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Season Preview: 2021 Concordia Baseball

By Jacob Knabel on Jan. 29, 2021 in Baseball

Head coach: Ryan Dupic (160-116, 7th year); two GPAC titles
2020 record: 14-7, 2-0 GPAC
Key returners: Jay Adams (INF); Ben Berg (C); Evan Bohman (1B); Keaton Candor (OF); Benjamin Coldiron (RHP); Beau Dorman (C); Jakob Faulk (INF); Jake Fosgett (RHP); Jesse Garcia (1B); Nick Little (RHP); Zach Pinkerton (RHP); Ryan Samuelson (RHP).
Key losses: Wade Council (OF); Jason Munsch (LHP); Thomas Sautel (INF).
Key newcomers: Joey Grabanski (INF); Alex Johnson (RHP); Ryan Moormeier (1B); Trenton Wood (RHP).
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 All-GPAC team announced in 2020

By the time the first pitch of the 2021 campaign arrives, roughly 11 months will have passed since the final pitch of the 2020 season. It’s been an exceptionally long wait for an established program that ended the shortened ’20 season by walloping Briar Cliff in a doubleheader. Head Coach Ryan Dupic enters his seventh season at the helm of the Bulldogs, who sit atop the GPAC preseason rankings.

Concordia has earned that respect by collecting GPAC regular-season title trophies in 2017 and 2019. The current roster is well-stocked with veterans who know something about competing for championships. On paper, Dupic has never had a team with more depth. This group understands it won’t be easy, but the Bulldogs have dreams of reaching the NAIA World Series.

“It’s a big challenge (to get to that level),” Dupic said. “It’s tough for all of us. We don’t want to blow it up. We like what we have here. We’re doing good things. We have good connections within our guys. We have a strong culture and really believe in what we’re doing. We also can’t be exactly the same or you’ll get the exact same thing. There’s a never-ending pursuit. It involves never-ending conversations and authenticity. I see us having the right conversations and I see us taking steps in that direction. It’s not as consistent as it needs to be yet. We always want to grow and improve around here.”

Concordia just might have been included in the NAIA preseason top 25 had the virtually unhittable Jason Munsch returned for another year. Instead, he signed a free agent contract with the Milwaukee Brewers. The pitching staff is now led by 2018 GPAC Pitcher of the Year Nick Little while a potentially powerful lineup will be fueled by slugger Jesse Garcia (15 home runs in 221 career at bats). Seven position players who started at least 10 of last season’s 21 games are back in the fold.

While Munsch graduated and moved on to professional baseball, five Bulldogs decided to come back for another shot at a senior season. That group includes first baseman Evan Bohman, starting pitcher Lukas Diehm, catcher Beau Dorman, starting pitcher Jake Fosgett (2019 first team All-GPAC) and relief pitcher Zach Pinkerton. All five of those players will have an on-field role. Their desire to return is representative of the belief within the program that this season can be something special.

Said Bohman, “It’s a tremendous place to play baseball. If we looked at it 10 years down the road and said, ‘why didn’t I come back,’ it would be a question in the back of your mind. That’s why I wanted to come back. If I looked into the future I would definitely regret my decision of not coming back and trying one more year with the family atmosphere that is Concordia Baseball.”

At the time last season went dark, Garcia and outfielder Keaton Candor were banging the ball around the yard. Garcia slugged .662 with seven home runs while Candor was slugging .764 with 10 extra base hits. Meanwhile, six regulars were hitting better than .300: Candor (.400), Dorman (.343), Bohman (.338), third baseman Jakob Faulk (.333), shortstop Jayden Adams (.321) and catcher Ben Berg (.314).

Adams and Faulk were welcome additions last season as freshmen who solidified the left side of the infield. Dupic and his staff are also excited about the ability that transfer Ryan Moormeier and freshman Joey Grabanski (Grand Forks, N.D.) bring to the program. Another Berg brother (Kyle) has also joined the Bulldogs. Said Dupic of Moormeier, “when he’s at his best he can really hit.” New hitting coach Caleb Lang began his role with a solid base of talent to work with.

“We think we have a chance to have a lot of lineup depth,” Dupic said. “We really believe we have a chance to have some guys in the mid- to late portion of the lineup that can do some damage. You saw that last year with Keaton Candor and Jakob Faulk in those six and seven spots – and Beau Dorman and Ben Berg. Those weren’t easy guys to pitch to at times last year when they were 6-7-8 in our lineup. I think that’s such a big deal.”

Dupic’s expertise in the pitching department has been apparent during his tenure. Munsch (0.00 ERA and 59 strikeouts in 26 innings last season) may not be here, but no one should be feeling too sorry for a staff headed by Little (4-0, 1.26 ERA in 2020). If fully healthy, Fosgett can be a legitimate ace as he proved in 2019. The starting rotation may also feature Trenton Wood, a transfer who logged 166 innings (3.09 ERA) during his career at NAIA member Mount Vernon Nazarene University (Ohio). A number of others started on the mound last season, such as Benjamin Coldiron, Adrian Cotton, Alex Delgadillo, Caden Johnson and Shane Whittaker.

At the back end of the bullpen, Ryan Samuelson notched five saves in 2020. The 6-foot-8 Samuelson’s career numbers have been eye popping – a 1.02 ERA and 37 strikeouts (six walks) in 35.1 innings. Pinkerton registered a 1.74 ERA (10.1 innings) out of the bullpen last season while Nathan Buckallew was one of the team’s most counted upon relievers in 2018 (12 appearances) before suffering injury.

Dupic believes this staff has the ability to miss bats just like recent groups of Bulldog hurlers. Said Dupic, “We have some guys who have some good stuff. We have a lot of depth. We have a lot of guys who have a chance to do some good things. With some of the guys coming back and the addition of recruits we’ve brought in and development of players coming in, we see all different things. I think we have a chance to still strike out a decent amount of guys and have a pretty good staff with some depth. We need to be more clean and clear about who our starting pitching is and what guys can get deep into the game.”

Following Concordia at No. 1 in the GPAC preseason ranking, Jamestown was ranked second, Mount Marty third and Northwestern fourth. The addition of the Jimmies to the GPAC (prior to the 2019 season) strengthened the conference and helped spur a seemingly budding rivalry with the Bulldogs. Concordia has hopes of reigning atop the GPAC while attempting to break new ground on the national level.

Says Bohman, “We want to be bigger and better each year. We want to keep developing and looking towards winning the GPAC and getting to the national tournament – not only getting to the national tournament but making some noise and hopefully ending up at the World Series. We’re continuing to put our mind into the day-to-day process. We have a huge three-week period here before the season starts. We don’t want to overlook that too much.”

The 2020 season is slated to open up on Feb. 13 as part of a weekend stay in Winfield, Kan. If all goes as planned, the Bulldogs will make their first home appearance on March 20 with the beginning of conference play.