Bulldog softball set to play in Shawnee, Okla., in first-ever national championships appearance
SEWARD, Neb. – With Tuesday night’s announcement from the NAIA, the Concordia University softball team is officially headed to the national championships for the first time in program history. First-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s Bulldogs have been placed in the St. Gregory’s Bracket of the 2014 NAIA Softball National Championships Opening Round set to play out May 12-14.
Seeded fourth in its regional bracket, Concordia will take on host and top-seeded St. Gregory’s on Monday, May 12 in the first game of a double-elimination format. All games in the bracket will take place at Firelake Ball Fields in Shawnee, Okla. Game times will be announced on Wednesday. Winners from each of the 10 opening round sites will advance to the NAIA Softball World Series, May 23-29, in Columbus, Ga.
“Never being in this position before it’s kind of hard (to know how to react),” LaVelle said. “No matter what site you would have went to you were going to get a quality opponent. We welcome the opportunity to go down to Shawnee and see where we stack up against the best of the best.”
Many Bulldog players are familiar with St. Gregory’s (48-9), ranked sixth nationally and an at-large tournament selection out of the Sooner Athletic Conference. Last season Concordia fell to the Cavaliers in the 2013 opener.
In-state rival Bellevue University (35-15, No. 3 seed) and Belhaven University of Mississippi (41-15, No. 2 seed) are the other squads in Concordia’s four-team bracket. Bellevue qualified by winning the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament while Belhaven, ranked 15th in the NAIA, received one of the eight at-large berths.
Concordia owns one win apiece over fellow national qualifiers in Bellevue, Morningside and fourth-ranked Olivet Nazarene, giving LaVelle and company confidence they can hold their own – even as a decided underdog.
“It should give them confidence,” LaVelle said. “We’re going to go down there and we’re going to compete. It’s not a vacation. It’s an extension of our season and our postseason. We want to keep going. The sky’s the limit for this group. You saw that in the GPAC tournament.”
Concordia players, coaches and support staff watched the NAIA’s official bracket show live in the Walz Conference Room on campus. The Bulldogs were placed in one of the final three brackets that were revealed on the show. The team shouted its approval when the St. Gregory’s quartet came on screen.
Concordia will hold practice at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in Seward. The team will have a break on Saturday as graduation will be held on campus. Five softball players, as well as student assistant Kelsey Timmerman, are set to graduate. The Bulldogs will then depart on a charter bus for Shawnee at approximately 8 a.m. on Sunday in order to be ready to play St. Gregory’s the next day.
Information on how to follow Concordia’s opening round games live (video, audio, stats, etc.) will be passed along as it becomes available.
- The program will be making its first-ever appearance at the national championships when the grand event gets underway (May 12-14). The NAIA is now in the second year of the new set up that includes 10 opening round sites leading up to the NAIA Softball World Series. Under the previous system, Concordia made it to six-straight NAIA regional tournaments between 2003 and 2008. Each time the Bulldogs fell short of the national championships.
- 2008: 0-2 at NAIA Region III Tournament
- 2007: 0-2 at NAIA Region III Tournament
- 2006: 0-2 at NAIA Region III Tournament
- 2005: 2-2 at NAIA Region IV Tournament
- 2004: 2-2 at NAIA Region IV Tournament
- 2003: 1-2 at NAIA Region IV Tournament
- Of the teams that have qualified for the national championship opening round, Concordia has played three: Bellevue (35-15), Morningside (30-12) and Olivet Nazarene (46-3-1). The Bulldogs own one victory over all three teams. They split a doubleheader at Bellevue on April 1, went 1-3 against Morningside and upset then No. 10 Olivet Nazarene, 5-1, in a single game in Tucson, Ariz., on March 10.
- At 32-14 overall, the 2014 Bulldogs own the fourth-highest win total in program history. The team’s winning percentage of .696 ranks third on the school’s all-time list. Here are the top 10-winningest seasons in program history in terms of overall victories:
- 1. 2005 – 36-19 (.654)
- 2. 2003 – 34-16 (.680)
- 3. 1998 – 33-10 (.767)
- 4. 2014 – 32-14 (.696)
- 5. 2008 – 31-11 (.738)
- 6. 1997 – 29-22 (.569)
- 7. 2011 – 27-17 (.614)
- 7. 1996 – 27-20 (.574)
- 9. 2007 – 26-23 (.531)
- 9. 2006 – 26-20 (.565)
- Concordia is one of seven GPAC teams that increased its overall win total in 2014 as compared to 2013. On the heels of a 14-25 campaign last year, the Bulldogs underwent one of the biggest turnarounds in the NAIA and will enter nationals with a mark of 32-14. Concordia’s 18-win increase is six better than Dakota Wesleyan’s 12-victory improvement. Other conference teams to bump up their win totals included Doane (+11), Dordt (+10), Briar Cliff (+7), Northwestern (+5) and Mount Marty (+2).
- Two additional Concordias qualified for the national championship opening round. Concordia Irvine and Concordia-Portland will both play in the “Concordia Bracket” in Irvine, Calif.
6 May 2014