SIOUX CITY, Iowa – For the second time in program history, and for the first time since 2007, the Concordia University softball team has earned the distinction of GPAC tournament champion. The seventh-seeded Bulldogs completed their Cinderella run on Saturday by toppling five-time GPAC tournament defending champion and fifth-seeded Morningside in Sioux City, Iowa.
In a new tournament alignment for this season, the final two teams in the bracket were paired in a best-of-three series. Head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad needed only the minimum two games, winning by scores of 7-3 and 6-5 on Saturday. After an up-and-down regular season, Concordia (28-21) blazed through the conference bracket with a 5-1 postseason mark.
“Obviously it feels tremendous. Again, I’m so proud of these girls,” LaVelle said. “I told them at the end that I can go way back to the Nebraska Wesleyan doubleheader (April 15). We knew we didn’t play well. After the game we started about 9 o’clock and we practiced. Before that practice I drew a line in the sand to see who was all in. They all went all in.”
The definition of a workhorse, freshman Michaela Woodward covered all 39.2 GPAC tournament innings in the circle for the Bulldogs. Not only that, Woodward unloaded on a Faith Schmidt offering for a no doubter of a three-run homer in the top of the third in game 2 that edged Concordia in front, 4-3.
She then denied the Mustangs each time they threatened to regain the lead over the final four frames of the championship-deciding contest. Woodward left a runner in scoring position in both the fifth and sixth innings by fanning a Mustang to thwart the threat. Then in the seventh, Morningside cut a three-run deficit (6-3) down to one with Kristina Neumann’s two-run double that hit the left-center fence.
A theme all season, nothing was going to come easy. With Neumann at second, Woodward coaxed McKenzie Anderson into a grounder to third baseman Autumn Owens, who lasered a throw across the diamond for the final out. Finally, it was time to exhale.
“It was a great feeling, especially to sweep them on their home field,” Schacher said. “They play here all the time so they’re used to it. It was a great feeling.”
Up against a smoldering hot Mustang team that allowed just seven combined runs in its first five postseason contests, Concordia’s bats rapped out 13 game 1 hits and chased Schmidt, Morningside’s ace, from the affair after 2.1 innings pitched. Freshman catcher Shelby Schacher powered a solo home run in the opener as part of her 3-for-8 day out of the cleanup spot.
One of three freshmen starters on Saturday, Schacher was at ease in the biggest games of her young collegiate career. The mix of young and old has come together at the right time.
“They grew up,” LaVelle said. “All tournament long we started four freshmen, two sophomores, a junior and two seniors. They jelled together and Woodward pitched well. She also trusted her defense. We had some tremendous plays. They hit the ball hard and Autumn Owens made some tremendous plays at third and so did Becca Walker at short and Courtnay serve at second.
“I’m happy for them. They deserve it.”
The Bulldogs opened up a 7-2 lead in the opening game by way of a four-run fourth-inning. RBI hits were collected by Schacher, senior Molly Madsen and Owens (two-run single). While the game seemed to have little flow, Concordia didn’t mind and Woodward consistently worked out of jams.
“Michaela Woodward is a stud,” Schacher said. “Her and I have built a pretty nice bond over this year. As a freshman she’s done a great job.”
At the plate, Woodward went 4-for-8 with three RBIs on the day. Five different Bulldogs notched two or more hits in the day’s first contest: Owens (3-for-4, two RBIs), Regan Doiel (2-for-4, RBI), Molly Madsen (2-for-4, run, RBI), Schacher (2-for-4, two runs, two RBIs) and MaKenna Tracy (2-for-4, one run, one RBI).
Woodward (19-11) is now tied for the fourth-most single-season wins in program history. She has equaled the 19 wins posted by ace pitcher Amanda Beeson in 2014.
Concordia will be sent to one of the 10 opening round sites for pool play at the 2015 national tournament. Four teams are assigned to each site with the 10 winners advancing to play at the 2015 NAIA World Series in Sioux City, Iowa, May 22-28.
The NAIA will announce opening round pairings on Tuesday (May 5). But for now, Concordia is celebrating a run that not many outside the program would have predicted.
“They’re going to celebrate as long as they want. They deserve it,” LaVelle said. “It’s been a whirlwind week. We told them they couldn’t celebrate. Now they can. We’ll go back to work next week. A lot of these girls had experience last year and I think they want to go down there and not only represent Concordia, but represent the GPAC well, and try to win some games.”