NAIA Opening Round Preview: 2024 Shreveport Bracket

By Jacob Knabel on May. 10, 2024 in Baseball

SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University Baseball program will make its sixth all-time national tournament appearance when the action gets underway from Shreveport, La., on Monday, May 13. The 18th-ranked Bulldogs (41-13) were rewarded with a No. 2 seed and placed in the Shreveport Bracket of the NAIA National Championship Opening Round. No. 1 seed Louisiana State University-Shreveport will serve as the host of the bracket, which also includes No. 3 Kansas Wesleyan University, No. 4 Talladega College (Ala.) and No. 5 Blue Mountain Christian College (Miss.). GPAC Coach of the Year Ryan Dupic has guided his 2024 squad to GPAC regular season and tournament championships.

The complete schedule for the Shreveport Bracket is listed below. All times are CDT.

2024 NAIA Opening Round – Shreveport Bracket

Tournament Webpage

Site: Pilot Field | Shreveport, La.
Live Webcasts:
Live Stats: PrestoStats

Monday, May 13
Game 1 – (4) Talladega vs. (5) Blue Mountain Christian, 3 p.m.
Game 2 – (2) Concordia vs. (3) Kansas Wesleyan, 6 p.m.
Game 3 – (1) LSU-Shreveport vs. Game 1 Winner, 9 p.m.

Tuesday, May 14
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 15
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 16
Game 9 – Game 8 Winner vs. Game 8 Loser (if necessary), 11 a.m.

Tickets: Ticket prices are $10 for a day pass and $25 for a tournament pass (for adults). Tickets can be purchased online or at Pilot Field throughout the Opening Round. The online ticketing link is available here:

By the numbers

·        No matter the results in Shreveport, the 2024 season will go down as a rousing success for Concordia Baseball. The ’24 team has extended the program’s string of consecutive 40-win seasons to four. This year’s squad joins the 2021 team as the only two editions in program history to earn a sweep of GPAC regular season and postseason championships. After falling three-straight times at Morningside in mid-April, the Bulldogs found a groove and have gone 13-1 since April 21. The GPAC tournament title run included wins over Mount Marty, Midland (two) and Doane in the championship game. The title clash with the rival Tigers took place at Plum Creek Park on May 7 and saw sluggers Joey Grabanski and Jaidan Quinn strike for a two-run homer apiece off Doane ace Aaron Forrest. The Concordia pitching staff took it from there as Christian Gutierrez, Kellen Ingram, Logan Fragomeni, Jacob Lycan and Maverick Wylder combined for 15 strikeouts. In addition, Ty Nekoliczak made a highlight-reel worthy play at second base and doubled in an insurance run in the eighth inning. The Bulldogs went 3-0 this season versus Doane, which earned a share of the GPAC regular season title along with Concordia.

·        In five previous trips to the national tournament, the Bulldogs have gone a combined 12-9. A year ago, Concordia was sent to Lawrenceville, Ga., home to Georgia Gwinnett College. A lasting image from that tournament occurred in the sixth inning versus Midway University (Ky.) when Joey Grabanski pulverized a grand slam in the sixth inning to bring the Bulldogs back from a 7-2 deficit. Grabanski also delivered a three-run homer in the seventh. Concordia ultimately went 2-2 in the Opening Round bracket and was eliminated with an 11-8 loss at the hands of Freed-Hardeman (Tenn.). The Bulldogs had led that game 8-5 at the end of eight innings. Under Dupic, Concordia has won at least one game in each appearance at the national tournament.

·        All-GPAC awards were unveiled on May 8. Appropriately, Dupic was honored as the GPAC Coach of the Year for the third time (2017, 2019 and 2024) in his tenure as a Bulldog. In addition, 12 players earned some form of All-GPAC recognition. The highest honors went to Joey Grabanski and Jaidan Quinn, named the co-GPAC Players of the Year. They were joined on the all-conference first team by Jay Adams, Alec Blakestad and Matt Rhoades (GPAC Freshman of the Year). Second team honors went to Christian Gutierrez, Jacob Lycan, Ty Nekoliczak (Gold Glove 2B) and Tanner Tompkins. Honorable mention status was placed upon Jimmy Blumberg, Brad Hallock and Caden Johnson. Below are season statistics for Concordia’s first/second team position players.

