The fall is the offseason for collegiate baseball, but don’t tell that to the men of Hillsdale College baseball.
On Sunday, the Chargers played their annual Halloween game, which capped off an intense fall season which saw exhibitions, scrimmages, and workouts before the sun came up.
The final two weeks of the fall season proved to be the most challenging for the team, with the seniors splitting the squad into two teams to go head-to-head with each other in two major competitions.
First, the teams squared off in the Fall Classic, a series of scrimmages which allowed the teams to accrue points towards the second competition: The Prairie Challenge.
The Prairie Challenge consisted of four days of grueling fitness and endurance challenges. These challenges included everything from “squat until you drop” to team telephone-pole carries. On Friday, the teams concluded the challenge on the football field, completing a series of taxing tests before the sun had even crest.
While the week was challenging, the team came out of it stronger on the other side, senior outfielder Jared Piper said.
“You find out who your leaders are when something like this is really hard,” he said. “We have a super young team, and this was a good way to get them used to what we expect here.”
When Piper says “super young,” he means it. The Chargers graduated 11 seniors off of last-year’s tournament team. A new wave of nine freshmen replaced these graduates, leaving only nine upperclassmen on the roster.
Head coach Eric Theisen — 2016 GLIAC Coach of the Year — said the fall season is a good way to introduce the freshmen to the team, while making every player on the team mentally stronger.
“This gets them to their breaking point, and they learn that they can move past it,” he said. “They learn how to be good teammates when guys are struggling and how to be good teammates when they are struggling. They learn how to be a leader when their team needs a leader.”
The Fall Classic and the Prairie Challenge came on the heels of exhibition games against Siena Heights, Albian, and Kalamazoo. According to Theisen, these games gave the team a chance to see some unfamiliar faces on the mound and in the box.
For the freshmen class, it served as an introduction to collegiate baseball.
“There is a definitely an adjustment getting used to all of the workouts and the intensity of it all,” freshmen pitcher Kolton Rominski said. “Pitching wise, all of your mistakes are that much more magnified. You can’t sneak anything by. Everything you do has to be more precise.”
The fall season ended on a light note Sunday, with the annual Halloween game, where the players faced each other for a final scrimmage, but all decked out in their Halloween costumes. Everything from gnomes to penguins were out patrolling the field and taking cuts.
“It’s our last hurray of the fall,” Piper said. “It’s pretty sweet to come out and be goofy and blow off steam.”
Theisen said he saw his team progress quickly this fall, but that didn’t come as much of a shock.
“I am never surprised when our guys do well. We recruit these guys because they are good, and we know they are good.” he said. “Sometimes the fun part is seeing them realize how good they are.”
As the team of greenhorns heads into its final GLIAC season, Theisen said he is excited to see what the squad will do in 2017, following a 2016 campaign that saw the Chargers reach the national tournament for the first time in history.
“We surprised some people last year,” he said. “We think we can do it again this year.”