BELLEVUE, Neb. – They don’t do it the easy way, but the 2022 Bulldogs are a tough out. Facing elimination twice on Wednesday (May 18), the fourth-seeded Concordia University Baseball team earned wins over fifth-seeded Judson University (Ill.), 8-1, and third-seeded Tabor College (Kan.), 7-5, while advancing to the finals of the Bellevue Bracket for the second year in a row. The Bulldogs have reached this point after rallying from a loss on Monday to open the NAIA National Championship Opening Round.
Head Coach Ryan Dupic’s squad has won eight-straight elimination games this postseason. Concordia (39-16-1) has also moved within two wins of making back-to-back appearances at the NAIA World Series.
“I’m just very proud of the fight of our guys,” Dupic said. “I’m really proud of them for the way they keep coming back and playing. They continue to amaze me the way they find ways to get stuff done. It’s really hard for me to put into words. It’s been an incredible run to see them keep coming back and fighting for the next pitch and the next game and the next inning. The guys have found a way. We have to just keep riding it.”
The brightest stars for the Bulldogs on Wednesday included pitcher Christian Gutierrez and third baseman Jaidan Quinn. Gutierrez worked the longest outing of his career in throwing a nine-inning complete game masterpiece in the victory over Judson. The righty from La Mirada, Calif., enjoyed a lead all day after Concordia struck for five runs in the bottom of the first. Quinn blasted a two-run homer in that frame and then slugged a game-defining grand slam in the fourth inning of the victory over Tabor.
Tanner Tompkins also connected for a three-run shot in Wednesday’s first game. In other words, it took some big swings with runners on base, coupled with the fine pitching of Gutierrez and Caden Bugarske. What can't be measured or quantified is this team’s grit.
Said Quinn, “We never let that loss (to Judson on Monday) bother us. We just wanted to come back and do what we do … We’re just gritty. We call it grit week for a reason. We don’t want to lose – we don’t want to go home.”
The line for Gutierrez in his nine innings read: five hits, one earned run, one walk and 10 strikeouts. The Eagles (22-30) finally broke up the shutout with two outs in the ninth inning. Gutierrez effectively saved the bullpen moving forward. Bugarske then followed Gutierrez and picked up the win by going 6.2 innings. Bugarske surrendered four runs on eight hits and two walks. He notched four strikeouts. Nathan Buckallew then got the next four outs (three on strikeouts) and Jacob Lycan picked up the save while closing it out in the ninth.
Eleven of Concordia’s 15 runs on the day came out of just two innings – a five-run first versus Judson and a six-run fourth versus Tabor. The homers by Quinn and Tompkins against Judson allowed the Bulldogs to capitalize on an error. As part of the six-run frame that doomed Tabor, Ty Nekoliczak doubled in a run and Jay Adams knocked in another with a sac fly. Nekoliczak produced two hits in that contest while Keaton Candor and Quinn notched two hits apiece in the first win of the day.
Concordia has increased its season home run total to 106. Four Bulldogs have each tied the program’s single season record with 17 blasts in 2022 – Adams, Candor, Joey Grabanski and Quinn. Under Dupic, the Bulldogs now keep stacking national tournament wins. They have won seven over the past two seasons and nine total over four national tournament appearances (2017, 2019, 2021, 2022) during Dupic’s tenure.
Said Dupic, “I’m grateful to continue to have a chance to play in games like this. It will be fun for our guys to go out there and have a chance to compete (on Thursday). To be honest, I have to wrap my head around this a little bit yet and figure out what we do tomorrow, but I know I’d rather be in this position having a chance to play. We’ve played a lot of baseball in a short period of time and some of our guys are probably a little bit tired, but we’re going to play for one more day and see what we can do.”
Notable defensive plays in the opening game of the day were turned in by center fielder Teyt Johnson, who made a diving catch in the third, and by right fielder Keaton Candor, who snagged a deep fly out to the fence in the seventh.
Another significant test of Concordia’s endurance will come on Thursday as it goes up against the bracket host and top seed Bellevue University (47-10). The sixth-ranked Bruins have beaten Judson, 4-0, and Tabor, 7-2, while moving within one win from an NAIA World Series berth. The Bulldogs will need to beat Bellevue twice in order to reach Lewiston, Idaho, again. Thursday’s first pitch will be at 11 a.m. CT from Roddy Field in Bellevue, Neb. The “if necessary” game is slated for 2:30 p.m.
Bellevue Bracket (updated)
Monday, May 16
Game 1 – (5) Judson def. (4) Concordia, 5-1
Game 2 – (3) Tabor def. (2) Central Methodist, 5-2 (10 inn.)
Game 3 – (1) Bellevue def. (5) Judson, 4-0
Tuesday, May 17
Game 4 – (4) Concordia def. (2) Central Methodist, 10-3
Game 5 – (1) Bellevue def. (3) Tabor, 7-2
Wednesday, May 18
Game 6 – (4) Concordia def. (5) Judson, 8-1
Game 7 – (4) Concordia def. (3) Tabor, 7-5
Thursday, May 19
Game 8 – (1) Bellevue vs. (4) Concordia, 11 a.m.
Game 9 – (1) Bellevue vs. (4) Concordia, 2:30 p.m. (if necessary)