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GPAC baseball tourney kicks off today in Mitchell

In its last 10 Great Plains Athletic Conference baseball games, Dakota Wesleyan University has won eight.

DWU set itself up to be the fifth seed in the conference tournament, which begins today and concludes Saturday in Mitchell. The Tigers hope to use their recent success and fan support to do well in the annual GPAC tournament.

“We’re excited and ready to go,” DWU sophomore second baseman and Alexandria native Cole Wenande said. “There are a lot of people looking forward to watching us play at home.”

The Tigers (24-22, 10-10 GPAC) begin their quest to a championship against No. 4 seed Morningside College at noon today at Cadwell Park. The tournament, which begins at 9 a.m., is a double-elimination format and will be played at both Drake Field and Cadwell Park.

“Morningside is going to be tough,” DWU coach Steve Gust said. “They’ve got a lot of things going for them and are well-rounded. This time of year is all about executing and playing clean baseball. If we do that, I think we’ll have a chance to win every game we play. If we don’t, we could be 0-2.”

All teams will play a second game today regardless of a win or loss in the first round.

During the regular season, the Tigers split with the Mustangs (25-23, 11-9 GPAC) in a doubleheader in Mitchell. Morningside edged DWU 9-8 in the opener, before DWU shut out the Mustangs in the finale 4-0.

Gust, whose team went 2-2 in the tournament last year, said the key to advancing in the tournament is pitching and defense. He said sophomore Wes Snyder and senior Kyle Larson will each get a start today, but he didn’t know who will pitch which game.

“Those guys have pitched well all season and they’ll give us a chance to win both of them,” Gust said.

Snyder has a 1.32 earned run average and a 2-3 record in his starts, while recording 25 strikeouts. Larson has posted a 5-0 record with a 1.71 ERA, which ranks third in the GPAC. Larson also has 35 strikeouts.

Offensively, freshman Ben Spitznagel leads DWU and is 10th in the GPAC with a batting average of .377. He also leads the conference with 23 stolen bases.

The last time DWU hosted the GPAC tournament was in 2010. DWU associate athletic director Jon Hart, who is helping direct the event, said a lot of work goes into hosting the tournament.

“All 40 of our coaches will be working over these three days and there will be athletes, community members and sponsors helping as well,” Hart said. “It’s a good event for Mitchell because we are bringing in seven teams that will be investing in the community.”

Doane is the top seed and finished a perfect 20-0 in conference play — marking the first time in GPAC history a team went undefeated in the regular season. With an impressive regular season, Doane won the regular-season conference title and earned the GPAC’s first automatic bid to the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round.

The winner of the GPAC tournament will earn the conference’s second bid. If Doane wins the GPAC tournament, the runner-up will secure the second automatic bid. NAIA baseball has awards two automatic bids for every 10 teams in a conference.

GPAC tournament first-round schedule

Today’s pairings

At Cadwell Park

9 a.m.: No. 1 Doane vs. No. 8 Briar Cliff

Noon: No. 4 Morningside vs. No. 5 Dakota Wesleyan

At Drake Field

9 a.m.: No. 2 Northwestern vs. No. 7 Mount Marty

Noon: No. 3 Midland vs. No. 6 Hastings

*All teams will play a second game today after the first round. Second round games are at 4 and 7 p.m. and will be played on both fields.

Brooke Cersosimo
Brooke Cersosimo is The Daily Republic's sports editor.