Kalkwarf walk-off lifts Bulldogs in split with No. 10 Morningside

By Jacob Knabel on Apr. 6, 2017 in Softball

SEWARD, Neb. – Glum and gloomy it appeared as 10th-ranked Morningside seemed primed to exit Plum Creek Park with a doubleheader sweep. The tone changed in a hurry during a dramatic late-inning turn of events for the Concordia University softball team, which salvaged a split by walking off a winner on Thursday evening. After a 7-2 loss in game 1, the Bulldogs rebounded with a 4-3, eight-inning win over the Mustangs in game 2.

Fourth-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad moved to 22-10 overall and to 6-4 in the GPAC. Concordia has won five of its last seven games against Morningside (24-7, 6-2 GPAC).

“We talked about it this morning, about thriving on pressure and living for these moments,” LaVelle said. “Morningside is No. 10 in the country. What a great opportunity for our team to come out here and show what we could do.

“Someone (after game 1) said, ‘Hey, we got hit in the mouth and we need to respond.’ That’s what they did.”

It looked decidedly bleak when Concordia trailed 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh with Mustang ace pitcher Rachel Henks in the circle. That’s when the magic happened. Leah Kalkwarf doubled. She then scored on Ronee Watson’s base hit up the middle. Two batters later, LaVelle rolled the dice by sending pinch runner Audrey Quandt from third on a shallow drive to left by Diana Mendoza. Quandt scored easily when the throw from left sailed into the backstop. All tied up.

Kalkwarf played the role of hero in the bottom of the eighth. After Megan Ruppert stole second base, Kalkwarf drove the ball into the left center gap, plating the winning run and clearing the third base Bulldog dugout.

“It was a great feeling,” said Ruppert, who extended her hitting streak to 10 games. “The whole time I was like, ‘Oh please, please, don’t have the ball come near me. It was the greatest feeling. I had to go find (Leah) as soon as I crossed.”

Junior workhorse Michaela Woodward covered 13.2 innings in the circle for the Bulldogs. LaVelle leaned heavily upon Woodward with Kylie Harpst sidelined by injury. Woodward was exceptional in game 2, keeping a potent Morningside offense in check. In the night cap, Woodward fired an eight-inning complete game, allowing three runs on six hits and one walk. In the top of the eighth, Woodward stranded a runner on second by coaxing a lineout and then a strikeout to end the frame.

Though she failed to hold the lead in game 2, Henks was brilliant in the opener. She went all seven innings and struck out seven Bulldogs. She got plenty of offensive support from designated player Allie Martinez, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs in game 1.

LaVelle hopes the finish to Thursday instills a firm belief in his team moving forward.

“We have a good ball club,” LaVelle said. “That’s what we’ve been trying to do all year is get them to believe. We’ve played right with teams that are ranked in the top 10 and now we’ve beaten one of them. Northwestern beat us on our home field twice and we didn’t want to let that happen again.”

Ruppert put together a 3-for-6 day that included three runs scored. Meanwhile, Kalkwarf went 3-for-7 with two of the biggest hits of the day for the Bulldogs.

Afterwards, cupcakes greeted the team in celebration of assistant coach Jeff Pasold’s birthday. A cupcake war ensued between Ruppert and sophomore Kaitlyn Buresh. Ruppert got her revenge after being interrupted in a postgame interview with a cupcake to the face, courtesy of Buresh.

Ruppert shrugged it off and continued on. Said Ruppert, “We’re capable of anything.”

The Bulldogs will close out the week on Saturday with a trip to Dakota Wesleyan (12-23, 2-4 GPAC). First pitch from Mitchell, S.D., is set for 1 p.m. CT. Concordia will attempt to avenge last season’s pair of home losses to the Tigers.