LAKE WALES, Fla. – It was Christian Gutierrez who steadied the ship on Saturday (March 11) when things appeared rocky early on for the Concordia University Baseball team. Gutierrez went six strong innings out of the bullpen and the Bulldogs rallied to beat 13th-ranked St. Thomas University (Fla.), 8-6, in the championship game of the Warner University Invitational. Concordia defeated the Bobcats, of the NAIA’s Sun Conference, three times over the past week of spring break in The Sunshine State.
Head Coach Ryan Dupic’s squad won its final three games (and five of its last six) on the road trip to move to 14-8 overall. The Bulldogs began action in Florida a week ago on March 4.
“They came out and got us right away – jumped on us big time,” Dupic said. “It was 6-0 in the top of the first. We got that out (to end the top of the first) and I think a big turning point was us coming back and scoring two in the bottom of the first to put some pressure on them. Christian was just exceptional. He was executing pitches well – I can’t say enough about how he pitched. It allowed our offense to claw back into the game. We chipped away inning by inning and were able to get the lead.”
Concordia starting pitcher Caden Bugarske whirled a gem in the win over Grand View University (Iowa) on March 6, but had to be pulled in the first inning on Saturday. St. Thomas piled up the aforementioned six runs on four extra-base hits in the opening inning, leaving Dupic to turn to Gutierrez. The righty from La Mirada, Calif., proceeded to get 18 outs in relief while allowing just a single run on four hits (no walks) while striking out six.
St. Thomas pitchers Chase Chatman and Carlos Polanco were able to keep the powerful Bulldogs in the park on this particular day. However, the Bulldogs got the clutch hits they needed. They began to chip away in the bottom of the first when the suddenly sizzling Jay Adams plated two runs on a two-out base hit. Adams also knocked in the team’s third run (in the third) on a single. Two batters later, Tanner Tompkins singled home both Adams and Alec Blakestad.
Then in the bottom of the fourth, Concordia took its first lead of the game. Ty Nekoliczak reached on an infield single and came around to score on an error. Soon after, Blakestad reached on an error on the shortstop, scoring Joey Grabanski for the go-ahead run. Some insurance came two innings later when Blakestad’s sac fly scored Jose Cevallos. The Bobcats (15-10) did not mount any threat in the seventh. Gutierrez recorded a strikeout and a flyout before Dan Rivera ended the game with another punch out. Rivera earned the save.
Adams (2-for-4) and Grabanski (2-for-2 with two walks) collected two hits apiece to lead an attack that went wild for a combined 43 runs and nine homers in Friday’s two wins at the Warner Invite. Concordia’s lineup has many ways to beat the opposition.
Said Dupic, “The pitcher we faced today was really good, really good arm. Our guys sure battled hard and competed. We got some big base hits and chipped away. We rely a lot on long balls, but it’s good to see us be able to find another way.”
That’s the end of the nonconference slate for 2023. Of the 22 games to this point, 11 have come against teams that were either ranked or receiving votes at the time of first pitch. The Bulldogs have claimed five wins over top 25 foes.
“Something that stands out to me is we got all 22 nonconference games in,” Dupic said. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had that before. It’s the best competition we’ve played since I’ve been here. The Sun Conference is the best league in the country and we played some very good teams down here. I think being challenged will prepare us for the next steps. I love our team offensively. When we pitch and make plays, we’re pretty good. We have a lot of pitchers who are versatile – can start and relieve – and do different things. If we can hang with that, I think we’ll have a chance to have a nice season.”
Weather permitting, the Bulldogs will make their 2023 home debut next Saturday (March 18) when they are scheduled to host Jamestown (11-7) in a GPAC doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. CT. The twin bill at Plum Creek Park will be a rematch of the 2022 GPAC tournament championship game. Concordia was the preseason pick by league coaches to win the GPAC.
⚾️ | @cunebaseball will be bringing a trophy back to Seward as 2023 Warner Invitational Champs!— Concordia Bulldogs (@cunebulldogs) March 11, 2023