SEWARD, Neb. – Nailbiters have become the norm for the Concordia University softball team. On Saturday afternoon the Bulldogs split a GPAC doubleheader for the third-time this season while hosting their 2016 home opener. Sophomore Michaela Woodward’s walk-off RBI single put away a pesky Briar Cliff team by a count of 5-4 in a nine-inning affair in game 1. The visiting Chargers then took game 2, 6-3.
Third-year head coach Todd LaVelle’s squad has already played three extra-inning contests since GPAC action began on March 28. Concordia, which has received votes in the national poll each of the last two weeks, now stands at 18-7 overall and 3-3 in league play.
“I thought Michaela Woodward finished the game extremely well,” LaVelle said of the game 1 performance. “I came out there and she thought I was going to take her out. She really wanted to finish it and showed a lot of heart.
“With us being in a lot of close games this year I think the girls had the confidence to get that one done. We were probably lucky in some aspects to get that win.”
The Bulldogs persevered after letting a 3-0 lead slip through their fingers in Saturday’s opener. With Concordia trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh, center fielder Megan Ruppert singled and then stole second. Nicole Dobernecker followed by guiding a base hit through the left side of the infield to send Ruppert to the plate for the game-tying run.
Also the game 1 starting pitcher, Woodward stranded the bases loaded in the eighth inning and then navigated a scoreless ninth after allowing a leadoff single. Then in the bottom half, Autumn Owens got things going with a base hit to center. Maddie Fousek pinch ran and swiped second to set the stage for Woodward’s game-winning groundball single through the middle of the infield.
Woodward (7-2) limited the damage to four runs despite surrendering 10 hits and six walks. The Chargers (10-14, 1-3 GPAC) got a run apiece in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings but were doomed by the 13 runners they left on base. They spoiled three-hit games by both Katlin Briley (3-for-5) and Amy Anderson (3-for-3).
Concordia dug itself too big of a hole in game 2. Briar Cliff scored at least once in each of the first four innings while building a 6-0 advantage. Ashley Del Alto played a starring role for the Chargers. She went 2-for-3 with a trio of RBIs.
The Bulldogs settled in behind relief pitcher Amanda Wygant, who retired the final 10 hitters she faced. Concordia got back into the game with a three-run fifth inning. Wygant singled in a run, Kylie Harpst tripled in another and Julia Tyree drove in the final Bulldog run with a base hit to left. The Bulldogs then went quiet over the final two innings as Ciara Dotzler fired a complete game for Briar Cliff.
Wygant served as a bright spot in the game 2 loss.
“They came out and hit Kylie hard,” LaVelle said. “If you’re in the game of softball long enough you understand that you’re not always going to have your ‘A’ game. Kylie knew she didn’t have her good stuff today. That gave Amanda a chance. After she got settled in, I think she did an amazing job. We now have another pitcher we can throw in the mix down the road.”
Owens enjoyed the best offensive day for Concordia. She went a combined 4-for-7 with a pair of runs batted in. Ruppert and Woodward also collected two hits in game 1.
The Bulldogs return to Plum Creek Park on Tuesday when they welcome Hastings (22-10, 0-4 GPAC) to Seward. First pitch is set for 5 p.m.