five games at the GPAC tournament as a freshman. She had total control of her pitches today and it was fun to watch.

“Lawrence Tech has been playing everybody tough and they’re pitcher was real good today. We had to be on our ‘A’ game to beat them. It was nice win another close one.”

Officially, Woodward struck out eight Blue Devils (8-13) hitters while surrendering five hits over her seven-inning complete game shutout. It marked Woodward’s second shutout of the season, but she wasn’t finished yet. She also took the ball in relief and earned the win over Jamestown (13-10). She threw 2.1 additional scoreless frames as Concordia outlasted the Jimmies in extra innings.

The Bulldogs found a way to finish off the road trip with a win despite giving back what had been a 4-0 lead. Starting pitcher AJ Wygant left the game after 4.1 innings of work and a four-run lead. Baily Clear and Delaney Nance also saw action in the circle before Woodward went back to the rubber.

In the top of the eighth, Megan Ruppert gave Concordia a 5-4 lead with a base hit to score Jamie Lefebure. Ruppert then came around to score on a hit by Kylie Harpst. Woodward shut the door in the bottom half and the Bulldogs wrapped up a successful trip.

“I was proud of the girls today,” LaVelle said. “In that last game, I played 17 girls. That’s a total team effort.

“We really felt like it was a good trip that will help springboard us into conference play. We went 7-2 and were in every game. We got to see a lot of pitchers and see a lot of at bats for different girls. There were a lot of good things. We’re excited to come home and begin conference play.”

Also in the day’s second game, Janey Pasold and Ronee Watson both went 2-for-3.

The Bulldogs are scheduled to play their next 10 games at Plum Creek Park (March 14, 15, 18, 21, 23). Concordia is slated to host Kansas Wesleyan University in a doubleheader at 3 p.m. CT on Tuesday (March 14), the next date listed on the schedule.

Softball postpones scheduled Tuesday (March 14) doubleheader

The Concordia University softball program's scheduled 2017 home-opening doubleheader with Kansas Wesleyan University has been postponed. Originally slated for Tuesday, March 14, the twin bill with the Coyotes is now slated for Thursday, April 13. First pitch from Plum Creek Park is set for 3 p.m. CT.

As of mid-day on Monday (March 13), the Wednesday (March 15) home doubleheader versus Bethany College remains on the schedule. Game 1 is set for a 4 p.m. first pitch.

Woodward snags GPAC weekly pitching honor

GPAC release

SEWARD, Neb. – On the heels of a dominant run at the Tucson Invitational, junior Michaela Woodward has been tabbed the GPAC/Hauff Mid-America Sports Pitcher of the Week. This is the second week of the 2017 season that the conference has awarded both a player and pitcher of the week.

Woodward has dazzled in the circle so far this season. At the Tucson Invitational, the native of Cortland, Neb., threw 23.1 innings and allowed only two earned runs on 22 hits and eight walks. She struck out 16 hitters during that same stretch that covered four appearances and saw her earn two victories. Woodward has not allowed a single earned run over her last three outings (16.1 innings).

On the year, Woodward is 5-3 with a 1.23 ERA and 35 strikeouts in 51.1 innings. The biology major garnered second team All-GPAC honors as a freshman and first team all-conference accolades as a sophomore. Woodward is also a middle-of-the-order hitter for Concordia. In her career, she has batted .380 with 11 home runs and 80 RBIs in 113 games.

As of this afternoon (March 14), the Bulldogs were still scheduled to host Bethany College in a doubleheader at 4 p.m. CT on Wednesday (March 15). That twin bill is up in the air due to snowy and cold conditions.

Wednesday (March 15) softball postponed

Due to inclement weather, the Concordia softball program has postponed the home doubleheader it had scheduled with Bethany College on Wednesday (March 15). The twin bill has been moved to Thursday, April 27 with a start time of 5 p.m. CT. Next up for head coach Todd LaVelle's squad is Saturday's home doubleheader with Northwestern in what will be the GPAC opener for both teams. 

Conference play kick starts on Saturday

SEWARD, Neb. – Due to postponements of doubleheaders originally scheduled on Tuesday and Wednesday (March 14-15), the Concordia University softball team has had to wait a bit longer to play host for the first time in 2017. That wait will end on Saturday when warmer weather helps ring in the start of conference play at Plum Creek Park. Northwestern (10-9) will serve as the opponent for a doubleheader set to get going at 1 p.m. CT.

Both games of the twin bill will be shown live on the Concordia Sports Network.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad enjoyed a successful stay at the Tucson Invitational, which came to an end on March 10. The Bulldogs went 7-2 on the trip that included mostly fellow NAIA opponents. Junior Michaela Woodward was especially impressive in the desert, where she tossed a total of 23.1 innings and allowed just two earned runs while striking out 16 hitters. For her efforts, Woodward earned the GPAC pitcher of the week award.

While LaVelle expects the bats to heat up, the pitching staff has yielded results that have had much to do with the team’s 13-5 start (second best record among GPAC squads). Woodward is now 5-3 with a 1.23 ERA in 51.1 innings. AJ Wygant earned a five-inning shutout in Tucson and has a 1.78 ERA in 19.2 innings. Kylie Harpst, a senior in her second year playing for the Bulldogs, sports a 3-1 record, a 2.74 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 30.2 innings. The staff ERA of 2.16 ranks 25th best out of all teams in the NAIA.

The meat of the lineup is formed by the likes of Kylie Harpst (.291, five doubles, three triples, 13 RBIs), Autumn Owens (.340, four home runs, 14 RBIs, .642 slugging), Megan Ruppert (.360, four doubles, six RBIs) and Woodward (.346, two home runs, 12 RBIs). Owens rose to stardom last season as a sophomore when she hit .392 and equaled a school single-season record with nine home runs. She already has hit four home runs in 2017 and has 17 for her career.

In the GPAC preseason coaches’ poll, Concordia was pegged third and Northwestern was picked eighth. The Bulldogs are aiming to move up from their fifth-place finish in 2016. The Bulldogs have gone 10-10 in the GPAC in each of the last two seasons. The 2015 team caught fire in the postseason, winning the GPAC tournament and then advancing to the national tournament. LaVelle, who recently surpassed 100 career collegiate coaching wins, will attempt to lead the program back to nationals for the third time in four years.

The highlight of Northwestern’s season to this point was a 7-4 upset of fourth-ranked St. Gregory’s University (Okla.) in the first game of a doubleheader on March 6. The Red Raiders then dropped four of their next five games. Northwestern has scored 102 runs and has allowed 107 through its first 19 games. The Red Raiders (20-29, 8-14 GPAC last season) are batting .261 as a team. The team’s leading hitter is Jessica Rayela, who is batting .382 with five extra base hits and 12 RBIs.

Up next after Northwestern will be next Tuesday’s (March 21) doubleheader versus Doane (13-11), a 2016 national qualifier. First pitch from Plum Creek Park will be at 5 p.m. CT.

Bulldogs fall twice while opening GPAC, home schedules

SEWARD, Neb. – Leads slipped away in both ends of the doubleheader for the Concordia University softball team, which opened up both its home and conference schedules at Plum Creek Park on Saturday afternoon. Visiting Northwestern clipped the Bulldogs, 4-3, in game 1 and then won a slugfest, 13-9, in the capper.

It was the first action for fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad since a 7-2 road trip at the Tucson Invitational. Concordia now sits at 13-7 overall and 0-2 in conference play.

“There’s a lot we can take away and a lot of things we need to improve upon,” LaVelle said. “Obviously we’re disappointed. We were in both games. We didn’t get the breaks or the key hits that we needed to. Nobody wants to go 0-2 to start conference play. We’ve got high hopes. We’re going to stick together as a team and we’re going to rebound.”

Though the Bulldogs come away empty handed in their opening weekend of GPAC competition, they showed an ability to fight back. Trailing 4-1 going to the bottom of the seventh of game 1, Concordia put up two runs (Kylie Harpst RBI single, Taryn Thomas RBI groundout) and had the potential game-winning run at second base when Michaela Woodward flew out to end the threat.

In a wild second game, the Bulldogs gave up a 5-0 lead when the Red Raiders (13-10, 2-0 GPAC) piled up seven runs in the fifth inning. Concordia came right back with four in the bottom half of the frame, regaining the advantage (9-7) when Megan Ruppert delivered a three-run double to the gap in left center. But it was just that kind of day for the Bulldogs, who watched Northwestern strikes for five runs in the sixth and then one more in the seventh.

Red Raider hitters feasted for a total of 16 hits in the second game. Cheyenne Wilcke blasted a grand slam and drove in five runs. Jessica Sandbulte added a home run and three runs batted in for a Northwestern team that entered the weekend with a .262 team batting average. Jessica Rayela homered in the first game.

Autumn Owens, who is splitting time between third base and catcher, continues to be a force in the middle of the Concordia lineup. She went 3-for-6 with a double and four RBIs on the day. Owens was one of five Bulldogs with two or more hits in game 2. That group included Ronee Watson (3-for-4, run), Jamie Lefebure (2-for-3, two runs, RBI), Ruppert (2-for-4, two runs, four RBIs) and Woodward (2-for-4, run, RBI).

Woodward ended up taking the loss in both ends of the doubleheader. She pitched solidly in game 1, firing all seven innings while surrendering four runs (three earned) on seven hits and one walk. She struck out six. Pitching was a struggled in game 2. Harpst threw four shutout innings before things unraveled in the fifth.

“We’re just going to stay positive,” LaVelle said. “We know we have a good team. I have to tip my hat to Northwestern. They came in and did what they had to do. They hit us well. We have to stick together as a team and learn from it.”

The Bulldogs will be back at Plum Creek Park on Tuesday to host Doane (13-11, 0-0 GPAC) in another GPAC doubleheader. First pitch is set for 5 p.m. CT. The two sides split last season’s twin bill in Crete.

