SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Concordia University softball has thrived amidst the pressure of GPAC tournament elimination games over the past few seasons. On Wednesday the Bulldogs moved to 7-0 in conference tourney win-or-go-home situations under third-year head coach Todd LaVelle. Concordia regrouped after a heartbreaking 10-9 walk-off loss to Hastings with a 3-1 win over Midland on day one of league bracket play.
As the GPAC’s No. 5 seed, the Bulldogs (30-17) were sent to Sioux City as part of the Morningside Bracket. Concordia now must win three contests on Thursday to advance from its four-team pod and play the winner from the Doane bracket.
Wednesday afternoon’s win was a start for a program that reached the 30-win mark for the sixth time in school history.
“It was a tough loss (to Hastings) but I don’t think it was that hard to regroup,” LaVelle said. “The girls are here to win. They played hard. We didn’t get things done in the first game. They know now it’s just a little tougher road to get there. We have to take one game at a time to do that.”
After some struggles in game 1, Michaela Woodward got rolling in the circle in the capper. She tossed all seven frames while scattering seven Midland hits and striking out four to go against just one walk. She also blasted a solo homer (sixth of the season) to tie the game in the second inning. She’s no stranger to postseason success having started all six games in the circle during last year’s GPAC tournament title run.
“She pitched well and I think that home run kind of propelled her,” LaVelle said. “It added a little life to her arm. She pitched a really good game. I thought she did the first game. We went into that knowing we were going to pitch by committee. Hastings got the hits when they needed them.”
Woodward got the offensive support she needed when the Bulldogs struck for two runs in the fifth off Warrior pitcher Skyler Peterson, a Seward High School product. Harpst got the wheels turning with two outs by singling and then stealing second. Leah Kalkwarf followed with an RBI double and Owens then drove in Kalkwarf with a base hit to right.
Midland (22-29) threatened with a leadoff single from Peterson in the seventh, but Woodward induced three-straight fly outs to put the game on ice and extend the season by at least one more day. It was Woodward’s sixth career conference tournament win.
It was only fitting that both of Wednesday’s games came down to the wire in a season of close calls. Concordia suffered its eighth one-run loss of the season in the opening contest played in the Morningside Bracket. The Broncos (36-20) came all the way back from a 9-6 deficit in the bottom of the seventh. Hastings took advantage of an error and then tied the game up on Anna Gerhard’s two-run single off Kylie Harpst. The winning run came across on Katlynn Behnk’s sacrifice fly to right.
Hastings’ seventh-inning comeback spoiled a solid offensive game by the Bulldogs. Third baseman Autumn Owens, who extended her hitting streak to 13 on Wednesday, drilled her ninth home run of the season to tie Clarissa Eloge’s program single-season record. Trailing 6-5 in the sixth, Concordia took a 9-6 advantage thanks to two-run singles from Megan Ruppert and AJ Wygant.
The Bulldogs are attempting to repeat their feat of 2014 when they lost their opening game of the GPAC tournament and then won five-straight elimination contests before settling for conference runner-up status while earning an automatic bid to the national tournament. LaVelle has guided Concordia to an 11-4 record in GPAC postseason play.
Action continues from the Jensen Softball Complex at 12 p.m. on Thursday when Concordia tries to avenge Wednesday’s loss to Hastings. The winner will move on to play top-seeded Morningside (41-8) at 2 p.m. The loser will see its season come to an end.
“Both us and Hastings are at the top of the conference in a lot of offensive categories,” LaVelle said. “It’s just going to be a slugfest every time we play them.”