o   Adams: .375 BA, .450 OBP, .596 SLG, 65 R, 16 2B, 10 HR, 46 RBIs, 11 SB.

o   Blakestad: .324 BA, .472 OBP, 619 SLG, 51 R, 12 2B, 2 3B, 12 HR, 51 RBIs, 15 SB.

o   Grabanski: .393 BA, .496 OBP, .847 SLG, 56 R, 11 2B, 24 HR, 79 RBIs.

o   Nekoliczak: .315 BA, .429 OBP, .386 SLG, 54 R, 3 2B, 2 2B, 2 HR, 30 RBIs, 10 SB.

o   Quinn: .389 BA, .531 OBP, .894 SLG, 76 R, 13 2B, 26 HR, 71 RBIs.

o   Rhoades: .311 BA, .395 OBP, .617 SLG, 32 R, 7 2B, 16 HR, 53 RBIs.

o   Tompkins: .345 BA, .400 OBP, .504 SLG, 12 R, 3 2B, 5 HR, 24 RBIs.

·        The improved performance of the pitching staff has been a major development for the Bulldogs. During the team’s 13-1 stretch entering the national tournament, Concordia’s team ERA has rested at 2.81. The bullpen has been lights out over that period of time as Jacob Lycan has made five appearances (13.2 innings) and has a 1.32 ERA and 20 strikeouts while Maverick Wyler has not allowed a run (four appearances, six innings). In Caden Johnson’s three starts in that stretch, he's thrown 20 innings with just three runs allowed to go along with a .171 opponent batting average. The workhorse of the staff has been righty Christian Gutierrez, who is 7-3 with a 3.68 ERA in 78.1 innings. Gutierrez, Johnson and Braxton Greenburg have been the team’s primary three starting pitchers. The Bulldogs hope to have the services of Blake Benson (5-1, 4.00 ERA, 36 IP) for the Opening Round.

·        There are several milestones to watch out for as Concordia makes its way to Louisiana. One milestone was reached in the GPAC Championship Game when Jaidan Quinn surpassed 200 career RBIs. Quinn (196 career hits) is one of several Bulldogs nearing 200 career hits. The others are Alec Blakestad (192) and Ty Nekoliczak (188). Already the NAIA all-time home run king with 86 career blasts, Joey Grabanski is four RBIs away from tying the NAIA record of 295 by Tim Leslie of Lubbock Christian (Texas). With a full season left to play in 2025, Quinn has pushed his career home run total to 72. As a program, Concordia has reached 100 home runs for the third-straight season – 113 in 2022, 117 in 2023 and 109 in 2024. The ’24 Bulldogs rank third nationally in home runs behind only Cumberlands of Kentucky (125) and Kansas Wesleyan (124).

·        During the regular season, Concordia matched up with five teams that have qualified for the 2024 Opening Round: Bellevue, Doane, Kansas Wesleyan, Keiser (Fla.) and Oklahoma City. The Bulldogs went a combined 8-3 against those opponents. As a regular on the national stage, Concordia will know what to expect when it gets to Shreveport. This will be the fourth national tournament appearance for fourth/fifth-year players like Jay Adams, Carlos Benavides, Alec Blakestad, Jose Cevallos, Joey Grabanski, Caden Johnson and Jacob Lycan. Assistant coaches Ben Berg and Nathan Buckallew were also members of the ’21 World Series team.

Shreveport Bracket Opposition

(1) LSU-Shreveport (42-9) – The bracket host Pilots are making their 15th all-time national tournament appearance. Head Coach Brad Neffendorf led the program to the NAIA World Series as recently as 2022. LSUS has surpassed 40 wins for the fifth-straight season. The Red River Athletic Conference champions boast the league pitcher of the year in Isaac Rhode (10-2, 1.35 ERA, 11.1 K/9). As a staff, the pitchers own a 3.34 ERA. Meanwhile, Vantrel Reed was named the RRAC Player of the Year. He is hitting .393 with 15 doubles, five triples, eight home runs, 58 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. The Pilots are hitting .340 as a team while averaging 8.5 runs per game. Their opponents are hitting just .229 this season.