Bulldogs open up week by hosting Doane

SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University softball team is ready to flush its home-opening doubleheader that resulted in a pair of losses that came at the hands of Northwestern on March 18. The Bulldogs are scheduled to play six games this week, including four at Plum Creek Park. Up first is Tuesday’s visit from rival Doane.

This week’s schedule
*All doubleheaders
Tuesday, March 21 – vs. Doane (15-11, 0-0 GPAC), 5 p.m.
Thursday, March 23 – vs. Nebraska Wesleyan (13-5), 5 p.m.
Saturday, March 25 – at Briar Cliff (7-14, 1-1 GPAC), 1 p.m.

The two home doubleheaders will be shown live on the Concordia Sports Network.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad allowed leads to slip away in both ends of last week’s home twin bill with the Red Raiders, who scored all of their 17 runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. In the 13-9 game 2 loss, Concordia pounded out 13 hits. Ronee Watson delivered a 3-for-4 performance, Megan Ruppert went 3-for-4 with four RBIs and Autumn Owens knocked in three runs while going 2-for-4 at the plate.

The offensive outburst was a positive sign for a Bulldog team still trying to find its groove at the plate. So far, four players own batting averages north of .300: Watson (.368), Ruppert (.357), Owens (.356) and Michaela Woodward (.345). Owens has been the team’s biggest slugger, cracking four home runs and 18 RBIs. She’s slugging .644 and has collected nine extra base hits.

Woodward will look to regain the pitching touch she showcased throughout the Tucson Invitational, where she allowed only two earned runs through 23.1 innings. After firing four shutout innings to begin game 1, Woodward struggled the rest of the day against Northwestern hitters. She was tagged for eight earned runs in the second game. Even with that rough outing, Woodward owns a 2.30 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 61 innings this season.

The Tigers, a national qualifier in 2015 and 2016, received votes in the NAIA preseason poll. Renae Littrell’s squad owns a win over No. 25 San Diego Christian. The Tiger offensive attack has been spurred by Nicole Fernandez, who is batting .400. Nebraska Wesleyan is in its first season as a member of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Prairie Wolf pitchers own a 1.96 ERA. Ace LeighAnn Novotny is 8-3 with a 1.62 ERA over 65 innings. Briar Cliff was picked to finish 10th in the GPAC. The Chargers also opened up conference play over the weekend and split a twin bill with Hastings.

Next week Concordia will play exclusively against GPAC opponents. The Bulldogs will be at Hastings at 5 p.m. CT on March 29 before hosting conference favorite Morningside at 1 p.m. on April 1.

Harpst drives in eight, powers sweep of Doane

SEWARD, Neb. – It was Kylie Harpst Day at Plum Creek Park on Tuesday night. The senior from Lincoln burned visiting Doane with six RBIs in game 1 and then delivered the game-winning two-run double ­to cap a doubleheader sweep that has the Concordia University softball team back on track. The Bulldogs defeated the Tigers by scores of 10-0 (five innings) and 3-2 on a chilly evening in Seward.

This was exactly the response fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle hoped for after having its home-opening twin bill spoiled over the weekend by Northwestern. Concordia has improved to 15-7 overall and to 2-2 in the GPAC.

“Those girls came out before I even got to practice yesterday. They had the mindset that they were ready to go for tonight,” LaVelle said. “They had one of the best practices I’ve seen in my four-year career here at Concordia. They were energetic. They were positive. They worked their tails off.

“I have to give credit to the girls and the senior leadership that we have. They just took the bull by the horns and said, ‘Hey, we’re better than what we showed on Saturday.’”

It was a day Harpst won’t soon forget. After grounding out in her first at bat on Tuesday, she helped trigger the game 1 blowout of Doane by blasting a three-run triple to the gap as part of a five-run third inning that broke what had been a scoreless tie. She was just getting started. She hit a three-run homer in the fourth inning as part of a six-RBI game.

Her most clutch hit came in the bottom of the sixth of game 2. With the score knotted 1-1, Harpst strode to the plate with runners at second and third. She again peppered the hole in left center with a double that proved to be the game-winning blow. Not only that, Harpst worked four innings of relief and earned the pitching win.

By her standards, Harpst was off to a slow start at the plate this season. She seems to be doing just fine now.

“I was finally seeing the ball,” Harpst said. “I haven’t been hitting that well, honestly, this season. Finally I made some adjustments and knew I needed to get some hits.”

After Concordia pitching allowed a combined 17 runs to Northwestern, it tightened up the screws and surrendered only two all day to Doane. Michaela Woodward fired a one-hit shutout in the run-rule shortened first game. She then started game 2 and fired three innings (one run allowed) before handing the ball to Harpst.

Harpst was only part of the hit parade off of Doane ace Haileigh Arthur in game 1. The Bulldogs rapped out 12 hits, including two apiece from Maddie Fousek, Autumn Owens, Taryn Thomas and Harpst. Woodward got Concordia on the board with her home run to right center leading off the bottom of the third. The hits were fewer and far between in game 2 as Tiger lefty Breanna Hamilton had the Bulldogs (nine strikeouts) miffed at times.

But Concordia wasn’t satisfied walking away with just a split. Harpst ensured that the Bulldogs would get greedy.

“We’ve known all season she’s got a good bat,” LaVelle said. “She hit close to .400 last year. We just dropped her down to the five hole to take a little pressure off of her today. It seemed like she came up and time and time again with runners on. I was happy for her. She deserves it. She works hard.”

In the GPAC preseason coaches’ poll, Concordia was picked third and Doane second. The Tigers (15-13, 0-2 GPAC) have made two-straight trips to the national tournament.

The Bulldogs are also scheduled to host Nebraska Wesleyan (13-5) in a nonconference doubleheader on Thursday. First pitch is set for 5 p.m. CT from Plum Creek Park. The Prairie Wolves are in their first season as a member of the Iowa Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, an affiliate of NCAA Division III.

Kalkwarf stars in sweep of Prairie Wolves

SEWARD, Neb. – It’s been a rivalry week of sorts for the Concordia University softball team, which has earned bragging rights in eastern Nebraska. Two days after sweeping a doubleheader from Doane, the Bulldogs did the same to Nebraska Wesleyan. In a twin bill that took place at Plum Creek Park in Seward on Thursday, Concordia won by scores of 5-4 and 11-4.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad effectively responded after being swept by Northwestern in its GPAC opening doubleheader last weekend. The Bulldogs are now 17-7 overall and riding a four-game win streak. Suddenly hot Concordia pounded out 13 hits in both of Thursday’s games.

“Offensively we had a great night,” LaVelle said. “In that first game we kind of got ourselves in a little trouble and it could have been a lot worse so I was proud of our pitching staff. There were a lot of times they had runners in scoring position and we worked out of it. On the flip side, it’s tough to bunt someone over when we know, any given time they can hit the gaps.”

Kalkwarf shined with both the bat and the glove. The sophomore second baseman from Omaha enjoyed a 5-for-8 day (four RBIs) at the plate and robbed a Prairie Wolf of a hit in game 1 with a sprawling stab up the middle. She also made a fine running grab while motoring into shallow center field.

It was one of Kalkwarf’s finest performances as a Bulldog.

“I finally got my hitting together and cleared my head up there,” Kalkwarf said. “I hit rock bottom a few weeks ago. I’m ready to keep going.”

Concordia faced deficits in both ends of the doubleheader. Game 1 came down to the final at bat. With the game tied 4-4 in the bottom of the seventh, a Kalkwarf single was sandwiched in between walks by Ronee Watson and Taryn Thomas. Two batters later, Jamie Lefebure waited out a walk that forced in the walk-off run.

Concordia singled Nebraska Wesleyan (13-7) to death in game 2. Twelve of the 13 hits went for just a single base, but the Bulldogs strung them together four splurges of four runs in the third and three in the fifth. For good measure, they added two more in the sixth to run away from the Prairie Wolves.

Kalkwarf and Lefebure made it exceedingly difficult for Wesleyan to roll the ball through the infield. Lefebure ranged way over near the bag at second on one particular 6-3 putout and also started a double play that got her team out of a jam in the sixth inning of the night cap.

“I can missed it actually,” Kalkwarf said of spending much of this season at short before moving over to her more familiar second base role. “It’s good to be back. I feel comfortable there. I love having Jamie right there. We work perfect together. We communicate together.”

On the heels of an eight-RBI performance versus Doane, Harpst stayed hot by going 3-for-7 with four runs scored on Thursday. In addition, Michaela Woodward belted a home run for the second-straight home date. Woodward worked four innings in relief of Harpst in game 2 and picked up the pitching victory.

LaVelle used three different pitchers in game 1. After some first inning struggles, freshman Delaney Nance settled in and covered 3.1 innings (two runs allowed). AJ Wygant also threw 3.1 innings before Harpst got the final out of the seventh on a strikeout.

Now a full-fledged NCAA Division III affiliate, Nebraska Wesleyan totaled 17 hits on the night. Morgan Shipley was 4-for-7 out of the No. 2 spot.

Weather permitting, the Bulldogs are scheduled to return to conference action on Saturday with a road trip to Sioux City, Iowa, to play Briar Cliff (7-14, 1-1 GPAC) in a doubleheader. First pitch is set for 1 p.m. CT. The Chargers split with Hastings in their first conference twin bill of 2017.

Softball to play Briar Cliff on Sunday

Inclement weather on Saturday has resulted in Concordia and Briar Cliff moving their doubleheader to 2 p.m. CT on Sunday, March 26. The two games will take place at Bishop Mueller Field in Sioux City, Iowa. Fans can follow live stats by clicking HERE at game time. Head coach Todd LaVelle's squad is scheduled to make its next home appearance on Saturday, April 1 when Morningside visits Plum Creek Park.

