For the first time in any of their careers, the members of the Hillsdale College baseball team slept in their own beds before opening day, after rain in Tennessee and record highs in the Midwest moved last weekend’s games from Hendersonville, Tennessee, to Adrian, Michigan.
Under clear blue skies, the Chargers met the Alderson-Broaddus Battlers for a four-game set, splitting Saturday’s games — 0-5, 8-4 — before the Battlers took two from Hillsdale on Sunday — 5-15, 5-6.
For a very young Hillsdale team, the opening weekend was an opportunity to gain game experience.
“We’re so inexperienced that it was good to get guys game time, get guys at-bats and innings on the mound,” head coach Eric Theisen said. “It’s a process for us to figure out what combinations we’re working with, so it was good to start to see that live.”
Both Theisen and junior captain Ryan O’Hearn said they were impressed by the team’s base running and the performances of the team’s freshmen, both on the mound and at the plate.
Although it was the team’s first series of the season, there was no easing in. The Battlers returned most of last year’s team, which went 31-21, on its way to the regionals of the NCAA tournament.
“It was kind of a tough test for us, off the bat,” Theisen said.
The first game of the weekend saw the Battlers top the Chargers 5-0.
In a series highlighted by solid Hillsdale starting pitching, junior captain Will Kruse kicked things off, allowing three earned over five innings, while striking out a career high seven batters. Senior Joe Chasen took the ball from Kruse, allowing two earned on three hits over his two innings.
The Chargers lone win on the weekend came in Saturday’s nightcap, 8-4.
Freshman Kolton Rominski was fantastic in his first-collegiate start, allowing only one earned, over 4 1/3 innings of work.
After the Battlers tied the game with three runs in the top half of the fifth, the Chargers took the lead for good with four runs of their own in the bottom half of the frame.
Six different Chargers logged hits in the game, including the first-collegiate hits for sophomore Dylan Lottinville, and freshmen Brendan Oosee, Jake Rhodes, and Rob Zurawski.
Sophomores Alex Walts and Chris Ackerman both drove in two runs in the affair, while Oosee drove in one of his own.
Rominski was rewarded for his efforts on Monday, when he was awarded GLIAC Pitcher of the Week Honorable Mention. He said it was an honor to receive the award in his first collegiate weekend, but also credited his team and the coaching staff for calling a great game.
Sophomore Colin Boerst joined Rominski, receiving a GLIAC Player of the Week Honorable Mention, after going 5-for-14 on the week, with two doubles and three RBIs.
“It’s good for the team to see that we are up there with everybody else,” Theisen said. “We’ve got guys that are up in the top-five in the conference in major categories. Although it’s one weekend in, so it doesn’t say a whole lot, it’s good to be there.”
The Chargers returned to Nicolay Field on Sunday, where they opened up scoring in the bottom of the third with four runs. After gaining one back in the top of the fourth, the Battlers strung together six hits and three Charger errors to plate 10 runs in the top of the fifth — a lead that proved too much for Hillsdale to overcome.
One bright point of the game came when O’Hearn, crashing into the centerfield wall, robbed a Battler homerun.
Both Theisen and assistant coach Michael O’Sullivan agreed it was one of the best catches they have ever seen.
“That was amazing,” Theisen said. “I couldn’t believe it when he raised his glove.”
Four separate Chargers had a hit in the effort, while Boerst and sophomore catcher Steven Ring drove in two runs, as O’Hearn drove in one more.
The bookend of the series proved to be the closest, with Alderson-Broaddus coming out on top 6-5.
After both teams plated one in the first, the Battlers pushed two across in the top of the second, before the Chargers returned fire with three of their own in the bottom half. The Battlers took a 6-4 lead with three runs in the top of the fourth, and a seventh-inning comeback effort from the Chargers fell short, after they were only able to score one of two needed in the final frame.
Freshman pitching was once again fantastic in the effort. Andrew Verbrugge took the ball first, tossing four frames, while allowing six runs, although only three were earned. Fellow freshman Dante Toppi relieved Verbrugge, throwing three innings of no-hit ball, allowing only one walk.
Six Chargers had hits in the game, including two from both Boerst and Walts. Waltz also tacked on two RBIs, while Boerst and sophomore captain Colin Hites each drove in one.
Despite two losses on Sunday, the Chargers were able to glean the good from the weekend.
“Nobody likes being swept on the day, but the overall feelings on the weekend were still, ‘We had fun and enjoyed ourselves,’” junior Phil Carey said. “We also know, though, that we could have done better and so it’s back to business this week.”
Theisen said the Chargers will spend a good part of the week sharpening their defense before they travel to Louisville, Kentucky, for a three-game set with the Bellarmine University Knights.
“We are going to see a good Bellarmine team. They are going to have some high-velocity arms, they will have some guys that swing the bat,” Theisen said. “They are going to have some talent, but we just have to go out there and keep improving.”