NAIA Opening Round Preview: 2022 Bellevue Bracket

By Jacob Knabel on May. 14, 2022 in Baseball

SEWARD, Neb. – Another national tournament appearance is coming up quickly for the Concordia University Baseball team. For the second year in a row, the Bulldogs will have the luxury of remaining close to home. Head Coach Ryan Dupic’s squad was tagged with the No. 4 seed in the Bellevue Bracket as part of the 2022 NAIA National Championship Opening Round. In the very first game of the bracket, Concordia will go up against fifth-seeded Judson University (Ill.). Game time is set for 11 a.m. CT on Monday (May 16). The nationals appearance will mark the fourth in the history of the Bulldog Baseball program.

2022 NAIA Opening Round – Bellevue Bracket

Tournament Webpage

Site: Don Roddy Field in Bellevue, Neb.
Live Webcasts: Bellevue Bruins Stretch Portal
Live Stats: PrestoStats

Monday, May 16
Game 1 – (4) Concordia vs. (5) Judson, 11 a.m.
Game 2 – (2) Central Methodist vs. (3) Tabor, 2:30 p.m.
Game 3 – (1) Bellevue vs. Game 1 Winner, 6 p.m.

Tuesday, May 17
Game 4 – Game 1 Loser vs. Game 2 Loser, 11 a.m.
Game 5 – Game 2 Winner vs. Game 3 Winner, 2:30 p.m.
Game 6 – Game 3 Loser vs. Game 4 Winner, 6 p.m.

Wednesday, May 18
Game 7 – Game 5 Loser vs. Game 6 Winner, 11 a.m.
Game 8 – Game 5 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner, 2:30 p.m.

Thursday, May 19
Game 9 – Game 8 Winner/Loser, 12 p.m. (if necessary)

Tickets: Ticket prices are $10 for a day pass and $25 for a tournament pass. Children 12 and under are admitted free of charge. Tickets must be purchased on site.

By the numbers

·        Concordia earned an automatic bid to the national tournament by way of winning the 2022 GPAC tournament title. The rout was a circuitous one. The Bulldogs immediately faced elimination after being beaten by Northwestern, 5-4 (nine innings), in their opening game of the tournament. On that same day, Concordia kept alive in the bracket with a 7-5 win over Mount Marty. Then on May 9, the Bulldogs won three times on that single day, securing victories over Briar Cliff, 25-6, Northwestern, 20-10, and Northwestern, 5-4, again. Then in the championship game on May 10, Jay Adams delivered the walk-off base hit in the 10th inning in what amounted to a 7-6 triumph over Jamestown. All six games were played at Plum Creek Park in Seward, the same location where Concordia celebrated the 2021 conference tournament championship.

·        Adams would be happy to carry his GPAC tournament production into the national tournament. Over six GPAC tournament games last week, the second baseman from Waverly, Neb., went 16-for-30 (.533) with 12 runs, a double, four home runs, 14 RBIs, a .548 on-base percentage and .967 slugging percentage. That hot stretch pushed Adams’ season batting average above .400 (.401). His 81 hits on the year have broken his own program record for a single season. Adams has also notched 14 doubles, 16 home runs and 62 RBIs while sporting an on-base percentage of .477 and slugging percentage of .708. Three other regulars batted at least .400 during the GPAC tournament: Jesse Garcia (.500; 12-for-24), Teyt Johnson (.417; 5-for-12) and Joey Grabanski (.400; 8-for-20). Adams and Grabanski shared the team lead with four homers apiece during GPAC postseason play.

·        All-conference honors were announced by the GPAC on Wednesday (May 11). Twelve Bulldogs landed All-GPAC awards, including first-teamers in Adams, Grabanski, Alex Johnson, Caden Johnson and Jaidan Quinn. Second team accolades went to Alec Blakestad and Keaton Candor. The five honorable mention selections were Ben Berg, Garcia, Christian Gutierrez, Ty Nekoliczak and Tanner Tompkins. Adams and Grabanski were repeat first team honorees from the previous season. Candor was recognized as first team in 2021.