Win streak extends to six with sweep at Briar Cliff

SIOUX CITY, Iowa – The Concordia University softball team completed a stellar week by sweeping a GPAC road doubleheader from Briar Cliff on Sunday. The Bulldogs jumped out to 6-0 leads in both ends of the twin bill and won by final scores of 12-5 and 9-5 in contests played in Sioux City, Iowa.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad went 6-0 over the past week, also taking two from Doane and Nebraska Wesleyan. Concordia has improved to 19-7 overall and to 4-2 in conference play.

The bats have come alive for the Bulldogs. During their win streak, they have averaged 8.3 runs per game. Concordia scorched Charger pitching for a combined 25 hits on Sunday. Freshman Ronee Watson drove in seven runs while going 4-for-6 with a double. In game 1, junior catcher Autumn Owens went 3-for-5 with four RBIs.

“I was proud of the girls. They played well,” LaVelle said. “They came mentally focused to play today. It was great that we started out well in both games. That’s what makes us pretty tough right now. We’re hitting extremely well. When you’re doing things like that, you can relax a little bit and just focus on making the routine plays on defense. It’s exciting to see us have that success in our first road test in the conference.”

Out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup, center fielder Megan Ruppert enjoyed a five-hit day. The Bulldogs collected 16 hits in game 1 behind multiple hit efforts from six different players: Ruppert (3-for-4), Owens (3-for-5), Janey Pasold (2-for-3), Watson (2-for-3), Leah Kalkwarf (2-for-4) and Michaela Woodward (2-for-4). Kylie Harpst registered one hit in both games and extended her hitting streak to six.

Big offensive innings were a theme on Sunday. In the opener, the Bulldogs tallied four runs in the first inning and then three more in both the fourth and fifth frames. In game 2, Concordia put forth three-run innings in the first, second and seventh. Jamie Lefebure supplied plenty of breathing room by blasting a two-run double in the top of the seventh of the capper.

In the circle, the Bulldogs got a complete game apiece from Woodward and Harpst. Woodward scattered 10 hits while allowing five runs (four earned). She struck out four batters and picked up her eighth win of 2017. Harpst is now 6-1 after her fifth complete game of the season. She worked around eight hits and surrendered only three earned runs.

Danielle Ishii put together a 4-for-7 day for Briar Cliff (7-16, 1-3 GPAC), which played at home for the first time in 2017. The Chargers split their conference opening doubleheader at Hastings on March 18.

It’s been quite a week for Concordia, now receiving votes in the national poll. The Bulldogs have responded impressively after losing twice to Northwestern on March 18.

“We’d like to have Northwestern back, but it was a wakeup call and it made us focus in and be a little more mentally tough,” LaVelle said. “We’re playing well in all aspects of the game. We’re being patient at the plate. We’re hitting strikes and we’re hitting them hard. In my four years at Concordia, I’ve not had a team hit this well. We know there’s work to be done. The girls are excited, but they know they can even play better.”

Another road GPAC doubleheader looms for the Bulldogs, who will be at Hastings (15-15, 2-2 GPAC) on Wednesday. First pitch is set for 5 p.m. CT. The Broncos earned a split at 10th-ranked Morningside on Sunday. Hastings took game 2, 3-2, in 10 innings.

Harpst, Woodward make for sweep of GPAC weekly honors

GPAC release

SEWARD, Neb. – Two of the key figures behind Concordia’s active six-game win streak picked up recognition from the GPAC on Tuesday. The conference has named senior Kylie Harpst the GPAC/Hauff Mid-America Sports Softball Player of the Week and Michaela Woodward the GPAC/Hauff Mid-America Sports Pitcher of the Week. Woodward has earned the conference’s pitching honor for the second time in three weeks.

A Lincoln North Star High School product, Harpst teed off over the past week, going 8-for-18 (.444) with 10 runs, 10 RBIs, three doubles, a triple and a home run. She drove in eight RBIs in the doubleheader sweep of Doane on March 21. In game 2 of that twin bill, the Lincoln native laced the game-winning two run double. She also threw 14.1 innings in the circle and earned two wins during last week’s action. On the season, Harpst is hitting .316 with eight doubles, four triples, a home run and 24 RBIs in 79 at bats. She owns a .368 on-base percentage and a .557 slugging percentage. She’s a career .367 hitter in 71 games as a Bulldog.

Woodward continues to be a reliable ace pitcher. During the six-game win streak, she has thrown 19 innings, allowing only six earned runs on 21 hits and four walks while collecting one win apiece over Doane, Nebraska Wesleyan and Briar Cliff. She added 13 strikeouts. On the season, Woodward is 8-5 with a 2.28 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 80 innings. Over the same six-game stretch last week, Woodward went 8-for-20 (.400) with eight runs, four RBIs, two doubles and two home runs.

Head coach Todd LaVelle’s Bulldogs (19-7, 4-2 GPAC) are scheduled to return to action on Wednesday with a GPAC doubleheader at Hastings. First pitch is set for 5 p.m. CT.

UPDATE: Softball at Hastings moved to Friday

Due to inclement weather, the Concordia University softball team and Hastings have moved their doubleheader back another day. It is now scheduled to be played at 4 p.m. CT in Hastings on Friday (March 31). This is the second time that the Bulldogs and Broncos have postponed their scheduled meeting. Concordia is also slated to host Morningside at 1 p.m. on Saturday. Head coach Todd LaVelle's squad owns a six-game win streak.

Ruppert-led Bulldogs split pair of one-run games at Hastings

HASTINGS, Neb. – Both of Friday evening’s contests were in doubt until the very last at bat in a GPAC doubleheader in Hastings, Neb. Following the Broncos’ dramatic 11-10 come-from-behind game 1 victory, the Concordia University softball team responded by claiming a 5-4 win in the night cap.

The loss in game 1 put a stop to the Bulldogs’ six-game win streak. Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad now stands at 20-8 overall and at 5-3 in conference play.

“Once again I’m proud of the girls. They played well enough to win game 1, too,” LaVelle said. “Anything that could go wrong, did go wrong for us. I don’t know how many times we would surrender the lead and then match it. We fought hard. We didn’t have much time to sit and worry about it. We came out in the second game and it was the same kind of game. Hastings is one of the best hitting teams in the conference. We knew we were going to have to be potent at the plate and score some runs. That’s what the girls did.”

The Bulldogs had to sweat out the final out of game 2. They could finally exhale when Diana Mendoza hauled in Corrin Ziepke’s deep drive to left to close the evening that saw pitcher Kylie Harpst move her season record to 7-1. That fly ball came right after Concordia racked up a crucial 1-6-3 double play. Harpst went the distance, scattering nine hits while striking out five Broncos.

Center fielder Megan Ruppert came to Concordia’s rescue with it facing a 3-1 deficit at the end of four innings in game 2. She went 4-for-4 with a double, a home run and three RBIs in the capper. Her two-run blast in the fifth made it a 3-3 tie. An inning later, she delivered a run-scoring double that proved to be the game-winning hit.

Game 1 unraveled in the late innings in what turned into a slugfest. In the top of the sixth inning, Autumn Owens connected for her second home run of the game (sixth of the season), extending Concordia’s lead to 9-5. But the Broncos (16-16, 3-3 GPAC) didn’t relent. They tied it with four runs in the bottom half of the sixth and then celebrated a walk-off win when Kaitlynn Knott drilled a two-run homer over the right field fence off of Woodward. The Bulldog ace pitcher was tagged for 10 hits and 10 earned runs.

Ruppert ended up 5-for-8 with five RBIs on the day. She’s been red hot while batting out of the No. 2 spot in the lineup. Over the past five games, she’s gone 12-for-20 (.600) with a double, a home run, seven runs scored and eight RBIs.

“Megan’s doing awesome,” LaVelle said. “She’s really taking on that No. 2 role. She had two hits that came in really crucial times. We may have to look at putting her leadoff. We’re lucky enough to have hitters where we can be creative with our lineups.”

Other leaders on Friday were the likes of Taryn Thomas (4-for-7, two runs, one RBI) and Woodward (3-for-8, two runs, four RBIs). Additionally, freshman Ronee Watson slugged her first career home run. Collectively, Concordia pounded out 21 more hits in the twin bill. It had averaged 11 hits per game over its six-game win streak.

Hastings has split each of its first three GPAC doubleheaders. It also split with Briar Cliff and Morningside. The Broncos muscled up for four home runs on Friday.

SCHEDULE CHANGE: The doubleheader versus No. 10 Morningside, originally scheduled for Saturday, has been pushed back one day to allow for better field conditions. The Bulldogs will host the Mustangs (21-6, 3-1 GPAC) at 1 p.m. CT on Sunday (April 2). It will be a matchup between the league’s top two rated teams, based upon the official NAIA conference rankings.

Sunday softball vs. Morningside postponed

Due to poor field conditions, the Concordia softball program has postponed Sunday's (April 2) scheduled doubleheader with Morningside. A makeup date has not yet been determined. Next up on the slate is Monday's twin bill at York College. First pitch is slated for 5 p.m. CT.

Concordia-Morningside reschedule for April 6

Concordia and Morningside have settled on Thursday, April 6 as a makeup date for their softball doubleheader that was originally scheduled for April 1. First pitch on Thursday is set for 3 p.m. CT from Plum Creek Park. The Bulldogs also have a GPAC road doubleheader coming up on Saturday at Dakota Wesleyan.

The complete schedule can be viewed HERE.

Woodward spins gem in game 1 win at York

YORK, Neb. – The Concordia University softball team dipped outside of conference play on Monday evening, making the short journey west in a meeting with York College. Following the arm and bat of Michaela Woodward, the Bulldogs took game 1, 4-2. The Panthers rebounded for a wild 12-8 victory in the night cap.

Even with the loss in game 2, fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad has won eight of its last 10 contests. Concordia owns an overall record of 21-9.

In the circle, Woodward went the distance in the opener. She limited York to just one earned run on four hits and four walks. She struck out eight hitters. She also helped herself out with the bat, going 2-for-4 with a fifth-inning RBI triple that provided an insurance run.

