SIOUX CITY, Iowa – Leah Kalkwarf’s first career home run leading off the top of the fourth provided the day’s biggest highlight as the 2016 campaign came to an end for the Concordia University softball team. The Bulldogs had hoped to repeat their 2015 GPAC tournament title run but instead, Hastings won 3-1 in Thursday afternoon’s postseason elimination game at the Jensen Softball Complex in Sioux City, Iowa.
It was the first time under third-year head coach Todd LaVelle that Concordia has dropped a conference tournament elimination game (7-1). The sixth team in program history to reach the 30-win mark, the Bulldogs concluded the season with an overall mark of 30-18.
“I’ve told the girls here for the last week. Success isn’t just wins and losses,” LaVelle said. “I think this team was a success. Obviously we set the bar high with the last two years. We expect to go to nationals. I’m sure major league teams expect to go to the World Series. We’ll get better and learn from this, but I’m excited. I think there were a lot of successful moments this year.”
The fourth-seeded Broncos (37-20) did not wait long to even up after Kalkwarf’s solo blast. Corrin Ziepke connected on a solo shot of her own with one out in the bottom of the fourth. It marked the first Hastings hit of the game off pitcher Michaela Woodward, who has started in the circle for each of Concordia’s last nine GPAC tournament games.
Hastings then got the go-ahead run in the fifth on Cara Williams’ sac fly and an insurance run one frame later on Madi Fischer’s RBI single to deep left. Concordia’s sluggers in the middle of the order were unable to muster a rally in the late innings against Taylor Erlenbusch, who surrendered just three hits all game.
Two of those hits came via Kalkwarf, who ended her freshman season with a hot bat. She also made a nice running catch into shallow right center field as part of a clean game on both sides. In an error-free contest, third baseman Autumn Owens dazzled at third base in back of Woodward. The sophomore pitcher allowed six hits and two walks while striking out five over six innings.
A senior class of five members appeared in Bulldog uniforms for the final time on Thursday. That group included 2015 first team all-conference selection Julia Tyree, who played through pain for much of the latter stages of the season. Tyree had a big hand in the team’s 91 wins since the start of 2014. That number ties for the most victories over a three-year stretch in program history.
“I hate it for the seniors. You never want to have this conversation this early,” LaVelle said. “We have five seniors that gave this program and this university everything. I appreciate them.”
LaVelle went on to note Concordia’s youth. Of the 10 players who started the game on Thursday, Tyree was the lone senior. The Bulldogs employed three freshmen in the infield in Kalkwarf at second, Maddie Fousek at first and Mikaela Keene at shortstop. All four Concordia regulars who batted better than .350 are underclassmen. Said LaVelle, “the future looks bright. Even though this chapter has closed, I’m looking forward to the next one.”
Had the Bulldogs defeated Hastings, they would have advanced to play Morningside in another elimination contest. As Concordia departed from Sioux City, Morningside and Hastings were battling for the right to play in the GPAC Championship Series.