·        With 16 homers as a team during the GPAC tournament, the ’22 Bulldogs have homered 100 times on the season (fourth most in the NAIA) and have broken the program record of 90 blasts set by the 2021 NAIA World Series Qualifying group. Four Concordia players have belted at least 15 homers this season: Grabanski (17), Adams (16), Candor (16) and Quinn (15). At 17 big flies, Grabanski has equaled his own school record for a single season set as a freshman in 2021. Grabanski has also set a new program standard with 63 RBIs with Adams (62) hot on his heels.

·        Candor enjoyed a monster opening round last season (see notes below). Entering the national tournament, the native of Merrill, Iowa, already owns program all-time career records for games played (217), walks (105), runs scored (165), home runs (45) and RBIs (184). His 225 career hits rank second in program history behind Zak Goodrich’s 234. With another year left to play, Garcia will be in pursuit of many of those totals next season. The native of El Cajon, Calif., has totaled 184 hits, 43 doubles, 37 home runs and 145 RBIs.

·        The pitching staff has featured four main rotation arms throughout 2022: Alex Johnson (6-1, 2.79 ERA), Caden Johnson (7-1, 3.38 ERA), Christian Gutierrez (7-1, 4.94 ERA) and Caden Bugarske (7-3, 4.88 ERA). Out of the bullpen, Nathan Buckallew (4.1 shutout innings vs. Northwestern) and Jacob Lycan (3.1 shutout innings vs. Jamestown) both came through with critical outings during the GPAC tournament. Entering the opening round, the staff owns a collective ERA of 4.61 and has fanned 430 hitters in 381 innings.

Bellevue Bracket Opposition

(1) Bellevue (45-10) – The Bruins jump up to the No. 1 seed this year after being seeded fourth in their own bracket a year ago. Bellevue is hosting an NAIA baseball opening round for the fourth time in its history. Head Coach Duane Monlux (12th season)’s squad enters the national tournament ranked No. 6 in the NAIA Coaches’ Poll. Bellevue earned an automatic bid to the national tournament by winning the North Star Athletic Association Tournament. A regular on the national stage, the Bruins are making their 24th all-time national tournament appearance and will be looking to reach the NAIA World Series for the 15th time. Bellevue has a balanced squad that has excelled at the plate (9.6 runs/game) and on the mound (3.93 ERA). The ace of the pitching staff is Elijah Johnson (10-2, 2.07 ERA), who has averaged 14.17 strikeouts per nine innings. Johnson fired a seven-inning, two-hit shutout against Concordia on March 11 in a 3-0 victory in Lake Wales, Fla. Shortstop Alec Ackerman is hitting .388 with 17 home runs and 69 RBIs to go along with a .738 slugging percentage. In 2021, the Bellevue Bracket ultimately came down to Concordia and the host Bruins.

(2) Central Methodist (42-13) – The Eagles will make their fifth opening round appearance after capturing the Heart of America Athletic Conference tournament title. Head Coach Nate Breland’s squad enters the national tournament ranked 11th in the NAIA Coaches’ Poll. The top of the pitching rotation is a strength for Central Methodist, which will trot out the likes of Nick Merkel (11-4, 2.30 ERA, 11.66 K/9), Beau Atkins (9-0, 2.55 ERA, 11.18 K/9) and Sebastian Escobar (9-1, 3.75 ERA, 11.63 K/9). Opposing pitchers will have to be careful with shortstop Robbie Merced, who ranks fourth nationally in home runs with 24. Merced is slugging 1.006 and has driven in 85 runs. He’s the leader of an offense that averages 8.2 runs per game. Central Methodist reached the NAIA World Series last season and finished as the NAIA national runner up to Georgia Gwinnett.

(3) Tabor (37-17-1) – The Bluejays received one of the 15 at-large bids into the national field and will be making their eighth all-time national tournament appearance. Tabor and Concordia met up in an opening round game in 2017 with the result being a 12-11 win for the Bluejays. The two sides are familiar with each other having also played a doubleheader in Hillsboro, Kan., on Feb. 27. Tabor won the first game, 11-5, before the second contest ended in a 5-5 tie (due to darkness). Head Coach Mark Standiford’s squad is a powerful one that leads all NAIA teams with 115 home runs. The offensive attack churns out 9.4 runs per game. Incredibly, five Bluejays have recorded at least 15 home runs with Kelsey Weems, Jr. (20 homers) leading the way. The pitching staff has an ERA of 6.40. The top starter has been Austen Seidel (8-2, 3.53 ERA, 10.88 K/9). Tabor is receiving votes in the national poll.