Leah Kalkwarf got the Bulldogs started in her first at bat of the day with a two-run single. For the evening, the Omaha native went 3-for-7 with four runs batted in. She was one of the standouts for an offense that pounded out 20 hits in the twin bill. Woodward, who did not start game 2, added a pinch hit RBI single and enjoyed a 3-for-5 day. Meanwhile, Megan Ruppert extended her hitting streak to eight games.

Two monster innings for York (7-21) doomed the Bulldogs in game 2. The Panthers got five runs in the third and then another five in the fifth. The major blows were three-run home runs hit by both Jyllian Ahart and Mikayla Lawrence. York belted three long balls in the second contest that saw LaVelle employ AJ Wygant and Delaney Nance in the circle.

In game 2, Concordia’s one through three hitters (Ruppert, Kalkwarf and Autumn Owens) were a combined 6-for-12. Out of the No. 5 spot, Ronee Watson went 2-for-4 with an RBI.

The Bulldogs will again try to make up their postponed home doubleheader with No. 10 Morningside (23-6, 5-1 GPAC). The two sides have agreed to meet at 3 p.m. CT on Thursday (April 6) at Plum Creek Park. The Mustangs, the defending GPAC champs, currently sit atop the league standings.

Concordia readies for defending GPAC champs

SEWARD, Neb. – Head coach Todd LaVelle will know a lot more about his team by the end of this week. The Concordia University baseball team will host 10th-ranked Morningside on Thursday. It will be the Mustangs’ first trip to Seward since the 2014 season. Based on the latest conference poll, the meeting will feature the GPAC’s No. 1 and No. 4 teams. The Bulldogs will then look forward to a GPAC road trip on Saturday.

This week’s schedule
Thursday, April 6 – vs. No. 10 Morningside (23-6, 5-1), 3 p.m.
Saturday, April 8 – at Dakota Wesleyan (11-22, 1-3), 1 p.m.

Concordia has run into a couple bumps in the road of late, splitting doubleheaders at Hastings on March 31 and at York College on Monday. Prior to that, the Bulldogs won six-straight games, including four in a row inside the conference. Concordia stands at 21-9 overall (.700) with a winning percentage that would rank No. 1 during LaVelle’s time at the helm of the program.

The hottest Bulldog hitter is center fielder Megan Ruppert, who leads the team with a .407 batting average. She’s been even better of late. During her active eight-game hitting streak, the native of McCook, Neb., is batting .516 (16-for-31) with 11 runs scored, six RBIs, two doubles, a home run, three walks and four stolen bases. Ruppert is in her second season as a Bulldog after transferring from McCook Community College.

In the circle, Michaela Woodward is the team’s unquestioned ace. She limited York to two runs (one earned) on four hits and four walks in a complete game victory on Monday. Woodward has already earned two GPAC pitcher of the week awards in 2017. She’s currently 9-6 with a 2.78 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 93 innings. She’s also adept with the bat, sporting a .374 average with four home runs.

Catcher/third baseman Autumn Owens could be on her way to a record setting season in the power department. Last season she belted nine home runs, tying Clarissa Eloge for a single-season school record. Owens hammered a pair of home runs in the first game at Hastings last week and has six long balls on the season. Only one player in the GPAC has more home runs than Owens.

The Bulldogs have enjoyed recent success against Morningside, despite playing the past six meetings in Sioux City. Concordia has won four of the last five games against the Mustangs. Included in that run was two wins over Morningside in the 2015 GPAC championship series. A year ago, the Bulldogs had a legitimate shot at sweeping the Mustangs in Sioux City. After dropping the first game, 10-8, Concordia routed Morningside, 13-3, in game 2. The Mustangs own a 1.74 ERA behind Rachel Henks (18-4, 1.78 ERA).

Dakota Wesleyan has already dropped the same number of games it lost during the entire 2016 season. The Tigers broke through last season with a third-place conference finish. The Bulldogs would like to avenge their most recent doubleheader with Dakota Wesleyan, which resulted in two games won by the Tigers by the run rule. Dakota Wesleyan pitchers have struggled, ranking 10th in the GPAC in ERA (5.46).

After this weekend’s trip to Mitchell, S.D., the Bulldogs will then look forward to hosting Kansas Wesleyan University for a doubleheader at 3 p.m. CT on Thursday, April 13. Just eight conference games will remain after this week’s action.

Relaxed approach has McCook transfer flourishing

Deciding on Concordia was one of the first big risks Megan Ruppert has taken in her life. She spent all of her formative years in the comfortable surroundings of her hometown of McCook, Neb. – until venturing to Seward after completing two years at McCook Community College.

In year one at Concordia, Ruppert went through some of the struggles typical of someone leaving home for the first time. On the softball field, things weren’t as fun as they really could have or probably should have been, given Ruppert’s longtime love for the game of softball.

“I’m actually having fun this year instead of making all of it as serious as possible. That really helps,” says Ruppert. “I just told myself that I was going to be social this year because I was not social last year. I think that helps a lot that I communicate with people instead of them being surprised when something comes out of my mouth. It’s my senior season so I’m like, ‘You have to give it your all.’”

Ruppert is out to ensure her senior year goes by without regrets. The measurable results have been glowing. She’s batting a team high .407 with two home runs and 19 RBIs. Her on-base percentage is an eye-popping .491. Entering Thursday’s action, Ruppert owns an eight-game hitting streak during which she has batted .516 (16-for-31).

Four years ago and more than 200 miles away from Concordia, a high school senior version of Ruppert would have had trouble envisioning that type of success coming in Bulldog navy and white. That’s because Concordia hadn’t been in the picture. To be fair, she was off the radar of Concordia, which was making a coaching transition at the time.

In many ways, it was just easier to say at home while a clearer plan came into focus.

“Funny thing is I was looking at Doane when I was coming out of high school,” Ruppert said. “It came down to free education or paying a lot for a private college. I went to McCook reluctantly and I ended up having two great years. We had a great softball program there and the coach was amazing.”

Ruppert hit .357 over two years that went by fast at McCook. During that time, it became obvious that Ruppert would have a chance to move on and continue her passion at a four-year institution. While performing for a Lady Indians team that had numerous student-athletes that would go on to play at various levels of collegiate softball, Ruppert stood out.

Her McCook team played against Concordia at Plum Creek Park in the fall of 2014. LaVelle noticed the way she glided to the outfield alleys to deny opposing hitters.

“I just remember she was running everything down and caught everything that we hit near center field,” LaVelle said. “I just started a conversation with her and her coach after that. I continued to watch her play throughout the spring of that year and we went ahead and offered her a scholarship.”

Though not as comfortable or as social as she is a year later and a year wiser, Ruppert fit in well enough to be voted by teammates as a team captain in her very first season as a Bulldog. That may have surprised Ruppert, who was worried that she came across as “mean” because of her serious demeanor on the diamond.

She’s goofier now (“but not the goofiest on the team,” she says) and that’s a good thing. The whole team has made an effort to play more free and loose. Ruppert is one of the personalities in the dugout with the respect to help make that happen.

“You can see it. Every time she goes to the plate she just has fun and is ready to hit,” LaVelle said. “Megan’s very competitive, too. If the winning run is on second base, she wants to be the girl that’s up to bat. She’s very confident and very competitive.”

That competitive fire spills over into the classroom for Ruppert, who aspires to be a high school English teacher and softball coach. Says Ruppert, “I’ve wanted to be a teacher since I was like five. I just like being able to teach people new things.” As part of a class project, Ruppert recently earned an award from the Nebraska Educational Technology Association and will be honored at a conference later this month.

It’s just another example of what a stellar Concordia student-athlete looks like. Added LaVelle, “She does a lot of the little things right and has the intangibles that I love. She’s always hustling. She’s always cheering and motivating the girls to be at their best. Those things are invaluable.”

All it took was for Ruppert to open up and realize that she belonged.

Says Ruppert, “It was hard. I had definite separation issues last year. I just wanted to be home because it was all I knew. This year I came with a different attitude and I love it here now.”

Kalkwarf walk-off lifts Bulldogs in split with No. 10 Morningside

SEWARD, Neb. – Glum and gloomy it appeared as 10th-ranked Morningside seemed primed to exit Plum Creek Park with a doubleheader sweep. The tone changed in a hurry during a dramatic late-inning turn of events for the Concordia University softball team, which salvaged a split by walking off a winner on Thursday evening. After a 7-2 loss in game 1, the Bulldogs rebounded with a 4-3, eight-inning win over the Mustangs in game 2.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad moved to 22-10 overall and to 6-4 in the GPAC. Concordia has won five of its last seven games against Morningside (24-7, 6-2 GPAC).

“We talked about it this morning, about thriving on pressure and living for these moments,” LaVelle said. “Morningside is No. 10 in the country. What a great opportunity for our team to come out here and show what we could do.

“Someone (after game 1) said, ‘Hey, we got hit in the mouth and we need to respond.’ That’s what they did.”

It looked decidedly bleak when Concordia trailed 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh with Mustang ace pitcher Rachel Henks in the circle. That’s when the magic happened. Leah Kalkwarf doubled. She then scored on Ronee Watson’s base hit up the middle. Two batters later, LaVelle rolled the dice by sending pinch runner Audrey Quandt from third on a shallow drive to left by Diana Mendoza. Quandt scored easily when the throw from left sailed into the backstop. All tied up.

Kalkwarf played the role of hero in the bottom of the eighth. After Megan Ruppert stole second base, Kalkwarf drove the ball into the left center gap, plating the winning run and clearing the third base Bulldog dugout.

“It was a great feeling,” said Ruppert, who extended her hitting streak to 10 games. “The whole time I was like, ‘Oh please, please, don’t have the ball come near me. It was the greatest feeling. I had to go find (Leah) as soon as I crossed.”

Junior workhorse Michaela Woodward covered 13.2 innings in the circle for the Bulldogs. LaVelle leaned heavily upon Woodward with Kylie Harpst sidelined by injury. Woodward was exceptional in game 2, keeping a potent Morningside offense in check. In the night cap, Woodward fired an eight-inning complete game, allowing three runs on six hits and one walk. In the top of the eighth, Woodward stranded a runner on second by coaxing a lineout and then a strikeout to end the frame.

