When the 2018 season ended with a disappointing seventh-place finish in the GPAC, head coach Ryan Dupic convened in the Concordia baseball think tank (also known as his office) along with his assistant coaches. Despite having the 2018 GPAC Pitcher of the Year, the Bulldogs did not quite have the type of pitching depth that Dupic envisioned for the program. To make matters more difficult, Concordia was saying goodbye to its Nos. 1 and 2 starting pitchers.
As it turned out, many of the solutions were right there in front of Dupic and former assistant Casey Hall, as they put together a pitching blueprint for 2019. The master plan worked. On May 8, the GPAC unveiled an all-conference first team with Bulldog pitchers accounting for four of the five spots.
Says senior Dylan DuRee, “I’m not surprised. Those guys have worked their butts off all year long since the day we got back here in the fall. It’s been a nonstop grind. Those guys have earned it and they deserve everything they’ve gotten. You look at our starters, those guys have some nasty pitches. That doesn’t surprise me at all.”
A rival GPAC head coach went so far as to say that Concordia has four aces on a ridiculously deep staff that has set a new standard for the program. The strikeout rate is off the charts – 11.0 per nine innings – and the team ERA within conference play was a preposterous 2.31. Holdovers in DuRee, Jake Fosgett, Jason Munsch, Ryan Samuelson, Jared Schipper and Tanner Wauhob each made noticeable leaps forward this spring while transfer Sasha Jabusch proved to be a tremendous addition.
It all creates a problem for Dupic, but it’s one any coach would like to have. Which of these guys do you turn to when the season is on the line? Who gets the ball in game one of a postseason tournament? Honestly, it’s hard to go wrong with any choice.
“That’s my hardest job right now,” said Dupic of lining up a pitching plan for the upcoming opening round of the national tournament. “Sometimes not everyone is quite 100 percent healthy at this point in the season so it’s about making sure they’re feeling okay. You also have to make decisions that won’t negatively affect the long term. What we have is a group of guys who are flexible and who we can trust to be ready to go when they are called upon.”
Dupic will deflect credit at every opportunity, but he earned the GPAC Coach of the Year award in particular for the way he molded this staff into the best one ever seen at Concordia. Dupic has an eye for pitching and seems to have an innate ability for spotting talent that some others might miss. Fosgett and Munsch were first noticed by Dupic at showcases in California. Fosgett did not get even one other offer to play college baseball. Jabusch nearly gave up baseball, but returned to the sport at a junior college in Washington in 2018.
DuRee and Samuelson threw a combined 15 innings last season and now both sport ERA’s south of 1.00. Wauhob had a tough junior season but put the time in to make for a huge bounce back as a senior. The investment is the key. It’s a group that is so invested that other people on campus felt compelled to ask: why was a baseball team working so hard in the fall? Because that’s what it’s going to take to win a GPAC championship, they answered.
The new kid on the block, Jabusch was the guy on the mound when Concordia clinched the conference regular season title following his own 17-strikeout masterpiece on April 27. Said Jabusch, “Honestly I wasn’t surprised (by the staff’s success). We’ve put a lot of hard work in. We push each other. We’re all trying to one-up each other and do better. If someone has a good outing, the next guy tries to have a better outing. We’ve just had a really good season.”
Jabusch’s two-hit shutout in his final outing of the regular season stands as one of the signature performances of the year. So too does Munsch’s 16-strikeout whiff-a-thon in a 3-2 victory over Jamestown on April 13. Fosgett struck out exactly 11 hitters in four separate starts. Wauhob also tossed a nine-inning gem in a 2-1 win over Doane on April 7.
Fosgett was very nearly the GPAC Pitcher of the Year after coming out of the bullpen as a freshman and sophomore. His development as one of the aces is just another example of the magic Dupic has worked. Dupic helped convince Fosgett that he could make the transition.
“Going from a reliever to a starter you have to be able to perform in more innings,” Fosgett said. “That was one of my biggest thoughts going into the starting role – am I going to be able to do this for the entire year? I knew the talent was there. Just being able to pitch well in that starting role was the biggest question I had to answer.”
The question has been answered in the affirmative. On most staffs, Fosgett would be THE guy. Here, he is one of the guys. It just seemed too fitting on that chilly and windy April 27 doubleheader when Concordia sewed up the GPAC title with a pair of 3-0 shutouts.
On that day that included a doggy pile in between games of a doubleheader, Dupic showered his staff with praise. “They’ve been awesome,” said the fifth-year head coach. “That’s probably as good as I’ve ever seen Sasha. Our pitchers were able to pound the zone and keep guys off balance. That’s such a big deal. They’ve pitched so well all year. I’m very proud of them. They deserve all the credit.”
Okay Coach, but we’re still going to give you at least a little bit of the credit. Guys like DuRee don’t just become lockdown closers without some help along the way. Says DuRee, “He gave us the tools at the beginning of the year. It’s the hard work of the players taking those tools and his help and applying everything. Our guys have worked their butts off, but none of this would have been possible without Coach Dupic.”
Added Jabusch, “This is definitely a new baseball experience. I haven’t had a pitching program like this at any school I’ve been at. I’ve been blessed with a good program that has helped me get to where I am. It’s been a great experience."
The competition will tick upward next week when the Bulldogs jump into national tournament action in Henderson, Tenn. Nothing is going to come easy, but Concordia can take confidence in knowing the type of competitors it can put on the mound. Two years ago the Bulldogs embarked on new territory by reaching the national tournament. They hope this year’s stay can last a bit longer.
Said Fosgett, “Last time as a skinny freshman going into that my thought was, ‘Pitching in the national tournament is probably one of the coolest experiences you’re going to have.’ At that point I was just taking it all in. This year we want to go out and show teams what we’ve got and win some ballgames. I think we have a good staff with a lot of experience. We want to show teams what we’re about.”
The opening round of the NAIA Baseball National Championship will get underway for the Bulldogs at 11 a.m. CT on Monday (May 13). Concordia will take on Clarke (Iowa) in the first game of the Henderson Bracket. All games from Henderson, Tenn., can be viewed live here: https://portal.stretchinternet.com/fhu/.