At 3 a.m. on Monday, most students were either fast sleeping or regretting a weekend full of procrastination. The Hillsdale College baseball team, however, was only just returning to campus.
The Chargers were returning from Lebanon, Illinois, where they split doubleheaders with the McKendree University Bearcats on both Saturday and Sunday.
Perhaps the biggest storyline of the weekend was sophomore catcher Donald Ring, who was awarded GLIAC Player of the Week on Monday. Ring earned the honor by blasting four home runs, driving in nine runs, and slugging 1.400 while going 7-for-15.
“It’s always nice to be acknowledged for playing well, and it’s cool to get Player of the Week, but for me, I wish we could’ve won all four games, to be honest,” Ring said. “That is always more important.”
Ring said the adage of the “ball looking like a beachball” certainly felt true to him, but it was mostly nice to see the whole offense start to come around.
Of the four games on the weekend, only one was determined by more than two runs. Head coach Eric Theisen said it was good for his team to experience such a closely-fought weekend so early in the season, especially on the cusp of conference play.
“We had some guys step up,” Theisen said. “We’re still trying to figure out some spots, and guys are getting some more at bats and some more experience, and we’ve got another week, week and a half … leading into conference play, and I think it’s perfect timing.”
Despite the high points, Theisen said he believes his team wanted more out of the weekend.
“To be honest, I think our guys are unsatisfied,” he said. “They, along with us, feel like we should have won more than two, but a lot of that was just taking care of the baseball and making good decisions — things that a young team learns and sometimes has to learn through making those mistakes themselves.”
In game one, the Bearcats opened up the scoring in the bottom of the second with two runs. The Chargers responded with a three-run homer from Ring. McKendree regained the lead with three runs in the bottom of the seventh, before Ring tied the game in the top of eighth by sending yet another ball over the fence. McKendree, however, hit a two-run shot of their own in the bottom half, before holding the Chargers in the ninth to seal the 7-5 victory.
Freshman Jeff Burch started the game for the Chargers, allowing five-earned over 6.1 innings. Junior Phil Carey came on in relief, allowing two earned over 1.2 innings.
Game two on Saturday was all Hillsdale, with the Chargers scoring in five of their seven frames to come away with a 13-3 win. Nine different Chargers had a hit in the effort. Senior DH Ethan Wiskur put two over the fence — driving in four — while Ring added his third homer of the weekend. Junior second baseman Alex Walts and sophomore third baseman Colin Boerst both drove in two runs, and five other Chargers added one RBI.
“Our confidence is definitely up from the last two weekends,” Walts said. “Our offense just keeps getting better and better, and our offensive confidence has gotten a lot better.”
Junior captain Will Kruse struck out eight over six innings, in which he allowed only three earned. Redshirt freshman Joe Hamrick tossed the final frame, allowing only one hit.
“Our starting pitching has been outstanding, and our pitching has kind of been keeping us together,” Theisen said.
The first game on Sunday saw the Chargers fall behind early, yielding three total runs in the first two innings. After scoring one run in the third and allowing one in the fourth, the Chargers tied the game in the sixth on a Ring double and a two-run home run from junior left fielder Jake Rhodes. That would be it for the Chargers, however, and McKendree would add on three more to take the game 7-4.
Freshman Andrew Verbrugge started the game, allowing three earned — four in total — in as many innings. Senior Joe Chasen finished the game, allowing three unearned runs in three innings of work.
The Chargers were hurt by four errors in the game, with only three of seven Bearcat runs earned.
“It can be hard to overcome, sometimes, when you’re digging yourself a hole with the freebies,” Theisen said. “We chart for the freebie-war, and when we win the freebie-war, we’ve got a good chance to win the game, but it’s hard to beat an opponent and yourself.”
The final game of the series was a tight one. After McKendree claimed the first four runs in the first three innings, the Chargers responded with three in the top of the fifth thanks to a two-RBI single from Boerst and an RBI single from Walts.
After a Bearcat run in the bottom half of the inning made it 5-3, Ring cranked a solo-shot before sophomore centerfielder Michael Mitchell tied the game with an infield RBI-single. In the top of the eighth, with the score tied 5-5, Mitchell knocked a two-RBI double and Boerst added a sacrifice fly, giving them both three RBIs on the game, and giving the Chargers an 8-5 lead. The Bearcats added one in each of the eighth and ninth, but the Chargers left them stranded on first and third to close out the game 8-7.
Junior Matt Young started the game, allowing four runs — three earned — over 3.2 innings. Freshman Josh Stella allowed two earned in 3.1 innings, before freshman Dante Toppi came in to notch his first collegiate save, allowing one unearned in two innings of work.
“I like to say that ‘the earlier in the season that you can have come-from-behind victory, the better,” Theisen said. “It was good to get that out of the way before conference play, that was you know you can do it.”
The Chargers will have a four-game set against the Senators of Davis and Elkins College and a single game against the Siena Heights Saints over spring break, before opening conference play against the Tiffin Dragons on March 18.