A series of lasting images resulted from the 2016 Concordia baseball season, ranging from the Christian Montero bat flips, to the water cooler dousing of Johnny May at home plate, to the combined no-hitter and the Kaleb Geiger grand slam that drilled the shiny new scoreboard at Plum Creek Park. A host of school records fell and the Bulldogs came up just a single victory shy of reaching the GPAC championship game.
In the midst of the winningest two-year stretch in program history, head coach Ryan Dupic stood proudly in front of his team following an elimination-game loss in Fremont at the hands of GPAC regular-season champion Midland.
“I told them how proud I was of them and how much I loved them for the way they finished and how hard they played at the end of the season,” Dupic said. “I saw a vision for what I want Concordia baseball to stand for, which is a group of guys that really compete and care about one another.”
With two wins at the GPAC tournament, the 2016 squad, which finished at 28-27 overall, broke the program record for most victories in a season. It also set new single-season program standards for runs scored, home runs, hits, pitcher strikeouts and highest GPAC regular-season finish (fourth).
They accomplished those feats behind Concordia’s most prolific offensive team ever, led by middle-of-the-order sluggers Geiger and Montero. But there were plenty of other contributors. On back-to-back days in early April, the Bulldogs walked off doubleheaders with a game-winning base hit by Christian Meza and then a booming game-ending blast by May.
The power surge continued into the conference tournament, an event no player on the roster had ever experienced. Jake Adams pummeled two home runs, including the game-deciding grand slam, in a thrilling upset of Midland. The following day, Montero’s star rose as he homered twice off of Warrior pitching. His game-tying blast in the sixth inning of the rubber-game of the Midland Bracket sailed well over the left-field wall.
“We wanted to create the type of team that could line up and go swing it,” Dupic said. “I felt like at certain points of the season we accomplished that. We scored a lot more runs than we have in the past. We hit for a lot more power. The power ran up and down the lineup. It was nice to see some guys involved with that we didn’t necessarily expect. I think we took more aggressive swings. As the year went on we competed better, especially in the conference tournament.”
Geiger was a consistent force while making immense strides compared to a solid freshman season. The hulking first baseman from Sedalia, Colo., equaled Montero’s team high 50 RBIs and was a first team all-conference honoree.
“He’s such a competitive kid and he’s so strong physically that we felt like it was there,” Dupic said. “It was a matter of him cleaning up his swing path and continuing to refine his approach offensively. The thing that’s encouraging is we feel like there are still strides he can make in those areas, which would really point to him having a chance to do some special things in his last two years as a Bulldog.”
Results were mixed in regards to Concordia hurlers. Eighteen different pitchers made appearances on the mound as Dupic mixed and matched throughout 2016. They saved some of their best work for the conference tournament, running through the first 15 innings of postseason play without surrendering a single run. Freshman Tanner Wauhob navigated five GPAC tournament innings and did not give up an earned run, Josue Melchor proved to be a dependable late-inning arm and Mark Harris provided the most consistency among starters.
Consistency will be a word preached throughout this offseason by Dupic when talking to his pitchers. Concordia won 28 games in 2016 despite a team ERA of 6.12. That number won’t fly if the Bulldogs are to make further advancements in 2017.
“There are some pieces there, but we have some work to do,” Dupic said. “We’ve got to get a lot better. If we pitch next year like we did this year we will not be able to improve enough as a program. We’re going to have to get better in terms of the guys we’re returning and the guys we’re bringing in as well.”
Dupic hopes lefty Josh Prater can carry over his late-season flurry. The Colorado Springs native will roll over into his senior campaign with an active streak of 20.2-straight frames pitched without a run. Each of his final two outings of 2016 saw him throw more than seven scoreless innings. His 2.87 ERA was best on the team. The key for him will be getting off to a quicker start in 2017.
Dupic is challenging his entire team to simply have a better offseason and be more prepared from the outset of the fall practice season. He believes he’ll have a great idea of how much better his third Bulldog team can be when his student-athletes return to Seward for the 2016-17 academic year.
“It’s very tough,” Dupic said of keeping up with the entire roster over the summer. “You really need to be able to rely on them to take ownership. Consistent communication is the key. The best players I’ve ever coached have fantastic summers and they reach out to me. It’s not just me reaching out to them. They’re talking to me and telling me about how things are going. They’re wanting to continue to get feedback. It will be a good indication of their motivation level by how much I’m hearing from them over the course of the summer.”