(3) Kansas Wesleyan (45-10) – Concordia went to Salina, Kan., on Feb. 20 and took two from the Coyotes (14-5 and 5-2). Kansas Wesleyan has gone 34-3 over its last 37 games behind a powerful offensive lineup. Seven Coyote players have gone deep more than 10 times this season with Kendall Foster’s 22 homers leading the way. Head Coach Bill Neale’s squad ranks No. 2 nationally with 124 homers in 2024. This will be Kansas Wesleyan’s sixth appearance on the national stage. In last year’s Opening Round in Fayette, Mo., the Coyotes went 2-2 with both defeats coming at the hands of top-ranked Southeastern (Fla.). The team’s top starting pitcher has been Jarrett Brannen, who is 11-1 with a 3.31 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 73.1 innings.

(4) Talladega (36-15) – Talladega has qualified for the national tournament for the fifth time and for the first time since 2019. The Tornadoes won the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference tournament and have won a school record 36 games in 2024. Head Coach Marcos Dominguez guides a squad that has slashed an impressive .343 BA / .470 OBP / .534 SLG. Talladega trots out the NAIA’s leading hitter in first baseman Miguel Oropeza, who is batting .531 with 21 doubles, four triples, seven home runs, 26 stolen bases and 60 RBIs. The Tornadoes have been ultra-aggressive on the base paths, as their 241 steals (No. 2 in the NAIA) will attest. Samuel Guadamuz (11-2, 3.08 ERA, 12.0 K/9) headlines the pitching staff.

(5) Blue Mountain Christian (31-21) – This will be program appearance No. 1 on the national stage. Blue Mountain Christian qualified as the Southern States Athletic Conference tournament runner up. The Toppers have averaged 9.8 runs per game behind conference player of the year Arderrius Townsend, who is hitting .369 with 11 doubles, two triples, 25 home runs and 80 RBIs. BMC has totaled 72 homers and sports a .447 team on-base percentage. The numbers would suggest that Head Coach Taylor Clark’s squad has had to outslug its foes. The team ERA sits at 7.24. The most heavily used pitcher is Matthew Koch, who is 4-5 with a 6.59 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 72.1 innings.

Facts about Concordia at the national tournament

·        A 2021 NAIA World Series qualifier, Concordia will appear in the opening round of the national tournament for the sixth 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, to Bellevue, Neb., in both 2021 and 2022, and to Lawrenceville, Ga., in 2023. Concordia is 12-9 all-time in opening round games and has won at least one national tournament game in each of the five prior appearances. Opening round wins have come over Jamestown (2017), Clarke University (2019), MidAmerica Nazarene University (twice in 2021), Bellevue (twice in 2021 and once in 2022), Central Methodist University (2022), Judson University (2022), Tabor College (2022), Saint Xavier University (2023) and Midway University (2023).

·        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.

·        The ’22 Bulldogs came within one win of a return trip to the World Series. While being sent to Bellevue for a second year in a row, Concordia dropped its first game of the tournament (5-1 to Judson) and then rallied back to claim four straight victories. The Bulldogs turned some heads when they routed host and sixth-ranked Bellevue, 16-2, to force a winner-take-all contest. In that blowout, Concordia went deep six times with one home run apiece coming from Jay Adams, Joey Grabanski, Jaidan Quinn, Keaton Candor, Jesse Garcia and Teyt Johnson. Caden Johnson fired seven strong innings in the triumph. Ultimately, the Bruins took the next game, 5-2, and booked their trip to the NAIA World Series. In 2023, the Bulldogs traveled to the home of Georgia Gwinnett and went 2-2. They were eliminated by Freed-Hardeman University in a game they led 8-5 after eight innings. A win in that contest would have put Concordia in the finals of the opening round against the host team.

·        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 six national tournaments, Dupic (323-176-1) became the winningest coach in program history during the 2023 season. During Dupic’s tenure (2015-present), the Bulldogs lead all GPAC baseball programs in overall wins (323), GPAC regular season wins (159), overall winning percentage (.650), conference regular season winning percentage (.674) and total GPAC championships (seven).

·        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. This will be the fourth national tournament for the program’s fourth/fifth-year seniors such as Jay Adams, Carlos Benavides, Jose Cevallos, Joey Grabanski, Caden Johnson and Jacob Lycan.

NAIA Baseball World Series

The winners of all 10 opening round sites will head to Lewis-Clark State (Idaho) for the 67th annual Avista NAIA Baseball World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, May 24-31. For more information on the World Series, click HERE. For a complete list of the opening round qualifiers, check out the NAIA release HERE.