SIOUX CENTER, Iowa | The GPAC Baseball Tournament has a different look.
For the first time in program history the Dordt baseball team will be playing in it. The Defenders finished the regular season with a 14-14 mark in conference play and will face Morningside in Fremont, Nebraska Thursday at 3 p.m. to begin the double-elimination tournament. It is a season the Dordt upperclassmen have been building to.
“A lot of them started as freshman so they got to go through the battles of the GPAC and now they are being rewarded for their hard work,” Dordt Coach Jeff Schouten said. “I am just really happy for all of them and everyone that is involved with the program.”
The Defenders’ recipe for success sounds simple enough.
“We may have gotten really good pitching but then another area maybe not quite at the same level and vice-versa, but this year we have been pretty consistent across the board with pitching, defense and hitting,” Schouten said. “I think the fact that we do have a lot of upperclassmen helped as well where they understand the demands of the college season.”
Schouten said he has seen his team build its success but it was in the fall that he felt this team could come together to have a strong season. A tough early schedule that included four games with Sterling (Kan.) as well as a challenging spring break trip to Tucson, Arizona prepared the Defenders for the GPAC.
Not surprisingly, a big reason for the team's success has been strong starting pitching. Senior Connor Hopkins leads the Defenders with six victories
"(Connor) is our all-time leader in strikeouts here and he was pitcher of the week in the conference a few weeks ago," Schouten said. "He has done an outstanding job this year but also in previous seasons."
Hopkins has 70 strikeouts in 60.2 innings this season to go along with a 2.82 ERA. Hopkins is averaging a GPAC-best 10.4 strikeouts per game and leads the way in opponent batting average at .221.
Junior Brandon Fokkema leads the Defenders with a 2.05 ERA and has a 5-2 record on the season. His ERA is the best among GPAC pitchers.
“He has a 16-inning scoreless streak going and has just really done a good job of using his strengths to get batters out,” Schouten said.
Offensively, Cameron Gingerich, a four-year starter at shortstop and is Dordt’s all-time hits leader, is batting .396 with a team-leading 32 RBIs while junior outfielder Colton VanOtterloo is hitting .355 and is tied with Gingerich with 55 hits on the season to pace Dordt. He leads the team with 41 RBIs and nine home runs. Taylor Neuroth, a Sioux City West grad, and Zach Fowler are the other regulars hitting above .300 on the season.
Morningside finished tied with Midland with an 18-10 mark in the GPAC but missed out on hosting one of the two four-team pods because of tiebreakers.
The Mustangs took three of four games from the Defenders this season and are led by hitting machine Jacob Lamoreux who is batting .382 on the season with 66 hits and 53 runs scored. Nate DeChaine has a team-high 12 home runs for the Mustangs and has driven in 56 runs.
The winner between Dordt and Moringside will play the winner of Midland and Dakota Wesleyan on Friday in the double-elimination event.
Briar Cliff had to go down to its final game of the season but earned its way in and is the eighth seed taking on conference champ Concordia in its opener at 6 p.m. on Thursday. The Chargers went 2-2 against the Bulldogs this season.
Jacob Hom leads BCU with a .335 batting average, hits with 53 and RBIs with 29.
The GPAC tourney concludes Tuesday with the winners of each bracket facing off.