Though she failed to hold the lead in game 2, Henks was brilliant in the opener. She went all seven innings and struck out seven Bulldogs. She got plenty of offensive support from designated player Allie Martinez, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs in game 1.

LaVelle hopes the finish to Thursday instills a firm belief in his team moving forward.

“We have a good ball club,” LaVelle said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to do all year is get them to believe. We’ve played right with teams that are ranked in the top 10 and now we’ve beaten one of them. Northwestern beat us on our home field twice and we didn’t want to let that happen again.”

Ruppert put together a 3-for-6 day that included three runs scored. Meanwhile, Kalkwarf went 3-for-7 with two of the biggest hits of the day for the Bulldogs.

Afterwards, cupcakes greeted the team in celebration of assistant coach Jeff Pasold’s birthday. A cupcake war ensued between Ruppert and sophomore Kaitlyn Buresh. Ruppert got her revenge after being interrupted in a postgame interview with a cupcake to the face, courtesy of Buresh.

Ruppert shrugged it off and continued on. Said Ruppert, “We’re capable of anything.”

The Bulldogs will close out the week on Saturday with a trip to Dakota Wesleyan (12-23, 2-4 GPAC). First pitch from Mitchell, S.D., is set for 1 p.m. CT. Concordia will attempt to avenge last season’s pair of home losses to the Tigers.

Concordia sweeps GPAC doubleheader in Mitchell

MITCHELL, S.D. – Fresh off an exhilarating come-from-behind win over No. 10 Morningside, the Concordia University softball team hit the road for a clash with Dakota Wesleyan on Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs effectively avenged last season’s meeting with the Tigers by earning a doubleheader sweep with wins by scores of 4-1 and 12-7.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad has won 11 of its last 14 games and now stands at 24-10 overall and at 8-4 in league play.

“We did a great job of adapting to what was thrown at us in both games,” LaVelle said. “The pitcher in the first game really tried to keep us off balance. She had a good changeup so our girls had to adapt to hit that. I thought Michaela (Woodward) did a great job in the circle in the first game. The second game was a little different. I can’t say enough about Woodward for being a warrior and picking up the slack with Kylie’s (Harpst) injury. I think that attitude inspired the girls.”

Concordia never trailed at any point on Saturday. In game 1, the Bulldogs struck for an unearned run in the second inning and then got two more on RBI singles from Woodward and Taryn Thomas in the third. They got insurance when Thomas added another RBI single in the fifth.

It was a big day for the freshman from Overland Park, Kan. She went 2-for-4 with two RBIs in game 1 and then 3-for-5 with two runs and an RBI in game 2 while holding down the cleanup spot in the lineup. Thomas helped spark a 16-hit performance by the Bulldogs in game 2. Thomas, Leah Kalkwarf (3-for-5) and Autumn Owens (3-for-3) all had three hits in the victory. Owens blasted her seventh home run of the season while leading off the third inning.

Dakota Wesleyan (12-25, 2-6 GPAC) shriveled Concordia’s lead from 8-5 to 8-7 in the late innings of game 2. The Bulldog bats then came alive again by putting up four runs in the top of the seventh. Thomas, Kalkwarf and Owens all had RBI hits as part of the outburst.

A year earlier, Concordia was beaten soundly by the Tigers in a doubleheader that took place in Seward. The memory of those lopsided defeats kept the Bulldogs from letting down after their dramatic win over Morningside two days before.

“These girls are resilient. They don’t look too far ahead either,” LaVelle said. “They were ready to play. We came up here last night and had a good trip. We don’t look too much at the records. They took two from us last year. There are no slouches in the GPAC right now. Everybody is beating up on everybody.”

With Harpst sidelined, Woodward threw all 14 innings in the circle. She limited Dakota Wesleyan to six hits and three walks in game 1. She scattered 11 hits in game 2 while eating up innings. Woodward improved her season record to 12-7.

The Bulldogs are scheduled to return to action on Thursday (April 13) when Kansas Wesleyan University (22-8) makes a visit to Plum Creek Park. First pitch of the doubleheader is slated for 3 p.m. CT. The Coyotes are coming off a 36-18 season in 2016.

Concordia welcomes Kansas Wesleyan in week's only action

SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University softball team will have had a rare April stretch of four-straight days without a game by the time it welcomes Kansas Wesleyan University for Thursday’s nonconference doubleheader. First pitch is set for 3 p.m. CT from Plum Creek Park in Seward. The two sides last met on March 3, 2015. Thursday’s games will be carried live by the Concordia Sports Network.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad has won three games in a row and 11 of its last 14. The Bulldogs (24-10, 8-4 GPAC) are part of the logjam that sits near the top of the conference standings. Concordia is one of four teams tied for second place and just a single game behind first place Morningside (8-2 GPAC). Only eight games remain on the conference schedule.

In their most recent action, the Bulldogs took care of Dakota Wesleyan, winning both ends of a doubleheader in Mitchell, S.D., 4-1 and 12-7. Sophomore second baseman Leah Kalkwarf has been the team’s hottest hitter. She went 4-for-8 with two doubles in the sweep at Dakota Wesleyan. Over the past six games, Kalkwarf went 10-for-22 (.455) with six runs, four doubles, one triple and seven RBIs. Named Bulldog Athletic Association Female Athlete of the Week, Kalkwarf has raised her season average to .321.

The team’s most reliable source of power, catcher/third baseman Autumn Owens is closing in on her own single-season home run record of nine long balls, which she shares with former GPAC player of the year Clarissa Eloge. Owens is batting .343 with seven home runs, 31 RBIs and a team best .630 slugging percentage. Owens has belted 20 home runs in 334 career at bats as a Bulldog.

Concordia is hoping for the healthy return of Kylie Harpst, who missed much of last week’s action with an injury. With Harpst sidelined, Michaela Woodward has shouldered most of the load in the circle. Over the last two doubleheaders, Woodward has fired 27.2 innings, allowing 15 earned runs. She is a two-time GPAC pitcher of the week this season.

Kansas Wesleyan (24-9, 10-2 KCAC) owns a record nearly identical to the mark held by the Bulldogs. The Coyotes are coming off a 36-18 season in 2016. They currently reside in first place in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference. Kansas Wesleyan leans upon the bat of Autumn Gillespie (.438 BA, 5 HR, 24 RBI) and the arm of Jordyn Parsons (15-4, 1.61 ERA).

The Bulldogs are slated to get back to conference play next Tuesday (April 18) at Midland. They are also scheduled to host Mount Marty on Saturday, April 22.

Kalkwarf, 'Dogs stay hot with nonconference sweep

SEWARD, Neb. – Thursday’s nonconference clash at Plum Creek Park featured a pair of teams at or near the top their respective leagues. Leah Kalkwarf and the Concordia University softball team added to their win streak by claiming wins over visiting Kansas Wesleyan University by scores of 4-3 and 12-2 (five innings) on a warm afternoon in Seward.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad is already within one victory of cracking the program’s top 10 list for most wins in a single season. Now riding a five-game win streak, the Bulldogs have moved to 26-10 overall.

“No doubt they’re a good team,” LaVelle said of Kansas Wesleyan. “They came in here 24-9 and leading their conference (Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference) so they were flying high. We had been off since Saturday. You never know what you’re going to get. We started out a little slow, but we got a good game out of (Michaela) Woodward and got the outs we needed. We won the game and we carried momentum into the second game.”

Kalkwarf has been searing hot at the plate. That didn’t change on Thursday. She accounted for Concordia’s first run of the day with a solo homer to left center in the second inning of game 1. One frame later, the Bulldogs got all they needed when Kylie Harpst tripled in two runs and Taryn Thomas singled in another.

Woodward held down the Coyotes (24-11) just enough for her team to escape with the win. Woodward scattered nine hits and struck out five in a seven-inning complete game effort. With two outs in the top of the seventh, Kansas Wesleyan put runners on first and third. Woodward put an end to the threat by inducing a grounder right back to the circle.

In game 2, Kalkwarf added a double, a walk and two runs in a contest that got away from the Coyotes, who jumped out to a 2-0 lead. But they committed two costly errors that helped lead to a nine-run third-inning explosion for Concordia. Included in the frame were RBI singles by Janey Pasold, Jamie Lefebure and Megan Ruppert.

“We have a lot of confidence right now,” said Woodward, who punctuated the game 2 win with a fourth-inning homer. “We’re having a lot more fun. We’re not stressing so much. We’re just playing it out and what happens, happens.”

The return of Harpst to the lineup was a welcome sight. She had not started a game since March 31 due to a recent injury. She was able to give Woodward a break in game 2 by tossing a five-inning complete game. Harpst allowed two runs on four hits and one walk.

Kalkwarf, who extended her hitting streak to nine games, went 2-for-3 in game 1. Ruppert (2-for-3) and Autumn Owens (2-for-3) both collected a pair of hits in the capper.

These were two quality wins over a Kansas Wesleyan program that reached the opening round of the national tournament in 2015. That same season, the Coyotes swept a doubleheader from Concordia.

“To be the best, you have to play the best. We wanted to play this team,” LaVelle said. “We don’t want to schedule teams that aren’t going to make us better. This was a high caliber team.”

The Bulldogs have Easter weekend off and will return to action on Tuesday (April 18) when they make the trek northeast to Midland (13-19, 3-7 GPAC). First pitch from Fremont is slated for 5 p.m. CT. Also on Thursday, the Warriors split a twin bill at Mount Marty.

Bulldogs prepare for GPAC stretch run

SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia softball team hopes to keep the positive vibes flowing this week as it looks ahead to a pair of GPAC doubleheaders. The Bulldogs had the Easter weekend off after sweeping a twin bill from Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference leader Kansas Wesleyan University on April 13. Head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad has won five games in a row and 13 of its last 16.

