Fall ball provides foundation for hopeful 2019 rebound

By Jacob Knabel on Oct. 10, 2018 in Baseball

At the conclusion of play this past March 23, the 2018 Concordia University baseball team sat at 14-7 overall and appeared to have the look of another title contender following a 2017 GPAC championship season. Though several Bulldogs put together solid individual seasons, things did not go as hoped the rest of the way. Concordia fell short of the standard that had been set in 2017 when many senior position players served vital roles.

Because the end of the 2018 campaign coincided almost exactly with the end of the 2017-18 school year, little time was left to unpack the season from a face-to-face, coach-to-player perspective. The establishment of a leadership group this fall has provided for further reflection and in-house evaluation.

Says fifth-year head coach Ryan Dupic, “I’ve learned as much from it as anything. It gives me a chance to hear more consistently from them and understand what they’re going through with the ebbs and flows of the team. We talk about opportunities and examples to encourage guys and opportunities and examples to challenge people. The consistent message I’ve heard this offseason from our team is that they didn’t feel like there was a strong enough presence within the leadership of our program last year from a player perspective. I agree with that. We’re taking steps to make that better.”

The introduction of a leadership group, which includes eight seniors and two juniors, became a central focus when the team arrived for the fall semester in late August. Dupic made it a priority to get that in place before fall practice got underway. Once the leadership group was locked in, the Bulldogs went through a stretch of five weeks with practice five or six days each week. Nearly 10 intrasquad scrimmages took place during this timeframe.

Once again, there are roughly 60 guys in the program that will eventually be split into varsity and junior varsity teams. None of those decisions have to be made at this point. The fall is about feeling things out. In the first half of the semester, Dupic has seen a roster he believes is talented, motivated and perhaps in a better position than this time a year ago.

“This team has the talent in place to be successful,” Dupic said. “It’s just a matter of being consistent and being mature, being humble and learning from some of the things we went through. So far we’ve been able to do that, but that will be put much more to the test in the future as we get to the spring and have more challenges.”

As far as position players, building blocks for 2018-19 return in the form of All-GPAC performers in outfielder Wade Council, second baseman Christian Meza and third baseman Thomas Sautel. There might not be a more respected voice in the dugout than Council, one of the two juniors to be voted onto the team’s leadership group. Each of those three players hit better than .330 in 2018. Said Dupic, “They’re all very competitive and do a nice job setting an example for our younger guys.”

Two of the most familiar names on the pitching staff are juniors Jake Fosgett and Jason Munsch. Dupic has experimented with using Fosgett as a starter rather than a reliever. Both hurlers looked stronger this fall than they did in the spring. That’s encouraging considering Fosgett (12.6) and Munsch (12.8) both averaged well over nine strikeouts per nine innings in 2018.

Don’t let the slender build fool you, Fosgett (Carlsbad, Calif.) can bring the heat. He combines the fastball with a wipe-out breaking ball. Said Dupic, “He was maybe the best pitcher on our staff this fall. He’s worked really hard and it’s coming together for him. We felt all along that he has always been pretty good. The mental part has come with the physical part at the same time. What I like best about him is he’s not satisfied with where he’s at.”

Last season Dupic relied upon two now departed pitchers to start more than half (24 of 47) of the team’s games. Based on the fall, the depth of the staff should be improved with the help of additions like junior Sasha Jabusch (Clark College) and freshman Shane Whittaker (San Diego, Calif.). There’s also another new Berg in the program with catcher Ben Berg’s arrival via Kuemper Catholic High School.

In other words, there is a feeling that many positions will be improved as compared to last season. There’s also less pressure coming off a sixth-place conference finish. With the infusion of new talents, better work defensively and improved leadership, the Bulldogs will have the opportunity to make amends for their 2018 regression.

“Until you experience learning how to be consistently successful, I think there’s a challenge to it,” Dupic said. “I think the guys probably felt pressure. I know as a coach I felt pressure at times. I also think people sometimes expect things to just happen. The reality is that we graduated a lot of people from that 2017 team. It was a new team in 2018. We have to start fresh.”

Now come the long, cold wintry months in Seward. That means it’s a time for conditioning and escaping to the hitting center, the team’s indoor facility. The addition of the leadership group is one offseason change, but Dupic does not see the need for massive adjustments. In some ways, the 2018 squad really wasn’t that far away.

With some minor tweaks and more consistent execution of the small things, the 2019 team could make it a rewarding spring. The fall is only the beginning for college baseball teams, the majority of which must wait until February to open up a new season.

“Probably the best compliment I can give this year’s team is they’ve been a really tight, close-knit family,” Dupic said. “And they’re fun to be around. The other thing is that they’re very motivated. I think it’s because we just didn’t do as well as we wanted to last year. There were some positives and some good things, but at the end of the day we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to. We really have pressed guys to help solve problems and be part of the solution.”

More from Dupic

There’s a real hunger for our guys. Wade Council has been great. He’s really well respected by everybody. We allowed seniors to be part of the leadership team and then we had a vote about adding a couple juniors and every person who could vote, voted for Wade. Everybody wants to hear from Wade. He played a lot of games this summer and got better. He had really competitive at bats through the fall. He’s just done a great job from a leadership perspective.

Christian Meza is just Christian Meza. He loves to compete. He loves to play. He has a great personality and the guys really flock to him. I think when he’s at his best and playing with a swagger, it really impacts our guys. He’s a very strong force in our program.

And Thomas (Sautel) is just a worker. He doesn’t know anything else other than putting his head down and going to work. I think each of them had some good and bad in the fall. They’re all very competitive.”

It’s come a long ways in about four years here. I think there’s a lot of really good people involved in Concordia baseball. It starts with the players and their families. When I come to practice every day I’m really happy to be there. They’re fun people to be around. We’re very fortunate to have that right now. The players enjoy being around one another and I like being with those guys. That’s a sign that they come from pretty good families. The parents are very supportive. We had somewhere between 115 and 130 family members there (at the final fall weekend of scrimmages) and I know there are plenty of others that would have liked to be there too. It’s just a really fun time for our program. We’re excited about the future.