Question marks surrounding the 2020 Concordia University baseball team have begun to be answered during the fall semester. Members of the team returned to campus in August fresh off what some may have viewed as a surprisingly dominant run to a GPAC regular-season title this past spring. For current senior standouts such as outfielder Wade Council and left-handed pitcher Jason Munsch, work is already underway in the pursuit of a third conference championship in four years.
Head coach Ryan Dupic has been the architect behind the most successful run in program history. He’s led the Bulldogs to 146 wins over the past five seasons. Dupic would have preferred to see fewer injuries among his core players, but the fall provided evidence of further growth within the program.
Says Dupic, “I think last year’s senior class really made its mark in terms of being consistent. Now this year’s class once to run with that and take it to another level. There’s a lot of work to be done before we can get to that point, but that’s where we’re at right now. It’s the offseason and it’s a time for big visions and for working to make them a reality and seeing where things lie once the spring comes.”
Of course nothing is a given. The 2018 Concordia team that followed the 2017 GPAC regular-season championship edition learned that lesson. Now the 2020 squad attempts to piggyback upon the 2019 group that went an impressive 23-5 in league play. There are plenty of things that will be unknowns until February rolls around, but the fall is a great opportunity for assessment from the perspective of the coaching staff, which again includes Bryce Berg (who enters his fifth season as an assistant).
Because of the familiarity between the coaching staff and a roster with plenty of returners, there have been only minor adjustments and tweaks this fall. The holdovers understand the expectations and how things work. The fall for the Bulldogs involves a lot of practice, plenty of one-on-ones and a series of intrasquad games.
“It’s pretty similar (to what we’ve done in the past),” Dupic said. “We did five weeks with a lot of practices and scrimmages. We try to get our guys out there and have as many opportunities as possible. We’re dealing with a few injuries – more this year than we have in years past. That prevented us from being able to pitch as many guys as we wanted to at times. That was unfortunate, but I think we learned a lot about our team. Now we’re transitioning to the offseason and thinking about how we can get organized in a way to get better.”
Every season brings changing dynamics. Concordia has lost a chunk out of the 2019 pitching staff that was as deep as any ever put together within the program. Gone are Dylan DuRee, Sasha Jabusch and Tanner Wauhob – and Jake Fosgett is working through some arm troubles. The Bulldogs have also gone to work on replacing middle infield mainstays in shortstop Logan Ryan and the 2019 GPAC Player of the Year in second baseman Christian Meza.
But don’t feel too sorry for Dupic’s program. Two names that did not show up in the 2019 season stats are 2018 GPAC Pitcher of the Year Nick Little and 2018 second team All-GPAC infielder Thomas Sautel. Little is back at Concordia after a year away while Sautel has recovered from injury. If Little returns to form, he’ll be a front-of-the-rotation starter along with Munsch.
“It’s great to have him back and we certainly know what he’s capable of,” Dupic said. “He showed that a couple years ago. He’s working through some health stuff as well, but not so much with his arm. We had to be a bit cautious with him this fall but he was able to pitch. He’s a diligent guy so he’s looking into everything he can. He’s making progress right now. Getting a guy like that back is a big benefit for us.”
Sautel has the versatility to play second and third base. He was the primary third baseman in 2018 when he hit .371 with a healthy .441 on-base percentage and 40 RBIs. Dupic is eager to get the transfer from Indiana Wesleyan University back in the lineup. Says Dupic, “He’s been great. He was able to play some in the summer and he got at bats this fall. I think he’s going to have a really good year. He’s just such a consistent kid and is so focused. I can’t say enough good about him from a character perspective.”
As Dupic points out, Concordia has a lot more returning offensive production from its 2019 GPAC championship team than it did following the 2017 GPAC championship season. There certainly could be others who figure into the mix, but Council is locked into right field and center fielder Keaton Candor and left fielder Teyt Johnson are back in the fold. The Bulldogs also expect to be better at catcher with both Ben Berg and Beau Dorman solidifying that spot.
In the infield, Sautel will slot in at second or third and senior first baseman Evan Bohman also returns in hopes for winning back his spot. The entire picture will become clearer as the season draws nearer. Freshmen Jay Adams and Jose Cevallos have flashed the potential this fall to make an immediate impact in the middle infield.
“At this point we’re trying to manage the flexibility of the roster and what production we need from certain spots,” Dupic said. “What we’ve learned through the years is we’ve got to be able to defend up the middle. The guys who can make plays are the guys who are going to play there. We’re a little younger up the middle so we have to figure out who can be the most consistent.”
With a player-led culture cultivated by veterans such as Council, the Concordia dugout has a well-established winning vibe. Dupic says the newcomers have commonly commented on the welcoming nature of the experienced players. It’s the type of climate needed to climb to ascend to greater heights.
Says Dupic, “Our challenge within our program is that we’ve reached a certain level and now we want to continue to try bring that to another level and raise the bar. Those are things that are easy to say but are harder to live and to do. That’s how we’ve been trying to assess ourselves. We’re starting from a good spot and that’s due to what our guys in the program and our guys who have graduated have established. Our guys feel very connected and feel like a family and I think that’s a big deal.”
The 2020 schedule is not yet available, but will be released soon.