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Season preview: 2019 Concordia baseball

By Jake Knabel on Jan. 23, 2019 in Baseball

Head coach: Ryan Dupic (113-89, 5th year)
2018 record: 25-22 overall, 13-13 GPAC (T-6th)
Key returners: Keaton Candor (OF); Wade Council (OF/LHP); Jake Fosgett (RHP); Dylan Jacob (OF); Christian Meza (2B); Jason Munsch (LHP); Logan Ryan (SS); Thomas Sautel (3B); Tanner Wauhob (RHP).
Key losses: Kaleb Geiger (1B); Nick Little (RHP); Cade Moring (LHP).
Key newcomers: Ben Berg (C); Nick Boys (OF); Michael Coppens (RHP); Beau Dorman (C); Jesse Garcia (1B); Sasha Jabusch (LHP); Thomas Otte (RHP); Shane Whittaker (RHP).
2018 GPAC all-conference: Nick Little (first team; pitcher of the year); Christian Meza (first team); Wade Council (second team); Thomas Sautel (second team); Jake Fosgett (honorable mention); Cade Moring (honorable mention).

Outlook
The 2018 Concordia baseball team had the difficult task of following up an unforgettable 2017 championship season. After tying for sixth place in the GPAC standings last spring, the Bulldogs will enter a new campaign a bit off the radar in terms of outsider expectations. Despite a bit of drop off a year ago, Concordia remains in good hands under the leadership of fifth-year head coach Ryan Dupic.

In Dupic’s tenure, the program has gone from hoping to truly believing it can compete for the league championship each season. In order to be at or near a championship level, the Bulldogs know there are things that must improve. The team’s new leadership group is already paying dividends.

“It’s going to be a huge factor,” Dupic said. “I think we’re in an age where we want to quantify everything and I don’t know how to quantify leadership. When I look back at the teams that have been successful that I’ve been fortunate enough to be part of, they’ve had pretty good leadership. I think it’s going to be a big deal as we move forward. I think it will keep us more in alignment and more on the same page amongst coaches and players. It’s really created a sense of family.”

That family expects a lot out of itself. Concordia wants to look more like the team that started last season by winning 14 of its first 21 games while repeating that kind of performance throughout the balance of the spring. All-conference position players return in the form outfielder/pitcher Wade Council (.339 BA, .428 OBP, 6 HR), second baseman Christian Meza (.405 BA, .472 OBP, 14 doubles) and third baseman Thomas Sautel (.371 BA, .441 OBP, 5 HR). They will anchor a lineup that went from 6.67 runs scored per game in 2017 to 6.25 per game in 2018.

As long as that trio remains healthy, the offense figures to be productive. Meza is adept at spraying the ball to the gaps and is one of the GPAC’s most reliable contact hitters. Council (who can also be used as a lefty hurler) and Sautel both made big jumps in 2018 as they got better at driving the ball. Out of the leadoff spot, Council actually led the team in home runs and slugging percentage (.548).

“They were all-conference players last year. Not much has changed,” Dupic said. “The neat thing when you get guys who are upperclassmen is they kind of know who they are by now. They’ve been through things. Christian knows who he is. Thomas knows who he is. They’re consistent in the way that they come to practice, the way they prepare and their personalities. With their daily habits and routines, they know how this goes. There are not a lot of surprises with those guys. That’s what we like.”

A host of others bring starting experience, including sophomores Keaton Candor and Dylan Jacob, who were fixtures in the lineup as freshmen. The deep pool of veterans extends to the likes of first baseman Evan Bohman, outfielder Johnny May and shortstop Logan Ryan, a three-year starter. Candor and Jacob have the potential to be big bats. They aspire to make the type of advancement shown by Council from freshman to sophomore year. First, Jacob hopes to rid himself of a hand injury.

Meza likes the look of this lineup. Says the San Diego native, “I think we’re right there. We have a lot of returning position players. I think our lineup is going to be very dangerous. We have a lot of young guys who are going to surprise some people this time around. The seniors have been there for four years now so we’re ready to go. I think this is our year.”

As far as the pitching staff, Concordia is moving on without last year’s Nos. 1 and 2 starters: Nick Little, the 2018 GPAC Pitcher of the Year, and Cade Moring, who owns the program’s single-season strikeout record. Despite those departures, the staff appears solid with Jake Fosgett, last season’s ace reliever, moving into the starting rotation. Over 26 career relief appearances, Fosgett has a strikeout rate of 11.2 per nine innings. Now the Bulldogs hope to get more value out of the slender righty with the snap dragon curveball.

The staff also features returnees in lefty Jason Munsch (4.91 ERA, 36.2 IP) and righty Tanner Wauhob (11.05 ERA, 14.2 IP). Both Munsch and Wauhob are expected to be significantly better than what last season’s numbers looked like. Said Dupic of Wauhob, “Tanner has made as much progress as any player in the program from the time the season ended to this point. He had a terrific summer and is a great leader. He’s done a really nice job. I would put Jason Munsch right there with Tanner in terms of the progress he’s made.”

The staff should also get a boost from left-hander Sasha Jabusch, a transfer from Clark College (Wash.). Dupic describes Jabusch as a “talented kid with good stuff.” What’s not entirely certain is who will catch Jabusch and company. The battle is mostly between freshman Ben Berg (younger brother of assistant coach Bryce Berg) of Carroll, Iowa, and junior Beau Dorman, a transfer from College of the Siskiyous. The combo of Berg and Dorman will be counted upon to strengthen the catching position both offensively and defensively.

There are plenty of other newcomers capable of making an impact, such as outfielder Nick Boys, right-handed pitcher Michael Coppens, first baseman Jesse Garcia and right-handed pitchers Thomas Otte and Shane Whittaker. Dupic will certainly be on the lookout for reliable bullpen options with Fosgett now in a different role. Unfortunately, Nathan Buckallew (12 appearances in 2018) will be sidelined by injury. That leaves Dylan DuRee (4.97 ERA, 12.2 IP) as the returner with the most ‘pen usage in 2018.

Of course, the pitching staff will be helped if the defense behind it can tighten things up after a rough season in that department. The errors piled up a rate that won’t be considered acceptable moving forward.

With all factors accounted for, Dupic believes he will put a very competitive squad on the field. The road to winning a GPAC title got a little bit more challenging with the addition of a well-respected Jamestown program, but at least one league head coach thought enough of the Bulldogs to give them a first-place vote in the preseason poll.

“I think it’s a fair thing,” Dupic said of the preseason polls. “We finished tied for sixth in the league last year and we were picked fifth (this year). Most years those predictions are more or less based on where you finished the year before. We’re probably right about where we ought to be based on where we finished a year ago and how that process works. In terms of where we actually finish, I expect we’ll be better than that. That’s the expectation of our program. I think our players most certainly want to be better than that. With all of that said, I’m just focused on today.”

The 2019 season will get started in Oklahoma City on Feb. 23 with a game apiece against MidAmerica Nazarene University (Kan.) and No. 8 Oklahoma City University. The first home doubleheader is slated for March 17.