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Topilís walk-off blast clinches spot in national championship opening round

May 04, 2014
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Story by Jake Knabel, Concordia Sports Information

HASTINGS, Neb. – Awestruck by their own improbable run, members of the Concordia (Neb.) softball team hugged and some even cried out of sheer joy. Amber Topil, her mind floating somewhere in another stratosphere, could not seem to comprehend what just occurred.

It was Topil’s two-run homer that lifted the Bulldogs to an exhilarating 10-8 walk-off win over Midland to close a long Friday that included three win-or-go-home victories at the 2014 GPAC softball championships. Ultimately, Topil’s heroics clinched a spot in the 40-team 2014 NAIA Softball National Championship Opening Round and a place in Saturday’s GPAC title affair with Morningside (12 p.m.).

“I got like 1,800 hugs,” Topil said. “I just didn’t even know what was going on. I don’t know how I didn’t cry.

“We have an unbelievably close group. This was an unreal team win. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of this team.”

Concordia looked like a wounded animal left for dead after falling 9-1 in a run-rule loss to Midland in the first game of the GPAC championships on Thursday. In the double-elimination format, the Bulldogs had their work cut out for them if they wanted to achieve their goal of reaching the national tournament.

“There are a lot of teams that would have went 0-2,” LaVelle said. “We could have just gone home but it goes back to Arizona when we laid out our goals. You can’t tell these girls they’re not good enough. They just go out and do it. They’re a special group.”

Having lost three times already this season to the Warriors and their ace pitcher Sammy Hislop, Concordia was once again in trouble after falling behind 7-2 at the end of two innings. Two-run singles by both Shelby Morose and Diana Mendoza in the third got the Bulldogs within a run.
Topil also came up big in the bottom of the sixth with an RBI double that made it a one-run game once again. Concordia then tied the score at 8-8 with the benefit of an error in that same frame.

Amanda Beeson relieved Julia Tyree in the circle and threw the final 3.1 innings to get the win. Despite a heavy workload this weekend, Beeson threw smoke and held the Warriors scoreless over the sixth, seventh and eighth innings.

Beeson’s work helped set the stage for perhaps the biggest hit in the history of Bulldog softball. With two outs and Becca Walker running at first, Topil drilled the first offering she saw from Hislop over the center field fence. Jubilation and heartache surfaced all at once in a classic moment not duplicated outside the realm of sport.

“The thing is I don’t really ever hit home runs,” Topil said. “I knew it was a well hit ball. Then I forgot what to do. (Assistant coach) Linnea (Detrick) had to tell me to run the bases.”

Before Concordia could think about a rematch with Midland, it had to navigate elimination games against Hastings (24-22) and Dakota Wesleyan (22-18) – both teams with the same hopes as the Bulldogs. Concordia used a masterful seven-inning complete game from Beeson (eight strikeouts) to top the Broncos for the third time this season. Topil went 2-for-3 with a run.

After finding itself down 7-6 in the middle of the fourth against Dakota Wesleyan, Topil singled in the tying and go-ahead runs in the bottom of the fourth to put the Bulldogs in front for good. Julia Tyree took it from there in the circle. She retired the side in order in the seventh to give the Bulldogs win No. 30.

Now with 31 wins on the season, the 2014 Bulldogs (31-13) have tied the 2008 team for the fourth most single-season wins in program history. The record is 36 held by the 2005 squad.

“Their pitcher throws hard and Amber just stayed back and crushed it,” LaVelle said of the walk-off homer. “What a way to get your first home run of the year. I’m happy for her and happy for all our seniors.

“There were a lot of tears shed. It was a happy emotion.”

Topil went 6-for-10 with four RBIs, four runs and two game-winning hits on the day. Tyree also stayed hot at the plate. She went a combined 5-for-11 in Friday’s three games.

As an 11-team league, the GPAC gets two automatic bids into the national championship opening round. Morningside locked up the first by winning the regular-season title. Concordia is guaranteed the other bid via either the tournament title or tournament runner up finish. Since the Mustangs have yet to lose this weekend, the Bulldogs will need to win twice on Saturday to earn the tournament championship.