(5) Judson (21-28) – The Eagles will make their eighth all-time trip to the opening round. Judson recovered nicely after beginning this season at 1-11 overall. One of those losses came against Concordia, 10-9, in a contest played in Davenport, Fla., on March 8. The Bulldogs scored six times in the eighth and three times in the ninth to erase what had been an 8-1 deficit. Head Coach Mike Guilfoyle’s squad earned an automatic bid to nationals by finishing as the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Tournament runner up. The team’s top hitter has been senior Tommy Moran, who is batting .298 with six home runs and 36 RBIs. The Eagles average 6.5 runs per game while sporting a 6.13 team ERA. Judson’s top starting pitcher has been Brandon Callender (5-6, 4.64 ERA, 9.04 K/9). Back in March, the Bulldogs saw Michael Betancourt (4-2, 3.34 ERA, 9.15 K/9).

Facts about Concordia at the national tournament

·        Concordia has qualified for the opening round of the national tournament for the fourth time in program history. Each of those appearances have come during the tenure of Ryan Dupic, who first took the Bulldogs to the opening round in 2017. In previous appearances, the Bulldogs made their way to Hutchinson, Kan., in 2017, to Henderson, Tenn., in 2019 and to Bellevue, Neb., in 2021. Concordia is 6-5 all-time in opening round games and has won at least one national tournament game in each of the three prior appearances. Opening round wins have come over Jamestown (2017), Clarke University (2019), MidAmerica Nazarene University (twice in 2021) and Bellevue (twice in 2021).

·        It’s been extremely rare for a GPAC team to reach the NAIA World Series. In fact, only once before Concordia reached that stage in 2021 had a GPAC squad advanced to the World Series – Briar Cliff accomplished that feat in 2005. Two current GPAC members appeared in the World Series either before the GPAC formed or prior to joining the league: Jamestown (2004 and 2008) and Morningside (1960). Briar Cliff went 0-2 in its 2005 trip to the World Series. No GPAC team has ever won a game at the World Series.

·        While going 4-1 during the 2021 opening round, the Bulldogs outscored their opponents, 38-32. Four of the games were played at Brown Park in Omaha while one contest was played at Don Roddy Field in Bellevue. Keaton Candor paced the team at the plate in the opening round by going 8-for-23 (.348) with four doubles, three home runs and eight RBIs. Jakob Faulk also pounded three home runs (including two in the clinching game) and Jesse Garcia belted two blasts. Twelve different pitchers were used. Nick Little (9 IP) and Caden Bugarske (8.1 IP) logged the most innings during the opening round. Nathan Buckallew earned credit for two wins.

·        Dupic has brought about what is certainly the golden age of Concordia Baseball. Prior to Dupic’s arrival in 2015, the Bulldogs had never been to a national tournament. The program had also not experienced a winning season since 1979 and had not won a conference championship since 1986 (8-4 in NIAC play) when Athletic Trainer Randy Baack pitched and played first base. In addition to leading Concordia to four national tournaments, Dupic (234-140-1) is closing in on becoming the winningest head coach in program history. Only one other coach in program history (Jeremy Geidel with 250 wins) has reached the 200-win mark.

·        The 2017 Bulldogs won the GPAC regular season title (tournament runner up) and became the first national tournament qualifier in program history. As part of that run, Casey Berg recorded the program’s first-ever hit at the national tournament with a single in the bottom of the first versus Jamestown on May 15, 2017. That appearance helped pave the way for the success Concordia is enjoying now. The Bulldogs won’t have any fear of the national stage. Seven Bulldogs who started the program’s first-ever World Series game are on the current postseason roster: Jay Adams, Ben Berg, Keaton Candor, Jakob Faulk, Jesse Garcia, Joey Grabanski and Teyt Johnson.

NAIA Baseball World Series

The winners of all 10 opening round sites will head to Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) for the 65th annual Avista NAIA Baseball World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, May 27 – June 3. For more information on the World Series, click HERE. For a complete list of the opening round qualifiers, check out the NAIA release HERE.