FREMONT, Neb. – The lowest-seeded team in Fremont busted up the Midland Bracket on the opening day of the 2015 GPAC softball tournament on Wednesday. The Concordia University softball squad got a pair of wins from freshman pitcher Michaela Woodward on the way to upsets of host and second-seeded Midland, 8-4, and sixth-seeded Nebraska Wesleyan, 6-1.
Second-year head coach Todd LaVelle has now guided Bulldog teams to a 7-2 conference tournament record over the past two seasons. Seventh-seeded Concordia (25-20) is on a mission to recapture the magic from 2014 when it won five-straight GPAC elimination games to lock up the program’s first-ever bid to the national tournament.
“We told our girls that everybody’s 0-0,” LaVelle said. “This started a new season. I guess the biggest thing is that our girls believed in themselves. We’ve told them all year that they’re good and they can play to anybody’s level. They just played relaxed and they believed.”
Woodward fired all 14 innings in defeating teams the Bulldogs went a combined 0-4 against during the regular season. The righty from Cortland, Neb., extended her run of scoreless innings to 14 by blanking Midland through the first five frames. Over her two complete games, Woodward allowed five runs (all earned) on 11 hits and eight walks to go along with six strikeouts.
The Prairie Wolves managed only two hits off the hard-throwing rookie, who admitted she was tired after her strenuous but jubilant day in the circle.
“I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty tired,” Woodward said. “It was a lot hotter than normal.
“I don’t really know (what the key has been). The light switch kind of flipped on. Things are working better. Things are moving.”
Concordia upset the tournament’s No. 2 seed with an impressive offensive display that knocked Midland ace Sammy Hislop out of the game after 4.1 innings. Jordana Goncalves, Shelby Schacher and Julia Tyree collected two hits apiece as part of a nine-hit team total. Schacher generated the game’s first tallies with a two-run double off the right center wall in the top of the fourth that seemed to settle the Bulldogs in for the day.
Tyree, one of the GPAC’s top hitters this season, went 3-for-5 for the day and powdered a two-run, fifth-inning triple off the right field fence to extend the Concordia lead to 5-0 over the Warriors. An inning later MaKenna Tracy delivered a pinch-hit two-run single that put the Bulldogs on the brink of an eight-run rule victory. Midland avoided being run-ruled by scoring three in the bottom of the sixth.
Concordia did not wait as long to jump on top of the Prairie Wolves in a 5 p.m. start. A bases-loaded Becca Walker ground out put the Bulldogs up 1-0 in the top of the second against pitcher Marisa Garver. They struck for three more runs in the third courtesy of RBI singles from Woodward, Molly Madsen and Palmer Bosanko.
Woodward took it from there in another dominant effort in the circle. Now the Bulldogs are in the driver’s seat to make it to Saturday’s GPAC championship series at a site to be determined.
“Our confidence is really high,” Woodward said. “If we come out and play like we did today, we’ll do the same thing. Hopefully we’ll win and make it to Saturday.”
As a sign of Concordia’s ability to surface in big moments, the Bulldog defense went error free in the opening contest and routinely snuffed out potential rallies with solid play around the diamond. A bizarre 4-3-5 double play initiated by a diving Tyree at second was crucial in maintaining the lead in the win over Midland.
“We didn’t ever have that great big inning, but we just chipped away and kept going,” LaVelle said. “And we played great defense. Courtnay Serve and Palmer Bosanko both come in and played lights out even though they may not have gotten a lot of reps this year.
“The girls knew they could do this all year.”
The Bulldogs will try to keep the momentum going on Thursday. They will play an opponent to be determined at 2 p.m. in Fremont. One win will clinch a spot in Saturday’s conference championship series.