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Baseball aspires for move up GPAC in second season under Dupic

By Jacob Knabel on Feb. 9, 2016 in Baseball

At a glance
Head coach: Ryan Dupic (26-18, 2nd year)
2015 record: 26-18 overall, 8-12 GPAC (9th place)
Key returners: Alex Alstott (OF); Casey Berg (IF); Taylor Bickel (LHP); Taylor Bigandt (OF); Alex Cargin (2B); Taylor Dudley (OF); Ryan Fesmire (C); Kaleb Geiger (IF); Mark Harris (RHP); Tyler Nelson (1B); Josh Prater (LHP); Neil Ryan (RHP)
Key losses: Zach Cambier (1B); Jaydee Jurgensen (LHP)
Key newcomers: Jacob Adams (OF); Cole Jackson (RHP); Christian Montero (C/1B); Todd Oberthien (RHP); Logan Ryan (SS)
2015 GPAC all-conference: Alex Alstott (first team); Jaydee Jurgensen (second team); Casey Berg (honorable mention); Alex Cargin (honorable mention)

Season Outlook
While Concordia fell short of qualifying for GPAC postseason play in 2015, year one under head coach Ryan Dupic turned out to be an inarguable success. The Bulldogs ran off 10-straight victories during the month of March on the way to a program single-season record 26 victories. Offensively they broke school records for runs scored (289) and the pitching staff set a new standard with 270 strikeouts.

All of those things were achieved during a feeling-out campaign for a program that had been under the guidance of the same head coach for 16 years. Dupic brought in a star in center fielder Alex Alstott and he worked wonders with a pitching and defensive group that improved immensely.

“Within the construct of the whole year I think it was pretty good,” Dupic said. “We certainly had a lot of positives both in terms of wins and losses and building things within. We were pleased with the positive direction we took. We fell a little short of our goal of getting into the conference tournament and climbing the conference standings. That’s going to be a big goal this year. It was definitely a step in the right direction, but we’re hoping to speed this process up.”

Alstott returns to provide stellar defense and a high-impact bat at the top of the lineup. After bouncing around in his collegiate career, Alstott found a home at Concordia and blossomed. He broke the school record for triples in a season and topped the GPAC in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He came out of nowhere to grab first team all-conference recognition.

His rise to stardom is one reason for optimism in 2016. There are many others. With the benefit of a full recruiting season, Dupic stocked his roster with talented newcomers, including several junior college transfers that will figure heavily into this year’s plans.

“The depth that we have is awesome,” Alstott said. “To be honest, we’re probably the most underrated talented team that I’ve ever been part of. It’s crazy to say, but the newcomers and transfers and the freshmen have already had a huge impact and the season hasn’t even started yet. It’s going to be a fun ride.”

Most of last season’s regulars are back in the fold. The infield is expected to feature plenty of familiar faces with some adjustments. Junior Casey Berg, who batted .314 with a .404 on-base percentage in 2015, shifts from shortstop to third while sophomore Kaleb Geiger (.317/.413/.393) moves across the diamond from third to first. A three-year starter, senior Alex Cargin (.317/.388/.437) provides steadiness and a wealth of experience at second base. Shortstop is a battle between freshman Logan Ryan (Johnston, Iowa) and junior Josh Mondt, who saw significant action as a freshman.

The infield options do not end there. Several others could see time at first base, such as junior Tyler Nelson, who was limited in 2015 by a shoulder injury. Meanwhile, transfer Christian Montero has worked at both first base and catcher this offseason. He’s drawn rave reviews for his power bat and could share time behind the plate with junior Ryan Fesmire, who’s developed into an outstanding backstop. He has complete trust of the pitching staff.

In the outfield, nothing has been written in permanent ink as far as the corner spots that surround Alstott. Senior Taylor Dudley is a leading candidate. He started 39 of 44 games last year and batted .324. Senior Taylor Bigandt made 26 starts and flashed some pop with three long balls. In addition, Nelson has tried his hand in the outfield and junior Jacob Adams (North Iowa Area CC) appears a safe bet to find his way into the mix

“It’s very intense,” Dupic said of the competition. “We’re getting close to our first game and there are multiple spots that I’m a little bit unclear on yet at this point. I think it’s been really healthy. The selflessness has been really good. There are spots where we’re still trying to figure out who the best guy is for us. I think we’ll need to get guys out there even in games before we can decide who the best options are. That’s something that definitely has improved. We have a lot more options and depth. That’s only going to help us get better.”

Having been a college pitcher himself, Dupic has made it a priority to collect quality arms. Discussion about this year’s starting rotation begins with sophomores in lefty Taylor Bickel and righty Neil Ryan. Combined they ate up nearly 100 innings as freshmen. Ryan, one of the staff’s hardest throwers, got on a roll early in the season and Bickel proved he could shoulder a heavy load when he went 9.1 innings in last season’s finale at Midland.

The young duo has the ability to head the rotation.

“They’re high-character guys,” Dupic said. “They have a very firm understanding about who they are. Their work habits are among the best on our pitching staff. Neil has very good stuff, spins the ball very well. As the end of the season hit he ran into a few bumps but competed well to finish. Taylor Bickel from beginning to end – he and Jaydee Jurgensen – were probably our most consistent starting pitchers the entire year. I just have so much respect for Bick. He’s a guy who really knows how to compete.”

Behind Bickel and Ryan, Dupic has no shortage of possibilities. Among other returnees, Mark Harris (3.00 ERA, 27 IP, 27 K) and Josh Prater (active streak of 18-straight scoreless innings) possess the most experience as Bulldogs. However, the pitching staff may be the area most affected by newcomers. Dupic is liable to rattle off the names of seven or eight new faces – including junior college transfers Cole Jackson and Todd Oberthien – that have a shot to log quality innings. It will take nonconference action for the puzzle to come together.

“Figuring out where everybody meshes together as a pitching staff is our biggest challenge,” Dupic said. “The thing we feel good about is that we have significantly greater depth than we did a year ago. I’m not exactly sure what we have in terms of starting pitchers and relief pitchers and how that’s going to mesh. We’ll figure that out as we go. There are a lot of guys in the mix right now.”

Though picked ninth in the GPAC preseason coaches’ poll after a ninth-place 2015 finish, things feel different within the Concordia baseball program. There’s more talent, more familiarity and a like-minded approach taking hold within a positive culture. Expectations are clearly growing.

“I want all of us teammates to have each other’s backs, on and off the field,” Alstott said. “We’ve been doing a really good job of that. Right now a conference championship is our goal. That would make it a successful year.”

Added Dupic, “You know our guys are going to show up and work hard and enjoy being around each other. Seeing those guys come together in that way is really exciting. It’s hard to put a number on that, but we hope it takes shape in the wins and losses. It’s time for us to climb in terms of the GPAC. That’s the next phase for us.”