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The Hillsdale College softball team opened its season in Florida last weekend. The team went 3-2, overcoming Catawba, Trevecca Nazarene, and West Chester. (Photo: Sarah Klopfer / Courtesy)

The Hillsdale College softball team was down to its last out in the bottom of the seventh inning against Catawba on Saturday, and on the 11th pitch of her at-bat, freshman pitcher Erin Gordon struck out. But the Chargers still won the game.

“We had two outs, [Shelby Sprouse] on first, Cassie Asselta got hit by a pitch, then we brought Erin Gordon up to pinch-hit. She had an 11-pitch at-bat,” head coach Joe Abraham said. “On the 11th pitch, she swung and missed for strike three, but the pitch hit the dirt.”

After the dropped third strike, Gordon ran for first, while Catawba first baseman Kaylee Cook jogged to home plate, thinking the game was over. Though Gordon was tagged, the ball fell out of the first baseman’s glove, leaving Gordon safe at first and the bases loaded. Senior outfielder Bekah Kastning’s linedrive triple scored all three runners on base, giving the Chargers a 3-2 victory — their first at that weekend’s Leadoff Classic Tournament in Clearwater, Florida.

“It was one of those times in our game where you say, ‘Okay, now I’ve seen everything,’” Abraham said.

Prior to the Catawba game, Hillsdale had lost 6-2 to Texas A&M University-Commerce and 3-0 against California University of Pennsylvania. Assistant coach Riley Johnson said the last-minute rally against Catawba carried over into the next two games the team played.

“Coming together and pulling off that team win really set the tone for the rest of the weekend,” she said.

In the next game, the Chargers gained a five-inning 9-1 victory over Trevecca Nazarene. Kastning went 3-for-4, scoring two runs and hitting a double. Senior catcher Cassie Asselta went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs. Junior first baseman Haley Lawrence and sophomore second baseman Amanda Marra both doubled, and freshman outfielder Victoria Addis had a hit, a run scored, and an RBI.

The winning streak continued on Sunday, when Hillsdale answered West Chester’s early 2-0 lead with five runs of their own in the bottom of the third. Marra started the rally with a double that brought Kastning around to home plate. Addis knocked a two-run single with the bases loaded, and sophomore third baseman Jessica Taylor drew a bases-loaded walk. Junior third baseman Kelsey Gockman also got an RBI, and Asselta scored two runs. Kastning had her fourth multi-hit game of the weekend, going 2-for-4 with a triple and a run scored.

Both Gordon and freshman pitcher Dana Weidinger saw their first collegiate wins from the mound this weekend. Weidinger, who went 2-1 during the tournament, was named GLIAC Pitcher of the Week. Over the course of the weekend, she had a 13-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and a 1.33 ERA. 

Kastning, whose .526 batting average earned her a spot on the all-tournament team, said she was pleased with the team’s performance last weekend.

“Since our team is so young, I wasn’t sure how the weekend was going to go, and I was very happy with the outcome,” she said. “I was really proud of our team and how we came together after losing the first two games and bounced back to win the next three.”

The softball team lost three starters at the end of the season last year, including the two pitchers. Their 26-12 overall record last season earned them a spot in the prestigious Leadoff Classic.

“For us to go 3-2 against five teams that all made the NCAA postseason last year, with a roster that includes 10 of our 18 players having never played a day of college softball, it was a fantastic trip,” Abraham said, noting the strong pitching and defensive performances this weekend.

Next, the Chargers will compete in a tournament at Southern Indiana University on Feb. 25 and 26, and in Clermont, Florida over spring break before their first in-conference game against Findlay on March 25.

Before then, the Chargers will be practicing outdoors as much as possible. The renovated softball stadium is expected to be completed at the end of March, according to Abraham.

“We’re just looking to constantly get better,” Abraham said. “It’s hard to put into words how difficult it is for players to go from being in a less-than-ideal indoor practice facility to playing games outdoors against top teams from around the country, and our players really came through.”