There’s no debating it. The 2021 Concordia University Baseball team boasts the best collection of hitters in the history of the program. Here at “Wake & Rake University,” the Bulldogs love to hit, whether it’s morning, noon or night. While the pitching and defense have been solid, Concordia will enter the NAIA National Championship Opening Round ranked 19th thanks in large part to a relentless offensive lineup that has torn apart GPAC pitching.
Assembled and developed by Head Coach Ryan Dupic, current hitting coach Caleb Lang and previous hitting coach Bryce Berg, the ’21 Bulldogs have broken program single-season records for runs scored (428), hits (530) and home runs (80) while the batting average of .346 is also on track to set a new standard. And the 38 wins this season – also a program record.
Said Dupic, “We’ve driven the baseball really well. We’ve hit for a ton of power up and down the order. We look for good players (in recruiting). It just kind of worked out that we have a lot of good offensive guys. I’m a pitching guy so I know how hard it is to pitch to a lineup over and over again when they have so much depth. It’s nice to have that production up and down the order.”
The GPAC champion Bulldogs haven’t just merely broken the school home run record, they have completely obliterated it, put it to shame and kicked it to the curb. The new home run record was established already on April 2. The tally has moved to 80 blasts, propped up by five Concordia sluggers with at least 10 home runs: Joey Grabanski (17), Jesse Garcia (12), Keaton Candor (10), Beau Dorman (10) and Jakob Faulk (10).
While playing back-to-back morning games in the GPAC tournament last week, members of the team started wearing “Wake & Rake University” warmup shirts. It seemed appropriate that an offense this prolific would need some sort of moniker. In a game that got started at 9 a.m. local time on May 7, Jesse Garcia hammered a first-inning three-run homer that carried the Bulldogs to a 9-1 postseason win over Briar Cliff. Wake and rake!
Catcher Ben Berg helped explain the meaning behind it. Said Berg, “It’s been a ton of fun. We’ve played a couple early morning games the last couple days. Just getting out waking and raking has been fun. We have so much depth up and down the lineup. One through nine we’ve just been hitting the ball really hard and putting together good AB’s.”
This is an offense that hasn’t only been historically good in program annals, it is also one of the very best in the NAIA. Currently, Concordia boasts NAIA national rankings of ninth in home runs per game, ninth in batting average, 10th in hits per game, 10th in runs scored per game and 13th in slugging percentage. There just aren’t any breaks. All nine lineup regulars are hitting .299 or better.
Coming into the season, perhaps some opponents would have felt like they could attack the bottom third of the order by pounding the middle of the zone. But the likes of Teyt Johnson, Faulk and Jose Cevallos have made the 7-8-9 spots formidable. During this season, Johnson has put together a three-homer day and an eight-RBI game. There’s just no chance for a pitcher to catch his breath.
Said Johnson earlier this season, “It’s a lot of fun. After the first five or six guys – they’re all scared of those guys – so they just come right at me lower in the lineup. I owe a lot of credit to them. It’s nice having them in front of me.”
At the top of the order, Jayden Adams is hitting .406 and got out to a particularly hot start having earned the first two GPAC Player of the Week awards. He’s on the cusp of breaking the school record for hits in a season – but he’ll have to also hold off Grabanski. The freshman from Grand Forks, N.D., has had little trouble adjusting to college baseball. His 17 homers have far surpassed the school single-season record (12). His crowning achievement thus far was a four-homer doubleheader versus Morningside that featured a walk-off bomb with two outs.
Said Grabanski, “Coach Lang always preaches to stick to my approach and try to use all fields. That just helped me stay back and drive the baseball … We have a really good team. We have a good pitching staff and a good offensive lineup. I think we can do some damage (at nationals).”
At times pitchers have succeeded in containing the Concordia lineup, but it’s been rare for it to be kept quiet over the course of an entire game. Dupic also has speedster Peyton Scott to insert on the base paths and a trusted pinch hitter in Noah Janssen to plug into the right moments. There are so many elements to this offense.
“We have really good depth offensively so we don’t rely on one person to provide offensive production,” Dupic said. “Somebody new can step up each time, which is really important. Scoring in different ways has been a big deal too.”
Dupic and his staff have pulled from five different states to put together the lineup of nine that has been most commonly used. Concordia has mined the Midwest and has also gotten a large boost from California. Meanwhile, Grabanski hails from North Dakota and Dorman comes from Arizona. In other words, the offensive fireworks are a product of both recruitment and development. The Wake & Rake Bulldogs aren’t afraid to work deep into the count while they look for pitches to drive.
Lang sees each of the aforementioned standouts on a daily basis. He can help explain how this monster of an offense has taken flight in 2021. Prior to his hiring, Lang researched the Concordia lineup and knew he would have plenty of talent to work with. Said Lang, “I think a lot of the success has been the guys building off each other. One thing we’ve stressed is taking joy in your teammates’ accomplishments, more so than your own accomplishments. Everyone has seen how much fun of atmosphere that can be. If you can take joy in the other eight guys in the lineup, you’re going to have a lot more fun.”
The fun will continue next week at the NAIA Opening Round. The Bulldogs will await Thursday’s announcement to find out where they will be headed for the national tournament.