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Baseball carries positive vibes into fall ball

By Jacob Knabel on Aug. 14, 2015 in Baseball

Second-year head coach Ryan Dupic has higher aspirations for what his program will eventually look like, but year one was an inarguable success. No NAIA baseball program with a first-year head coach produced a higher winning percentage than the .591 clip posted by the 2015 Bulldogs. In addition, the team’s 26 wins were a program record and the campaign marked Concordia’s first winning record since 1979.

Officially announced as head coach on July 1, 2014, Dupic quickly got his players to buy in, including a senior class that had a heavy hand in Concordia’s winningest season. How did it happen? It began with the establishment of the right culture.

“The culture is an ongoing process,” Dupic said. “It’s not where we want it to be yet, just because we have high standards for our culture. That was really the biggest feeling out process – and it was both ways. I had to really get to know the players and the players were getting to know us. The culture perspective was an ongoing process throughout the entire year. Honestly, it never really ends. We’re very happy with how it came together at the end of last season. We saw a ton of progress.”

That progress translated to impressive results on the field. Beyond the wins record, there were many other highlights in 2015. Consider the following:

  • Dupic, who mentored an MLB draft pick at Buena Vista University, oversaw a pitching staff that broke a program single-season record with 270 strikeouts. The Bulldog hurlers posted a 4.34 ERA, third best among GPAC staffs.
  • The team’s 289 runs scored marked another new school single-season standard.
  • Starting in Tucson, Ariz., on March 8, Concordia won 10-straight games, coming up one victory shy of equaling the program record for longest winning streak. The run included a pair of wins over teams receiving votes in the national poll.
  • A late addition just before the school year began, center fielder Alex Alstott blossomed into a star. He topped all GPAC hitters in both on-base percentage (.488) and slugging percentage (.712) and led the nation with a school record 13 triples. He also nailed three runners on the bases while playing a stellar center field.
  • Jaydee Jurgensen, plagued by injury in 2014, stayed healthy in 2015 and flourished. He recorded a 6-1 record and 3.49 ERA to go along with 54 punch outs in 56.2 innings on the way to second team all-conference recognition.
  • Lefty hurler Josh Prater dominated down the stretch. He carries a string of 18-consecutive scoreless innings into 2016.

The list of accomplishments leads into the fall practice season for Dupic and company. It’s time to build upon a feeling-out year for the program. The Bulldogs will have a modest fall schedule in terms of playing outside competition. The focus will be placed on fundamentals and recreating specific game situations.

With increased familiarity between coaches and players, Dupic expects fall workouts to operate efficiently.

“It is one of the joys that I’m looking forward to this season,” Dupic said. “I feel like it’s going to be so much more smooth. We have such a better system in place. I feel like we are significantly improved in our organization and the way we go about things. Hopefully that’s going to free each one of us coaches up to connect with our guys more and keep building relationships.”

Building of relationships helped Dupic bring in two of last year’s steadiest regulars in Alstott and shortstop Casey Berg. Both came on board after Dupic’s hiring last summer. Alstott established himself as one of the top players in the conference and Berg effectively answered the questions about the shortstop position.

Even with limited recruiting time upon his arrival, Dupic showed he could attract high-level talent such as Alstott and Berg.

“What’s interesting about them is even in the fall we still weren’t really sure yet what role they were going to have within our program,” Dupic said. “Alex was awesome. I feel like he was the best outfielder in the league last year. I think his numbers prove that. He’s becoming a leader in our program and we’re really looking forward to seeing what he can do this year. And I feel like Casey by the end of last season was really starting to get comfortable and come into his own.”

With a full school year and offseason to recruit for this upcoming season, Dupic has put together a deeper pitching staff for 2016. He says the response in recruiting has been overwhelmingly positive for himself, assistant coach Jake Waddle and the rest of the staff.

“I think everybody just wants to see progress,” Dupic said. “They want to see that you’re headed in the right direction. I think there’s been a lot of excitement about what we’re doing. We really did most of our recruiting for 2015-16 before our season was complete last year, but we saw a lot of those incoming guys following us and getting excited about the direction we’re headed.”

Alstott (.356 BA) will be one of six returning hitters who batted better than .300 last season. The others are Taylor Dudley (.324), Alex Cargin (.317), Kaleb Geiger (.317), Taylor Bigandt (.316) and Berg (.314). The offense will be well-stocked and the pitching staff will also lean upon some familiar names.

“I think the success of our pitching staff is going to be predicated on the development of some of the returners, guys like Josh Prater, Neil Ryan, Mark Harris and Taylor Bickel,” Dupic said. “They need to take that next step and start to be front-of-the-rotation type pitchers for us. If that happens, I think with the influx of additional guys we have and returners, we’ll have really solid depth and a lot of guys who can get outs.”

The Bulldogs are slated to begin the 2016 season with a doubleheader at Bethany College (Kan.) on Feb. 13.