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GPAC champs go down fighting in gut wrencher

GPAC champs go down fighting in gut wrencher
Courtesy/Concordia Athletics.

HUTCHINSON, Kan. – The Concordia University baseball program is coming in hot. The 2017 team has been eliminated from the opening round of the national championship, but it gave Hutchinson Bracket host and 13th-ranked Tabor College everything it could handle in Tuesday’s late night affair. The Bulldogs saw a one-run, ninth-inning lead slip away in a heartbreaker that ended with a 12-11 final score.

Afterwards, third-year head coach Ryan Dupic gathered his team and expressed his gratitude for 15 seniors who have helped transform a program that went 16-30 overall in 2014. Champions of the GPAC regular season, Concordia (34-22) is setting a new standard for what its baseball program can achieve.

“This is far and away the most I’ve ever turned over a team,” Dupic told his players in the postgame. “I turned it over to you boys and you ran away with it … We gave absolutely everything that we had and I’m very, very thankful for everyone here.”

It took everything the Bulldogs had to muster a rally after they got down 10-5 at the end of six innings. Magic happened with two outs in the top of the seventh. Concordia loaded the bases with two outs, setting the stage for a Wade Council two-run single and then a Jake Adams bullet base hit to left to bring home another. Nic Seaman followed that up by striking out the side in the bottom of the seventh. It was on.

The eighth was zany. Concordia scored three times despite only one hit in the frame. Three separate wild pitches brought home Casey Berg, Jonny May and Jason Galeano. Suddenly the Bulldogs were in a position to protect an 11-10 lead. Seaman escaped trouble in the bottom of the eighth when shortstop Logan Ryan made a fine play ranging to his left and then firing to first to put an end to a bases loaded threat.

Concordia failed to tack on in the ninth, leaving Seaman to again trot out to the mound with a one-run advantage. After the leadoff hitter grounded out, three-straight singles and then a fielder’s choice tied the game. With two outs, Jacob Jones played the role of hero for the Bluejays. He laced a single to right that chased Kyle James to the plate and sent the first base dugout into a state of euphoria.

Dejection was the emotion felt on the other side. It was the kind of game that tugged at the heartstrings of anyone with a dog in the fight on Tuesday night. Fight is exactly what the Bulldogs did – until the bitter end.

“It was a very competitive game,” Dupic said. “It is so hard to lose a game like that, and at the same time, it’s hard for me to be anything other than proud and thankful at the fight shown by every member of the team. Their ability to continue to battle through tough situations is something that I hope they will take with them forever. So many players had big hits and key plays. I’m proud of all of them.”

Things looked bleak when Tabor (43-16) began taking advantage of the consistent 20 mile-per-hour winds that blew straight out to center field at Hobart-Detter Field. Colton Flax belted a three-run homer off Concordia starter Nick Little in the fourth. In that same inning, Joel Frias greeted reliever Jake Fosgett with a two-run bomb. Then in the sixth, Braxton Byfield connected for another two-run blast.

The Bulldogs got a long ball of their own when Jason Galeano went deep over the left center field wall in the fifth. Concordia trailed 7-5 at the time in a game that was just on the verge of getting crazy.

All season, the Bulldogs took on the toughness, courage and leadership shown by Dupic, the GPAC coach of the year. On Tuesday, Concordia grinded to the finish while Tabor pounded out 22 hits. The Bulldogs countered by taking six walks and six hit-by-pitches. Christian Meza (3-for-4), Adams (2-for-5) and Berg (2-for-4) each had multiple hits for the Bulldogs.

Berg and the rest of the seniors spent several minutes after the game exchanging hugs with teammates and coaches. They leave behind a legacy in establishing a winning culture that’s built to last.

Said Dupic, “The seniors will hold a special place in Concordia history. They will forever be the first GPAC champions, the first national qualifiers and the first to win a national tournament game. Those tangible things are great accomplishments. What is an even greater accomplishment is the role they’ve played in changing the culture and making Concordia baseball a family. Those things carry on and the players that come after them are the recipients of that. I will be forever grateful for them.”

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