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Season preview: 2020 Concordia baseball

By Jacob Knabel on Jan. 21, 2020 in Baseball

Head coach: Ryan Dupic (146-109, 6th year); two GPAC titles
2019 record: 33-20 overall, 23-5 GPAC (1st)
Key returners: Ben Berg (C); Evan Bohman (1B); Keaton Candor (OF); Wade Council (OF); Beau Dorman (C); Jake Fosgett (RHP); Jesse Garcia (1B); Nick Little (RHP); Jason Munsch (LHP); Ryan Samuelson (RHP); Thomas Sautel (INF).
Key losses: Dylan DuRee (RHP); Sasha Jabusch (LHP); Christian Meza (2B); Logan Ryan (SS); Tanner Wauhob (RHP).
Key newcomers: Jay Adams (INF); Jakob Faulk (3B); Ryan Moormeier (1B).
2019 GPAC all-conference: Ryan Dupic (coach of the year); Christian Meza (player of the year; first team); Wade Council (first team); Dylan DuRee (first team); Jake Fosgett (first team); Jesse Garcia (second team); Sasha Jabusch (first team); Jason Munsch (first team); Logan Ryan (honorable mention); Ryan Samuelson (honorable mention); Tanner Wauhob (honorable mention).

No one is doing cartwheels over anything that is said or written in the preseason, but for the Concordia University baseball program to show up in the 2020 top 25 Perfect Game national rankings – well that’s a sign of just how far this program has come. Prior to head coach Ryan Dupic arriving in Seward in 2015, the program had not won a conference championship since 1986.

The ways in which Concordia baseball is perceived has changed dramatically. Not just a one-hit wonder, the Bulldogs have won two of the past three GPAC regular-season titles. Last season they won 15-straight games to begin conference play while following the lead of a dominant pitching staff. Seniors like Wade Council are aiming for more of the same in 2020.

“The whole year from start to finish was just a blast,” Council said. “We were a team that was just special. We had a special connection, special talent and a special culture. I think that’s something we’ve learned from last year and have brought again this year. That’s definitely exciting moving forward.”

In the topsy-turvy world of GPAC baseball, no program has seized back-to-back GPAC regular-season championships since former conference member Dana College did so back in 2003-04. In other words, Concordia has a chance to really stake its claim as the conference powerhouse if it can reach the top of the mountain once again. Last season Bulldog hurlers put together an astounding conference ERA of 2.31 while Concordia ruled the league with a 23-5 GPAC mark.

That doesn’t mean anything is guaranteed in 2020. The conference became more of a challenge when Jamestown joined the league a year ago. The Bulldogs and Jimmies seem to be budding rivals. Both programs have reason to be motivated this spring. If ever Concordia was going to feel complacency, all it has to do is think back to 2018 when it fell to sixth place after winning the conference in 2017.

“We’ve talked about it,” Dupic said of repeating as GPAC champions. “Once you (win a conference title) there’s a common tendency to assume it’s going to happen again. I don’t feel that way at all. Statistically speaking in the GPAC over the last 10 or 15 years, if you get picked to win the league you’re more likely to miss the conference tournament than you are to go back and win it again. I try not to hit on that stuff too much. We just want to keep growing and getting better. We just can’t assume anything. You have to go play and you have to continue to find joy in each growth step.”

On paper, this team is a monster. It may have lost GPAC Player of the Year Christian Meza, but lefty hurler Jason Munsch returns to head a rotation that figures to be stellar once again. Unfortunately, 2018 GPAC Pitcher of the Year Nick Little and 2019 first team All-GPAC performer Jake Fosgett are both working through some health issues while hoping to contribute to another successful campaign. Other returners like Lukas Diehm, Thomas Otte and Ryan Samuelson also threw quality innings last season.

Munsch may end up being the most dominant force on the entire team. The native of Campbell, Calif., has even caught the attention of some MLB scouts. Last season Munsch posted a 2.44 ERA with 106 strikeouts in 66.1 innings. He fanned 16 hitters in a masterpiece against Jamestown in 2019. There may be some uncertainty in the rotation, but the Bulldogs have a bona fide ace in Munsch.

Said Dupic of his staff, “The thing I’m pleased with is that they’re just making really good decisions. They’re using their experience to understand what they need to do and what they need to work on. On paper that staff is pretty accomplished. We’re working through challenges – everybody has challenges. I’m pleased with their attitude, their focus and the way they make choices and try to challenge themselves daily in practice. Their routines are developing. We trust that we’re going to see some fruit on the backside of all of this.”

While Council and his career .402 on-base percentage anchors the lineup, Concordia returns another sturdy bat belonging to sophomore Jesse Garcia. Another Californian, Garcia slugged eight homers in 2019 and appears to have the potential for more. Dupic is also pleased to have infielder Thomas Sautel back from injury. His entire 2019 season was wiped out by injury. Sautel hit .371 in 2018 and was named second team all-conference.

Sautel is likely to see time at both second base and shortstop. The Bulldogs said goodbye to Meza and Logan Ryan, both major four-year contributors in the middle of the infield. At shortstop, freshman Jayden Adams and senior Carson Lindell are in the mix. The entire starting outfield is also intact with Teyt Johnson, Keaton Candor and Council in the fold. The catching situation is a positive with both Ben Berg and Beau Dorman having seen extensive playing time last season. Meanwhile, Evan Bohman was written in the lineup most often at first base.

Additional newcomers could also factor into the equation for an offense hoping to boost its average runs per game up from 5.7 in 2019. Said Council, “It’s exciting for sure. We have a lot of young talent in the freshman class. They impressed me the first couple weeks of school when we had our first practices. They definitely impressed me with their work ethic and ability to perform on the field. Everybody else who has had a role in the past seems to be committed to their role. That’s kind of the secret to winning.”

The hope is to unlock that secret once again and be the frontrunner in a GPAC race that has been decidedly unpredictable throughout the league’s history. Last season Concordia won the GPAC by a full four games in the standings. Council has dreams of repeating, winning the conference tournament and advancing to the NAIA World Series. That would be breaking new ground, again.

“I have absolutely no doubt that if we are able to do something like that (win the GPAC) it’s going to be really hard,” Dupic said. “There are a ton of good teams who are all working exceptionally hard. There are good coaches and good players. We just have to go do the best we can and see how that fits with everybody else.”

Added Council, “It’s definitely exciting to get some love from outside coaches and outside opponents but at the same time, we haven’t done anything yet. We need to back it up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited they see us as a threat. I use it as motivation too to make sure we’re on the same page and working towards the common goal.”

The 2020 season is slated to get underway with a four-game weekend series at McPherson College (Kan.), Feb. 8-9. The first home doubleheader of the campaign is set for March 15.