This week’s schedule
Tuesday, April 18 – at Midland (13-19, 3-7 GPAC), 5 p.m.
Saturday, April 22 – vs. Mount Marty (10-17, 4-10 GPAC), 1 p.m.

With eight games left on the GPAC schedule, Concordia remains in the hunt for its first GPAC regular-season championship since 2008. In a cluster near the top, the Bulldogs (26-10, 8-4 GPAC) are tied for second place with College of Saint Mary and Dordt. Tenth-ranked Morningside is in the cat bird’s seat with a league record of 8-2. One of those losses came against Concordia.

This year’s squad has a chance to be the best yet under LaVelle. The 2017 Bulldogs own a .722 winning percentage. If that number held up, it would mark the third highest winning percentage in program history. The No. 1 spot on that list is held by the 1998 squad that went 33-10 overall. The ’05 group that went 36-19 continues to own the program record for most wins in a single season. With 26 wins at the moment, the 2017 Concordia team ranks in a tie for 11th on the school single-season list.

Sophomore second baseman Leah Kalkwarf has been a force during the recent run of success. The Omaha native owns a nine-game hitting streak, during which she’s gone 15-for-30 (.500) with 10 runs, eight RBIs, five doubles, a triple and a home run. She belted her first long ball of the season while going 3-for-5 in the doubleheader versus Kansas Wesleyan. Over the course of her hitting streak, Kalkwarf has raised her batting average from .276 to .333.

Concordia has averaged 7.2 runs during its five-game win streak and continues to rate as one of the top offensive teams in the GPAC. Among conference teams, the Bulldogs rank second in runs per game (6.1), second in batting average (.324), second in hits per game (9.1), third in slugging percentage (.458) and third in stolen bases per game (1.08). Seven Bulldog regulars are hitting better than .300: Megan Ruppert (.407), Autumn Owens (.357), Taryn Thomas (.347), Ronee Watson (.345), Kalkwarf (.333), Michaela Woodward (.330) and Kylie Harpst (.301).

Midland has slid back in the GPAC standings since placing second in 2015 when it went 14-6 in conference play. Despite leading the conference in batting average (.348), the Warriors are tied for eighth in the GPAC standings. They rank ninth in team ERA (4.99). Meanwhile, Mount Marty has increased its competitive level behind ace pitcher Amber Krasue, who owns a 1.86 ERA over 86.1 innings. The Lancers have picked up wins this season over the likes of Doane and Hastings.

The Bulldogs are scheduled to close out their home schedule next week when College of Saint Mary (April 26) and Bethany College (April 27) visit Seward. Both doubleheaders are set to get started at 5 p.m. CT.

Win streak rolls through Fremont

FREMONT, Neb. – Everything on Tuesday evening went according to script for the Concordia University softball team, which has caught fire at the right time of the year. The surging Bulldogs kept raking while sweeping away host Midland by scores of 11-1 (five innings) and 7-2 in a conference doubleheader played in Fremont, Neb.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad has won seven times in a row and has improved to 28-10 overall and to 10-4 in conference play. The recent hot streak has helped Concordia reappear among others receiving votes in the national coaches’ poll.

“We wanted to just go in and do what we do best,” LaVelle said. “We knew they were a good hitting team (GPAC best .348 batting average). We were going to do what we had to do whether it was going to be a slugfest or not. Overall I was pleased by what the girls did on the road. We continue to be hot with the bats and play well.”

The Bulldogs outhit the Warriors (13-21, 3-9 GPAC), 21-9, on the evening in a dominant outing. Sophomore second baseman Leah Kalkwarf remains scalding hot. She scorched Midland with a 3-for-5, three-double, four-RBI performance while extending her hitting streak to 11 games. There were plenty of other fireworks with Autumn Owens and Michaela Woodward both going deep in game 2 and Ronee Watson striking for three hits and three RBIs in game 1. Similarly, Diana Mendoza went 3-for-4 with three runs driven in as part of the first contest.

Neither game was particularly close for long. In the opener, Concordia fell behind 1-0 after two innings. The Bulldogs exploded with six runs in the third, three in the fourth and two in the fifth, enacting the eight-run rule. Concordia never trailed in game 2, racing out of the gates with a four-run first sparked by a two-out double by Woodward. Taryn Thomas singled in a run, Kalkwarf doubled in another and Owens blasted a two-run shot.

Kalkwarf, who has 18 hits over her last 11 games, has found a home in the No. 5 position in the lineup. “Leah’s always been a good hitter,” LaVelle said. “She’s really taken off in the No. 5 spot. I really like our lineup. Like I was telling our coaches, we have some good hitters that are on the bench. It’s a good problem to have.”

In the circle, Woodward dominated. She threw all five innings of game 1 and then the first two of game 2. She allowed only one run on five hits and struck out six. Midland couldn’t even muster a hit in the night cap until there was one out in the bottom of the fifth. Kylie Harpst (9-1) threw the final five innings of game 2 and picked up the win. She surrendered two runs (both earned) on four hits and one walk.

Owens now has eight home runs this season, putting her one off a school single-season record shared by herself and Clarissa Eloge. Owens has slugged 21 home runs over her three seasons as a Bulldog.

With six games left in the conference season, second-place Concordia has kept pace with first-place Morningside (28-7, 10-2 GPAC) near the top of the GPAC heap. The highest regular-season finish under LaVelle was a third-place claim in 2014, a year before the Bulldogs won the GPAC tournament title.

The Bulldogs will return to Plum Creek Park on Saturday for their scheduled conference doubleheader with Mount Marty (14-17, 6-10 GPAC). First pitch is set for 1 p.m. in Seward. Concordia is 7-3 with a win over No. 10 Morningside in home action this season.

Win streak halted at eight

SEWARD, Neb. – The early innings of Saturday’s doubleheader were simply a continuation of the hot recent play of the Concordia University softball team. The quick start highlighted the day for the Bulldogs, who pushed their winning streak to eight with a 7-4 game 1 victory over Mount Marty. The Lancers then responded by taking the second game, 4-2.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad remains in second place in the GPAC standings. Concordia sits at 29-11 overall and at 11-5 in conference play.

“We tried to really stress and hammer home that these girls would be tough,” LaVelle said. “We knew were going to get their best shot. I tip my hat to Mount Marty. They did what they had to do. Their pitcher mixed up speeds on us and we didn’t make the adjustments.

“I believe in what we have. I think you’re going to see them come back and rebound on Wednesday.”

Another streak also finally came to an end on Saturday when second baseman Leah Kalkwarf went 0-for-2 with a walk in game 2. That came after Kalkwarf blasted a pair of doubles and drove in a run in game 1. At that point, Kalkwarf owned a 12-game hitting streak that played a major role in the Bulldogs’ win streak. Kalkwarf doubled as part of a four-run first and then added another double in the three-run second.

Freshman Taryn Thomas also made significant contributions, cracking a two-run single in the first and then an RBI double in the second. In addition, she scored a pair of runs while enjoying a 2-for-3 performance in game 1. Thomas and company made those seven runs stand up.

Junior Michaela Woodward did her part in the circle, covering all seven innings of game 1. She allowed four runs (three earned) on three hits and three walks while recording six strikeouts. She moved her season record to 15-7.

But Mount Marty (15-18, 7-11 GPAC) showed resilience, scoring in the top of the first and then leading the entire way in game 2. The Lancers could have folded in the bottom of the seventh, but they stayed cool in a pressure moment. A Janey Pasold single, an error and a Jamie Lefebure walk loaded the bases with two outs. Lancer pitcher Brooke Becker then snuffed out the attempted rally by inducing a ground out to short off the bat of Megan Ruppert.

Second baseman Amanda McCafferty provided the fuel for the Mount Marty attack. She went 4-for-4 with a run and an RBI in game 2. Karlee Kozak went 2-for-3 out of the cleanup spot in the lineup.

Kylie Harpst got the ball in the circle in game 2 and was tagged with a loss for just the second time this season. Harpst also fired a complete game, scattering nine hits and a walk while allowing four runs.

The Concordia lineup took a hit when leading home run hitter Autumn Owens suffered an injury prior to the day’s first pitch. She was a late scratch because of the mishap.

The Bulldogs have four remaining home games on the regular-season slate. Up next is Wednesday’s visit from College of Saint Mary (16-16, 9-7 GPAC). First pitch is slated for 5 p.m. CT. Concordia will use the occasion to celebrate its seniors.

Bulldogs to celebrate seniors Wednesday in final week of regular season

SEWARD, Neb. – Though chances of catching Morningside for the GPAC regular-season title appear to be a longshot, the Concordia University softball team has plenty on the line with the final week of the regular season having arrived. Currently in second place, the Bulldogs hope to lock up a top-two conference finish and the right to host one of the four-team pods in the conference tournament that will open up next week.

This week’s schedule
Wednesday, April 26 – vs. College of Saint Mary (16-18, 9-7 GPAC), 5 p.m.
Thursday, April 27 – vs. Bethany College (19-28), 4 p.m.
Saturday, April 29 – at Dordt (18-17, 11-7 GPAC), 1 p.m.

Head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad owns a record of 16-4 since March 21. It won eight games in a row before falling in game 2 of last week’s home doubleheader with Mount Marty. The Concordia bats have been red hot, averaging 7.6 runs per game during the recent win streak. The Bulldogs (29-11, 11-5 GPAC) possess an impressive balance of pitching (3.19 team ERA) and hitting (.323 batting average and 6.2 runs per game).

One of the hottest hitters in the nation right now is Concordia second baseman Leah Kalkwarf. She has reached base safely in 21 games in a row. Over the past 13 contests, she’s gone 21-for-40 (.525) with 14 runs scored, 13 RBIs, 10 doubles, a triple and a home run. Her batting average has soared from .276 to .354. Last week she was a doubles machine, racking up five of them in 10 at bats.

