CRETE, Neb. – Taylor Huff pounded out four more hits, Megan Ruppert homered for the first time in her career and the Concordia University softball team narrowly missed on a chance at a road doubleheader sweep of defending GPAC regular-season champion Doane (12-7, 1-1 GPAC). Instead, the defending GPAC tournament champion Bulldogs settled for a split after giving back a late 1-0 lead in a 2-1, eight-inning loss in Crete on Wednesday. In the second game, Concordia rebounded with a 5-3 victory.
Following two GPAC road trips, third-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad sits at 17-6 overall and 2-2 in conference action. Both league losses have been suffered in eight-inning affairs.
“I tip my hat to Doane. They’re a really good program,” LaVelle said. “They were voted preseason No. 1 in the conference. We knew this would be a good challenge for us. Overall I thought we competed really hard. We played tense a little bit in the first game. They didn’t dwell on it. We got in positions with runners on in the second game and did a lot better scoring them. Defensively we played well.”
Huff played big in game 2, going 3-for-4 with an RBI single as part of the two-run fifth inning. Concordia never trailed in the capper after Diana Mendoza doubled home Leah Kalkwarf in the second. The Bulldogs added on with an Autumn Owens RBI single in the third prior to Ruppert’s homer leading off the fifth and Julia Tyree’s run-scoring single in the sixth.
Junior Kylie Harpst, the pitcher of record in both games, made sure there were fewer tense moments in the late innings of game 2. She completed a 1-2-3 bottom of the seventh to close out her sixth complete game of the season. Harpst (9-4) allowed just a single earned run on five hits and a walk. The win was capped by a sliding grab in center by Ruppert. It was just one of many standout defensive plays on the day by the Bulldogs. Kalkwarf also made a sprawling catch towards the right field line while ranging from her spot at second base.
Sterling defense nearly won the opening contest for Concordia. Sophomore Michaela Woodward struck out just one hitter, meaning she relied upon her teammates to catch seven fly balls and turn nine groundballs into outs. After hitting a batter to begin the fourth, Woodward made amends by starting a 1-6-3 double play in which shortstop Jamie Lefebure delivered a perfect throw to first despite a hard slide into second.
The Tiger bats finally got to Concordia with the tying run on the bottom of the seventh on Makaela Moore’s RBI single to right off of Harpst. Having relieved Woodward two batters earlier, Harpst kept the Bulldogs alive by recording a strikeout and a fly out. Concordia then went scoreless in the eighth and the Tigers capitalized with Taylor Helton’s bases-loaded, walk-off single off of Woodward, who re-entered in the circle.
The Bulldogs couldn’t quite muster enough offense to pull off a sweep in back of hurlers Harpst and Woodward and a strong defensive effort. Harpst and Woodward allowed a total of three earned runs in 14.1 innings on Wednesday. It’s clear they have a good rapport with Huff behind the plate.
“They’re doing unbelievable,” Huff said. “They’re really putting aside the stress and anxiety of being a pitcher. They’re throwing hard and making the ball move more than they ever have before. It’s showing in all of our games.”
The lone Bulldog run of game 1 came in the top of the third when Huff stroked a single to left, chasing Harpst to the plate. Harpst had two of Concordia’s four hits off of Doane ace Ellie Doughty. Three Bulldogs had exactly two hits in game 2: Mendoza (2-for-3), Owens (2-for-4) and Ruppert (2-for-4).
After 21 games on the road to begin 2016, the Bulldogs will finally take the field at Plum Creek Park when Saturday’s action gets underway at 1 p.m. CT. Briar Cliff (9-13, 0-2 GPAC) will serve as the opponent for Concordia’s home-opening doubleheader.