SEWARD, Neb. – History will be made on Tuesday night. For the first time ever, Seward, Neb., will be the host city for the GPAC baseball tournament championship game when the first pitch is tossed at 6 p.m. CT. Plum Creek Park, just north of campus, will serve as the venue for Nebraska rivals, top-seeded Concordia and second-seeded Midland. Both teams held serve as the favorites in their respective pods.
Some of the largest crowds at Bulldog baseball games in recent history have come during the past week as the Concordia Bracket played out. Conference regular-season champions for the first time since 1986, the program has enjoyed a season of firsts and is hoping for another big turnout on Tuesday.
“I’m so happy for the players,” Dupic said. “That’s what we talked about with the players was how awesome of an atmosphere it’s going to be Tuesday night. It’s going to be a beautiful night. It’s going to be an unbelievable night to come out and watch a baseball game.”
The Bulldogs are built to win in a tournament setting with the way their pitching staff has blossomed. Senior lefty Josh Prater is the veteran leader of a group that has gotten a tremendous boost from the freshman class. Rookie hurlers have covered all 18 innings in wins over Hastings and Mount Marty in the conference tournament. Nick Little fired a complete game, scattering eight hits while allowing two runs in the victory over the Lancers that sent Concordia to the championship game.
Behind solid work from the pitching staff, the Bulldogs are 22-6 over their last 28 games against conference opponents (started 0-3 in GPAC play). Included in that stretch is a 10-1 record over the past 11 contests. During that period, Concordia pitchers, have surrendered 26 earned runs in 88 innings (2.66 ERA). Freshman Wade Council tossed a seven-inning shutout in a 6-0 conference championship clinching win at Dakota Wesleyan on April 29. Dupic has used gone mostly with a four-man rotation, including Council (6-1, 2.22 ERA, 48.2 innings), Little (6-3, 4.03 ERA, 67 innings), Jason Munsch (5-1, 2.77 ERA, 48.2 innings) and Prater (5-3, 2.57 ERA, 63 innings).
All of this is new and different for a program that missed the conference tournament as recently as 2015. The Bulldogs now have a chance to avenge their 2016 GPAC postseason losses to Midland. The Warriors ended Concordia’s run last season by taking two games from Concordia in Fremont last May. That came after the Bulldogs had upset Midland on the tournament’s first day.
Concordia’s 33 wins are five more than the school record total produced in 2016. This year’s squad has also set new program standards for conference wins (19) and postseason victories (three). At 87-64 since the 2015 season began, the Bulldogs are in the midst of their winningest three-year stretch ever.
The improved pitching staff has been aided by defensive work that has rated up with the best in the conference. Fielding percentage is a mostly meaningless measure. It takes a deeper look at the numbers to reveal the team’s exceptional glove work. Even with the highest pitcher strikeout rate in the conference, the Bulldogs lead the GPAC in both assists (9.8) and putouts (22.9) per game. Concordia’s nifty infield defense turned three double plays in last week’s win over Briar Cliff.
“They’re doing a really nice job,” Dupic said. “Sometimes you don’t hear much about the infield defense unless they’re not doing the job. They’ve really been playing well for a while now. They’ve gotten comfortable out there. We’ve turned a lot of double plays over the last couple weeks. As a pitcher, it gives you a lot of confidence to pound the strike zone.”
On the other side, Midland entered the postseason with the highest BoChip rating in the GPAC. The Warriors have been a perennially competitive team in the conference. Center fielder Cole Gray (slash line of .415/.466/.670) is the straw that stirs the drink for the Warriors. Gray is backed by additional key contributors in Conlon McKenzie (.392 BA, .461 OBP, 5 HR) and Anthony Virgen (.363 BA, .459 OBP, 5 HR). The pitching staff is headed by Torrey Escamilla (12-0, 3.08 ERA, 84.2 innings) and Kiefer Musiel (9-1, 3.64 ERA, 76.2 innings). Head coach Chad Miller is in the midst of his third year at the helm of the program. By way of reaching the GPAC championship game, Midland has earned a national tournament berth and will join Concordia in the opening round.
Live coverage will be provided for Tuesday’s game. Fans can watch a webcast HERE and follow live stats HERE. Admission for the game will be $8 for adults and $3 for children. Students with GPAC IDs will be admitted free. NAIA passes and media credentials will also be accepted.