2024 GPAC Tournament: Softball Preview

By Chase Benton on Apr. 29, 2024 in Softball

SEWARD, Neb. – After a scorching 11-3 run in the last 14 games, the Concordia University Softball team will be the No. 4 seed in the 2024 GPAC tournament that features double-elimination pod play this Wednesday and Thursday. The Bulldogs will be headed to Sioux Center, Iowa, as one of four teams in the Northwestern Bracket. As the top two seeds in the GPAC, Northwestern and Midland are the host teams for pod play. Head Coach Brock Culler’s squad concluded the regular season at 23-23 overall (13-9 GPAC) and tied for third with Dordt, Jamestown and Morningside. Concordia will take on the No. 5 seed Morningside at 1:15 p.m. CT on Wednesday in the second game of the bracket.

2024 GPAC Tournament – Northwestern Bracket
--Full Bracket

May 1-2 | West Field/ASB Sports Complex (Sioux Center, Iowa)
--Live Webcasts (available for all games) | Live Stats

Wednesday, May 1
Game 1 – (1) Northwestern vs. (8) Mount Marty, 11 a.m.
Game 2 – (4) Concordia vs. (5) Morningside, 1:15 p.m.
Game 3 – Game 1 Winner vs. Game 2 Winner, 3:30 p.m.
Game 4 – Game 1 Loser vs. Game 2 Loser, 5:45 p.m.

Thursday, May 2
Game 5 – Game 4 Winner vs. Game 3 Loser, 10 a.m.
Game 6 – Game 3 Winner vs. Game 5 Winner, 12:15 p.m.
Game 7 – Game 6 Winner vs. Game 6 Loser, 2:30 p.m. (if necessary)

Admission: Admission is $10 for adults/senior citizens and $3 for K-12. Only those with NAIA passes and GPAC student ID’s will be admitted free of charge.

By the numbers

·        As a program, Concordia has qualified for the GPAC tournament in 21 out of a possible 23 years (the first season of GPAC softball was 2001). The only seasons the Bulldogs missed out on conference postseason play were 2013 and 2023. Since then, Concordia has enjoyed its share of success in the GPAC tournament. The Bulldogs celebrated a GPAC tournament title in 2015 and placed as the runner up in 2014 and 2021. Each of those postseason runs resulted in appearances in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round. The ’21 squad emerged as the champion of the Morningside Bracket pod and reached the GPAC Championship Series.

·        The 2023-24 campaign was a tale of two halves for the second year under Coach Culler. After a slow 12-20 (2-6 GPAC) start, way below .500, the Dawgs caught fire with an 11-3 season-ending run to finish 23-23. In the drive, Concordia swept Jamestown, Dakota Wesleyan, Briar Cliff and Mount Marty, while splitting with College of Saint Mary, Morningside and Dordt. The only two teams to sweep CUNE are Northwestern and Midland, early in conference play.

·        Megan Eurich has been the ace and mainstay for the Bulldogs with 18 wins (second in GPAC) and a 2.65 ERA. In those 18 wins, she has nine shutouts and 176 strikeouts, good enough for 2nd in conference and 3rd in single-season program history. The Gretna, Neb., product has pitched 182.0 innings, the eighth highest in a single season by a Concordia softball player. Taryn Ganstrom (3.30 ERA) and Kaylei Denison (7.86 ERA) have been the secondary options inside the pitchers’ circle with Ganstrom throwing 63.2 innings and Denison 49.0 innings. The earned run average as a team is 3.80.

·        Kylie Shottenkirk was named the NAIA National Player of the Week and GPAC/Hauff Mid-America Sports Softball Player of the Week on Tuesday (Apr. 23) because of her play from Apr. 15-21. The junior, out of Lincoln, Neb., hit .737 (14-for-19) and homered four times, including a grand slam against Mount Marty. She drove in 13 RBIs and seven runs during the six-game stretch and became the first Concordia player to homer in three-straight games since 2017. A powerhouse, the Lincoln North Star, product slugged 1.474 percent and a .783 on-base percentage. Shottenkirk added two doubles, four walks and a stolen base.

·        Through the first 32 games, the Bulldogs had a low batting average (.257) but in the recent 14-game stretch they have churned out .350 as a team. While Shottenkirk has reached another level, there were four Bulldogs who hit .350 or better during the 14-game catapult: Krieser (22-for-48), Shottenkirk (18-for-39), Glause (11-for-29), and Cushing (11-for-30). In the first 32 games, these four hit for a .262 average but in the mentioned run they combined for .424.

·        In conference games only, Concordia sports GPAC rankings of fifth in on-base percentage (.364), sixth in batting average (.300), seventh in runs scored (101), ninth in slugging percentage (.399) and ninth in fielding percentage (.943). The Bulldogs also ranked fourth in the GPAC in sacrifice hits with 29 and struck out the fewest times at the plate (65). In other words, Concordia with their down then up season, the team sits around the middle in many offensive categories.

Northwestern Bracket opponents

(1) Northwestern (43-5, 19-3 GPAC) – The Red Raiders moved up to the No. 1 spot in the GPAC standings while going 6-2 over their final eight conference regular season games, sweeping Midland for the GPAC title. Head Coach Shane Bouman’s (6th year) squad has showcased a strong offensive/defensive balance. Within league games, Northwestern ranked tied for third in runs scored (112) and fourth in earned run average (1.42). The Red Raiders has a GPAC top five hitter and pitcher in Kameryn Etherington. She bats a .421 average and has collected 43 RBIs. Northwestern is also home to two of the GPAC’s top five winningest pitchers in Etherington (18 wins) and Kate Kralik (16 wins). Ashtyn Billings leads the league in stolen bases (20).

(5) Morningside (24-19, 13-9 GPAC) – The Mustangs finished 13-9 in the conference and .500 (4-4) in their last eight games. Kennedee Jones is top five in the conference in home runs (seven) and the team hits .265 while giving up a 3.71 earned run average. Another dual pitcher/hitter combo comes in Morgon Secora, who leads the team with a .444 batting average and .933 slugging percentage. Secora (2.83 ERA) has 10 wins in 116.1 innings pitched, while Bralen Biddlecome (3.32 ERA) has seven wins in 99.

(8) Mount Marty (20-22, 11-11 GPAC) – The Lancers stood at 8-2 overall in the middle of the conference season before ending on a 3-5 run to finish the year. Mount Marty finished in eighth place in the GPAC standings with 197 runs, allowing a 3.71 earned run average. Head Coach Kayla Bryant’s squad boasts a couple of strong hitters in Macy Homes (6 HR, .641 SLG) and Olivia Valdez (.356 AVG, .421 OBP). In the circle, McKenzie Gray (8-10) and Makayla Graunke (8-11) pitched 110.1 and 91.0 innings, respectively. Graunke finished the regular season with a 3.54 ERA and Gray with a 4.06

GPAC Championship Series
The winners of the Northwestern and Midland Brackets will meet in the GPAC Championship Series on Saturday (hosted by the highest remaining seed). It will a best of three series with game one beginning at a time to be determined. As the GPAC regular season champion, the Red Raiders have earned one of the league’s two automatic berths to nationals. The GPAC tournament champion will also receive a bid. Should Northwestern win the conference tournament, the second nationals bid would go to the GPAC tournament runner up.