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At mid-April crossroads, Concordia softball team rebounds to reach nationals again

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The Concordia softball team is usually about six blocks from the site of its next game when the music in the team vans abruptly stops.

Then out pours “Don’t Stop Believin’ ” by Journey and every Bulldog starts singing along.

“It’s kind of a tradition of mine,’’ coach Todd LaVelle said. “We have to listen before we get out of the van to take the field. It’s kind of a team motto.’’

That message was never more important than this season when the Bulldogs seemed ready to crumble under the weight of high expectations. They went 32-16 last year and made it to the national tournament for the first time and had been picked to finish second in the Great Plains Athletic Conference this spring.

Matching that postseason success didn’t appear likely after they were swept 5-4 and 11-2 by Nebraska Wesleyan on April 15, dropping their record to 19-16.

Afterward, LaVelle challenged his team, drawing a line on the field and asking, “Who is in and who is out?”

Every player on the team crossed the line, and went through one of the toughest practices of the season. Never mind that it was 9 p.m.

“That showed our coaching staff and I that the team was willing to do whatever it takes,’’ LaVelle said. “They never gave up and believed in us and believed in themselves that they could do it.”

Three weeks later, Concordia is celebrating another trip to the NAIA national tournament.

The Bulldogs (28-21, 10-10) earned it by fighting through the GPAC tournament, claiming first place and the automatic bid to Monday’s opening round. They had been seeded seventh.

“I always knew we had the talent,” LaVelle said. “We started anywhere from three to four freshmen. It was about getting them experience this year and having them gel as a team. We just had to come together as a team.”

The Bulldogs’ batting average has jumped to .310, and they’ve been getting timely run-scoring hits down the stretch. Errors that had been a problem earlier this season shrank to two while going 5-1 in the tournament.

Pitcher Michaela Woodward (19-11, 4.54 ERA) had a great tournament, LaVelle said. The freshman from Norris, who is hitting .386, had to carry the load after injuries to a few of her teammates. Second baseman Julia Tyree is hitting .415.

LaVelle, a second-year coach, said he’s learned a lot from this team.

“We pushed really hard at the beginning of the year. I just put a lot of pressure on them,” he said. “Once I sat back and let them play the game and find their own identity as a team, that’s when they really started to gel.

“They definitely have a lot of talent. They have a lot of heart. They never once gave up.”

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