Two single-season school records could fall this week. With 15 doubles on the year, Kalkwarf needs three more to surpass the program standard of 17 (held by Clarissa Eloge, Melissa Morrison and Meredith Peters). Additionally, catcher/third baseman Autumn Owens is one home run shy of equaling the single-season record she shares with Eloge. The home run record currently stands at nine for a year.

Senior day will take place on Wednesday. The senior class includes impact players such as Kylie Harpst (.286), Diana Mendoza (.268), Megan Ruppert (.388) and Michaela Woodward (.320). Though she has another year of eligibility remaining, Woodward will graduate early and move on to nursing school. Of the aforementioned seniors, Mendoza is the only one that has been in the program all four years. The native of Santa Clarita, Calif., has batted .295 in 165 career games as Bulldog.

College of Saint Mary is fresh off a 4-3 upset win over No. 10 Morningside. The Flames average only 3.8 runs per game, but are boosted by a strong pitching duo of Brittney Banks (6-7, 3.29) and Nicki Larsen (9-7, 3.03). Bethany sits in ninth place in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference. The Swedes possess two star power hitters in Anna Crawford and Alyssa Montoya (12 homers apiece). Dordt jumped out to a surprising 8-3 start in conference play. The fourth-place Defenders rely heavily upon ace pitcher Tianna Top (11-7, 2.55 ERA in 123.2 innings).

The GPAC tournament will be held at home parks of the two highest seeds on May 5-6. The GPAC championship series will take place May 8 at the home of the highest remaining seed.

Early flurry keys senior day victory

SEWARD, Neb. – While celebrating senior day, the Concordia University softball team blitzed College of Saint Mary in the early innings and rode the early outburst to victory in what turned out to be a single, seven-inning affair. Behind Michaela Woodward, making her 22nd start in the circle this season, the Bulldogs defeated the Flames, 9-3, at Plum Creek Park on a bone chilling Wednesday evening. Concordia and College of Saint Mary will play the second game at 5 p.m. CT on Thursday (April 27).

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad has moved to 30-11 overall and to 12-5 in the GPAC (second place). This marks the third time in LaVelle’s tenure that the Bulldogs have reached the 30-win mark.

The only senior that has been in the program all four years has been left fielder Diana Mendoza, a constant during LaVelle’s tenure. Mendoza says the team’s run of 17 wins in their last 21 games has been about having fun.

“We’re having fun and we’re playing how we’re meant to be playing,” Mendoza said. “It’s how we should have been playing from the beginning. It’s awesome being on a team with how much chemistry we have.”

Mendoza and each of the other four seniors in uniform were part of Wednesday’s starting lineup. All five were significant contributors. Kylie Harpst went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles, three runs scored and two RBIs. Megan Ruppert went 2-for-4 with two runs, AJ Wygant added a hit and an RBI and Mendoza was 1-for-2 with a couple of grabs in the outfield.

In the circle, Michaela Woodward, who will graduate early, was her usual bullish self. She surrendered six hits and five walks, but made big pitches with runners on base. She struck out six while running her season record to 16-7.

Woodward got the run support she needed when the Bulldogs picked on Flames ace Nicki Larsen by scoring three times in the first inning and four more times in the second. Larsen was tagged for eight earned runs and 10 hits.

Out of the No. 6 spot in the Concordia lineup, freshman Ronee Watson recorded a 2-for-4, three RBI day that also helped make up for the absence of slugging third baseman Autumn Owens. Seven different Bulldogs notched at least one hit.

Larsen led the College of Saint Mary (16-19, 9-8 GPAC) offensive attack with two hits. The Flames are now sitting in fifth place.

The Bulldogs will have just two games remaining after they finish up with the Flames on Thursday. The nonconference doubleheader with Bethany College that had been scheduled for Thursday has been canceled to make way for the contest with College of Saint Mary. Concordia is also slated to play at Dordt (18-17, 11-7 GPAC) at 1 p.m. CT on Saturday.

Woodward to begin career pursuits early after leaving lasting impact

Even the umpires didn’t think Michaela Woodward had anything left. Then just a freshman, Woodward had finished pitching her third complete game in two days and was getting ready to try to do it a fourth time.

In other words, Woodward had a chance very early in her career to prove herself as a winner. Says Woodward, “The umpires came up to (head coach Todd) LaVelle and said, ‘She’s not going to make it through another one. She doesn’t have anymore in her.’ I just like proving people wrong. I knew that I could do it.”

What makes the performance most remarkable is that she did it when the stakes were the highest. It was the 2015 GPAC tournament and the Bulldogs were the No. 7 seed, something they weren’t happy about. While riding the right arm of Woodward, Concordia upset its way to a GPAC tournament title. Woodward threw all six games during the postseason run – a total of 39.2 innings in a four-day stretch.

Having not even completed one full year at Concordia, Woodward had already put together a legendary performance when it comes to program annals. She also did it with the bat, blasting a no doubter of a home run in the title-clinching win at Morningside.

“She has that drive to do that,” LaVelle said of Woodward’s big coming out party in the conference tournament. “I overheard the umpires talking and they said, ‘You don’t have it in you.’ She just looked at me with that competitive fire and I just knew that next game was in the bag. She is very competitive and has that drive.”

Fast forward to the present and you find one of the most accomplished two-way players in program history. Now in the twilight of her collegiate career, Woodward is nearing 50 wins and 500 innings pitched. She’s a .365 hitter with 15 home runs in 136 games. She’s a first team all-conference performer enjoying her best season as a pitcher in 2017.

The biology major could have stuck around for one more year. She has a full season of eligibility remaining, but she feels like her body needs the break. She’s gone through plenty of bucket drills, 600-yard shuttles and strength and conditioning coach Todd Berner’s burnouts.

“My advisor put it in my head. He was like, ‘Hey, you know this is an option,” Woodward said. “’If you wanted to, you could graduate in three years.’ At first I was like, ‘No way.’ Then over the summer we found out that I had a heart condition. That was part of the decision, but I think it’s mostly my body. My body is just kind of worn out at this point.”

Instead of playing softball and taking classes at Concordia, Woodward will head out west to nursing school in Phoenix, Ariz., where she can earn a bachelor’s degree in 15 short months.

For the native of Cortland, Neb., simply getting accustomed to the desert surroundings may be the most difficult part. However, Woodward has proven to be something of an adventurer. Last summer she went to Cape Town, South Africa, to play softball and to swim with sharks. She won’t have to worry about being chased down by a white shark amidst the cacti in Arizona.

“It’s definitely scary and nerve racking, but some of our girls are from there,” Woodward said. “I have parents looking out for me trying to find apartments so I think I’m pretty well set.”

LaVelle would be OK if something fell through and she came running back … OK, it’s not going to happen. But LaVelle would be happy to take three years of players like Woodward any day.

The Norris High School product first registered on LaVelle’s radar when she played against his Lincoln North Star teams. Woodward likes to remind LaVelle of the home runs she hit off his teams.

“She’s always had that demeanor about her that she could take control of the circle,” LaVelle said. “We were pretty lucky to get her here. I just reflected on that with the team. I was heading to the state tournament and there was a big article her senior year in the Lincoln Journal Star. It said she was looking at a Florida school, Nebraska Wesleyan and a handful of others. I got call from a high school coach that’s a good friend and he told me, ‘I don’t think she’s really set on any of those schools.’ The ball started rolling from that day forward.”

LaVelle initiated contact with Woodward, who also thought about going to college for track and field. Everything happened fast. Within a couple of weeks, Woodward had signed to become a Bulldog.

Without Woodward, Concordia wouldn’t have won the 2015 GPAC tournament title – and it wouldn’t be 30-11 right now with a second place standing in the conference. As her freshman year proved, Woodward was a ready-made winner.

Says LaVelle, “What I look at is what she’s meant to our program. She’s laid a great foundation for years to come in terms of competitive nature and where we want to take this program.”

Fifth-inning splash pushes Bulldogs to win in regular-season home finale

SEWARD, Neb. – A fifth-inning outburst proved to be all the Concordia University softball team needed to wrap up a season sweep of visiting College of Saint Mary on Thursday evening. Making their last career home regular-season appearances, Kylie Harpst earned the pitching victory and Michaela Woodward blasted a fourth-inning home run in leading a 6-3 victory.

Just a single seven-inning game took place on Thursday, completing what had been a scheduled doubleheader on Wednesday. Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad will enter the final weekend of the regular season at 31-11 overall and at 13-5 in conference play.

“We talked about it in the huddle. We’re in the driver’s seat. We control our own destiny (in regards to hosting in the GPAC tournament),” LaVelle said. “It was a good win. What I like is the resilience of this team. They did what they had to do. They didn’t panic. Our bats were not there the first three or four innings, but we played solid defense behind Kylie.”

The game turned in the bottom of the fifth with the score tied, 1-1. Starter Brittney Banks lost control of the zone, walking four hitters in a row before Leah Kalkwarf dumped a two-run single into right field. Ronee Watson added an RBI single and then scored when a grounder by Maddie Fousek went through the legs of the Flames third baseman.

Watson, a native of Riverside, Calif., has been a big addition to LaVelle’s lineup. She’s now hitting .353 in her freshman campaign.

“It’s definitely been a hard adjustment, but leaning on the seniors and upperclassmen have made it an easy transition for me,” Watson said. “They make me feel very welcome and it’s just like playing at home.”

Harpst is now 10-2 on the year after tossing her ninth complete game. College of Saint Mary didn’t hardly put a dent in her until the game was essentially out of reach in the seventh inning. The Flames held a brief 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth when Banks’ single was mishandled in the outfield, allowing Emily Dickerson to trot home. College of Saint Mary actually outhit the Bulldogs, 6-5.

Though it may not have been a dominant victory, it was a nice way for the senior class to go out before gearing up for a road trip and then postseason play.

“Those seniors have been the backbone of this whole year,” LaVelle said. “It all started back in August with them. They believed. We had some shaky moments last year and we’ve had some adversity this year. They just keep rallying this team around them. Then their talents are a whole different level.”

