Rollercoaster ride accelerates into GPAC championship series

By on Apr. 30, 2015 in Softball

Rollercoaster ride accelerates into GPAC championship series

FREMONT, Neb. – It was worth the wait for Concordia University softball. It took a second try, but the Bulldogs staved off the host and No. 2 seed for another berth in the GPAC championship series. After Midland rallied for a 6-5 win to avoid elimination, Concordia put away the tired Warriors, 8-0 in five innings, to win the Midland Bracket of the 2015 conference tournament.

Second-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad (26-21) now looks forward to a rematch of the 2014 GPAC title clash when it challenges Morningside in a best-of-three series on Saturday. The winner will claim an automatic bid to the national tournament.

“It means a lot to the girls. They deserve this,” LaVelle said. “I’ve been fortunate with God’s grace to be able to coach a lot of teams and be in this position, but this is for the five seniors that we have. This is a goal they’ve had. The rollercoaster ride has been documented – and they never stopped believing in themselves.”

The Warriors (27-23) seemed to grab the momentum after Liz Spooner’s walk-off RBI single forced a Midland Bracket, winner-take-all contest. Head coach Keith Kramme’s bunch put itself in position to defend its own home turf, but the Warriors needed to win three games on Thursday, including two over a Concordia team that went 2-0 on the opening day of the double-elimination event.

Despite a regular season that came up short of expectations, a confident and fresher Bulldog team outlasted Midland in a battle of attrition.

“It feels really great just because we always do this to ourselves – we always have to make it harder for ourselves,” center fielder Regan Doiel said. “It feels so great. It feels so much better winning the second game, every time.”

Freshman pitcher Michaela Woodward, who held down all 25.2 tournament innings in the circle, erased doubts about whether she could handle the heavy workload by throwing a five-hit shutout in the deciding contest. She even singled in a pair of runs as part of a key three-run, fourth inning off Midland pitcher Sammy Hislop that provided a 4-0 Bulldog advantage.

After Woodward held the Warriors off the board in the bottom half of the fourth, Concordia put the game out of reach with four more runs in the top of the fifth. Jordana Goncalves (single), Doiel (single) and MaKenna Tracy (walk) set the table for a Diana Mendoza two-run double. Julia Tyree then laced a grounder that eluded the Midland first baseman and plated two additional tallies.

Woodward quickly retired the first two hitters in the fifth before back-to-back singles by Jami Redel and Kayla Ritzdorf gave the Warriors a glimmer of hope. The workhorse Woodward then got Jennie Sayker to foul out to third for the game’s final out.

Whatever method Concordia used to flush its first game on Thursday, it worked.

“Honestly I don’t remember what we said in there because I was kind of mad that we lost,” Doiel said. “But our team’s really good at getting it back together. We like to regroup and forget the game. We always forget and come back what we know how to do. We go back to the fundamentals.”

Doiel went 2-for-5 on the day while playing a stingy center field. She made the day’s biggest highlight reel play when she raced into left center and robbed Sherise Burnside with a sprawling catch. The diving grab thwarted a sure extra-base hit and left runners on first and second in the fourth inning of Thursday’s first contest.

Doiel and the Bulldogs committed just two errors over their four-game stay in Fremont. The team’s tremendous collective defensive effort backed Woodward, who allowed 11 runs on 23 hits and 15 walks over her 25.2 innings at the GPAC tournament.

At the plate, Woodward (2-for-4, two RBIs) and Mendoza (2-for-4, two runs, three RBIs) had two hits apiece in the victory. For Midland, Hislop enjoyed a monster first game as she went 3-for-3 with a double, home run and three RBIs.

The conference championship series features fifth-seeded Morningside versus seventh-seeded in Sioux City, Iowa. Saturday’s game times are set for 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 5 p.m. with the final game being an “if-necessary” contest. The Mustangs reached the conference championship by upsetting top-seeded Doane twice on Thursday. Morningside won by scores of 4-0 and 7-1.

“Obviously if Doane would have won it would have made a trip to nationals a little easier, but nothing’s been easy this year,” LaVelle said. “We’re going to welcome the challenge.”