Concordia captures NAIA World Series

Eagles baseball team, seeded ninth out of 10 teams in tournament, defies odds to win program's first national crown.

June 04, 2011|By Joe Haakenson, Special to the Pilot
  • Matt Ivanoff connects on a pitch in Corcordia's 7-5 victory over Oklahoma Baptist in the elimination bracket of the NAIA World Series.
Matt Ivanoff connects on a pitch in Corcordia's…

And then there was one.

The Concordia University baseball team, quite possibly the most unlikely of champions, defied the odds and became just that — champions — winning the Avista-NAIA World Series held in Lewiston, Idaho.

The Eagles, seeded No. 9 in the 10-team World Series, went 5-1 in the double-elimination tournament, taking home the school's first national crown in baseball, culminating with their 9-3 victory over Lubbock Christian (Texas) in Friday's winner-take-all title game.

"It's an unbelievable feeling right now, I'm still a little numb," Concordia head coach Mike Grahovac said Saturday as he and his team prepared to board a plane for the flight home.

Senior center fielder Matt Ivanoff hit .417 (10-for-24) with seven runs scored and eight RBIs in the Series, played stellar defense, and was named the Series Most Valuable Player.


"It hasn't sunk in yet," Ivanoff said. "I still can't believe it. It's going to take a couple days."

The Eagles thrived in the underdog role, which wasn't necessarily unwarranted. They finished in fourth place in the Golden State Athletic Conference regular season, and were left out of the NAIA Coaches Top 25 rankings throughout the eight voting polls from November, 2010 to May, 2011.

"We loved being the underdog," Grahovac said. "We used it to our advantage to get motivated and show everyone what we could do."

"We were one of those teams that didn't get credit we deserved all year," said outfielder Ryan Sheeks, who homered in each of the Eagles' first two Series games. "To be able to prove everybody wrong, game after game, was a lot of fun."

Concordia was just 18-16 on April 4, before turning around its season in what seemed like an instant. The Eagles reeled off 12 consecutive wins, and finished the season with a school-record in victories, going 43-19 by winning 25 of their final 28 games.

They were a remarkable 12-1 mark in the post-season, which includes the GSAC Tournament, the NAIA opening round bracket and the World Series. Their only loss in the post-season came to Embry-Riddle (Fla.), which entered the World Series as the No. 1 seed.

"We had a meeting after that one game (when Concordia fell to 18-16) and one of the coaches just said, 'You know what? We have to win,' " Sheeks said. "Everybody knew what they needed to do to get where we needed to be."

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