The Bulldogs are slated to return to action on Saturday with a trip to Sioux Center, Iowa. First pitch from Dordt (18-17, 11-7 GPAC) is set for 1 p.m. CT. Both Hastings (29-21, 12-6 GPAC) and Dordt remain in the running for the No. 2 seed and the right to host one of two pods in the GPAC tournament.

Harpst, Kalkwarf and Woodward go deep in regular-season finale

SIOUX CENTER, Iowa – The most successful regular season run during head coach Todd LaVelle’s four-year tenure leading Concordia University softball concluded on Saturday with a doubleheader split at Dordt. After an 8-6 loss in game 1, the Bulldogs responded by drubbing the Defenders, 13-2, in game 2.

Unfortunately, the slip up in game 1 opened the door for Hastings to sneak past Concordia for the No. 2 seed in next week’s conference tournament. The Bulldogs completed the regular season in a tie for second place. Their records stand at 32-12 overall and at 14-6 in the GPAC.

“We lost that first game but what our girls do well is regroup,” LaVelle said. “We needed to get the next one. Our big inning came with two outs. We strung a bunch of hits together and the confidence was back. We really wanted to finish off the season with two wins and get the No. 2 seed, but it’s not anything we can’t overcome.”

The heart of the Concordia order played long ball in game 2. Kylie Harpst, Leah Kalkwarf and Michaela Woodward all went deep once apiece. Those three combined to go 10-for-13 with seven runs and 11 RBIs in the season finale. Harpst went 4-for-5 with three runs scored, five RBIs and was a double shy of hitting for the cycle. For Kalkwarf (5-for-9 on the day), it was simply a continuation of what’s been a torrid second half of her sophomore season.

The Bulldogs rapped out 18 hits in game 2. Diana Mendoza joined Harpst, Kalkwarf and Woodward as Bulldogs with three or more hits in the contest. Eight of Concordia’s nine starters collected at least one hit while helping put up crooked numbers in three frames (three in the third, four in the fourth and four in the seventh).

Concordia made a late push in game 1 after digging a 6-0 hole. The Bulldogs got a run back in the fourth and then struck for five in the sixth to tie it up, 6-6. An error on the Dordt shortstop allowed a pair of runs to score, tying the contest. However, the Defenders (19-18, 12-8 GPAC) got two in the bottom half and then slammed the door by setting Concordia down in order in the seventh.

LaVelle used three different pitchers in game 1. Woodward started and went 4.2 innings, allowing six runs (four earned) on eight hits. Harpst then tossed a complete game in the second contest. She scattered eight hits while improving her record to 11-2.

Despite the game 1 loss, the Bulldogs have established themselves as a viable postseason threat. Their 32 wins are tied for the fourth most in a single season in program history. At 14-6 in league play, Concordia has made a four-game improvement compared to 2016.

“We’re happy that we’ve taken steps in the right direction,” LaVelle said. “The girls work extremely hard. Now we’re at the time of the season when it really matters in the postseason.”

The postseason will start Friday, May 5 when the third-seeded Bulldogs take on Dakota Wesleyan (19-32, 9-11 GPAC) in Hastings at 12 p.m. Concordia will also play at either 4 or 6 p.m. that same day as part of the double elimination format. For more details on the GPAC tournament, click HERE.

Bulldogs seek to recapture postseason magic

GPAC Tournament Brackets

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.

HASTINGS BRACKET

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)

Bulldogs blast five home runs, go 1-1 on first day of GPAC tourney

HASTINGS, Neb. – The Concordia University softball team took advantage of the launching pad that is the Smith Softball Complex in Hastings, Neb. The third-seeded Bulldogs totaled five home runs while defeating sixth-seeded Dakota Wesleyan, 3-2, before falling at the hands of host and seconded-Hastings, 4-3, in heartbreaking fashion.

The loss to the Broncos means fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad will be fighting for its postseason life on Saturday. Concordia now stands at 33-13 overall.

“I really liked the girls’ attitudes in between games,” LaVelle said. “They were loose and taking a lot of initiative to get things done. I thought their mental preparation was spot on. We came in and played almost all seven innings really, really well. It was definitely a heartbreaker because I thought the girls played well enough to win.”

Woodward hit two of the team’s five long balls in Hastings. It looked like Woodward may end up the hero of the late afternoon contest when her monstrous solo blast in the top of the seventh provided a 3-2 advantage in the top of the seventh. Hopes of a perfect day were dashed when Cara Williams took Kylie Harpst deep with walk-off two-run homer.

As part of the 3-2 win over Dakota Wesleyan, Woodward, Leah Kalkwarf and Maddie Fousek each connected for solo blasts. The one hit by Fousek in the bottom of the sixth proved to be the game winner. An inning later, Woodward polished off a complete game that saw her allow only three hits, three walks and one earned run.

Harpst also gave her team a chance to win with a solid pitching performance against Hastings. She kept the Broncos off the scoreboard until the fourth inning when Mikaelah Molifua singled in the tying run. Neither team held a lead of more than a single run in a nailbiting contest. The walk-off homer made a winner out of Sarah Barger, who tossed a three-hit complete game.

The Bulldogs had only two hits all day that did not leave the ballpark. Harpst, Kalkwarf and Woodward each had one hit apiece in both of Friday’s games. One of the top players in program history, Woodward became the program’s single-season home run record holder on Friday. Her 10 big flies surpass the previous record of nine that had been shared by alum Clarissa Eloge and current Bulldog Autumn Owens.

Concordia will be in a win-or-go-home scenario from here on out in the Hastings Bracket. Up next is a 12 p.m. CT rematch with Dakota Wesleyan. The winner will then move on and play Hastings. Should the Bulldogs get past the Tigers, they will then have to defeat the Broncos twice in order to advance to the GPAC Championship Series (May 8). The two bracket winners will meet for a shot at the postseason title.

“We’ve been here before,” LaVelle said. “I still think we have the team to get this done. We can’t hang our heads. We have to come back here and fight for everything. It’s not going to be an easy road, but it’s a road that we’ve traveled many times. It can be done.”

HASTINGS BRACKET

Friday, May 5, 2017
Game #1 – (3) Concordia def. (6) Dakota Wesleyan, 3-2
Game #2 – (2) Hastings def. (7) College of Saint Mary, 6-0
Game #3 – (2) Hastings def. (3) Concordia, 4-3
Game #4 – (6) Dakota Wesleyan def. (7) College of Saint Mary, 7-6 (8 inn.)

Saturday, May 6, 2017
Game #5 – (3) Concordia vs. (6) Dakota Wesleyan, 12 p.m.
Game #6 – (2) Hastings vs. Winner Game #5, 2 p.m.
Game #7 – If necessary (Game #6 winner/loser), 4 p.m.

Monday, May 8, 2017
GPAC Championship Series – Morningside Bracket Winner vs. Hastings Bracket Winner
*Game times at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. (if necessary)
*Highest seed remaining hosts

Season ends with second highest win total in program history

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.”

Three Bulldogs land on All-GPAC first team

GPAC release

First Team All-GPAC: Leah Kalkwarf, Megan Ruppert, Michaela Woodward
Second Team All-GPAC: Kylie Harpst, Autumn Owens

SEWARD, Neb. – Five Bulldogs represented head coach Todd LaVelle’s Concordia University softball team with either first or second team All-GPAC accolades, as announced by the conference on Wednesday (May 10). The first team selections include sophomore Leah Kalkwarf and seniors Megan Ruppert and Michaela Woodward. Second teamers were senior Kylie Harpst and junior Autumn Owens.

Woodward (Cortland, Neb.) will depart as one of the program’s all-time great two-way players. A big weekend at the GPAC tournament pushed Woodward to 11 home runs for the year, giving her sole possession of the school single-season home run record. She also batted .338 with 38 RBIs and a .642 slugging percentage (third best in the GPAC). She also served as the team’s ace pitcher, going 17-7 with a 3.07 ERA over 166.1 innings. She recorded 120 strikeouts. Woodward finished her career with 20 home runs and 48 pitching victories. She was also named second team all-conference in 2015 and first team in 2016.

Few players in the nation were hotter than Leah Kalkwarf during the second half of the season. The second baseman from Omaha wound up leading the team in batting average (.366) and RBIs (39) during a breakout second collegiate season. She also posted 16 doubles, a triple, three home runs, a .417 on-base percentage and .542 slugging percentage. Kalkwarf started each of the team’s 48 games. Kalkwarf reached base safely in all of the season’s final 29 games.

Ruppert, a transfer from McCook Community College, starred both at the plate and in the field. She made just one error all season while batting .349 (third on the team) with a pair of home runs, seven doubles, two triples and 12 stolen bases. She sported a robust .451 on-base percentage and a .466 slugging percentage. She started all but one game as the team’s center fielder.

A transfer from NCAA Division II Pittsburg State, Harpst put together a solid two years as a Bulldog. This season she batted .305 with 11 doubles, six triples (team high), four home runs and 37 RBIs. She registered an on-base percentage of .370 and a slugging percentage of .573. In the circle, Harpst made 21 appearances and had a record of 12-5 and ERA of 3.19 in 101 innings. Harpst hit .353 over 88 career games. She moved up from honorable mention All-GPAC in 2016.

Owens, a native of Henderson, Nev., provided a powerful bat in the middle of the lineup once again. She hit .350 with 10 doubles, eight home runs and 34 RBIs. She recorded a .415 on-base percentage and slugged .633. She played in 38 games before suffering an injury that sidelined her down the stretch. Owens’ has the most home runs (21) of any Bulldog over the last three seasons. She is a career .353 hitter with 96 RBIs. She was a first team All-GPAC choice in 2016.

LaVelle’s squad ended the year with an overall record of 34-14, tying for the second most wins in a season in program history. The Bulldogs placed in a tie for second place in the GPAC regular-season standings.