Every season is a process, and every young team will have its growing pains. This weekend, the Hillsdale College baseball team experienced the harsh side of both of these realities.
On Saturday, the Chargers met the Bellarmine Knights in Louisville, Kentucky, where they dropped both ends of a doubleheader, 6 – 5, 7 – 1. On Sunday, the Knights completed the weekend sweep, coming away with a 10 – 0 victory over the Chargers, dropping the Chargers to 1 – 6 overall.
Coming out of the weekend, the message from head coach Eric Theisen was clear: it’s time to return to the fundamentals.
“We did expect some growing pains,” Theisen said. “It’s a learning process, but we just have to learn a little quicker.”
In the series opener, both teams plated a run in the first, with the Charger run coming on an RBI single from senior Ethan Wiskur, who returned to the lineup in a DH capacity this weekend after missing the team’s first weekend of play due to a broken hand — an injury he sustained in the last Charger football game of the season.
Hillsdale pushed two across in the top of fifth, before the Knights responded with four in the bottom half. A two-run home run from sophomore catcher Steven Ring tied the game in the sixth, but the Knights secured a walk-off win in the bottom of the eighth.
Junior captain Will Kruse took the ball in the game, blanking the Knights in frames two through four, before exiting the game after 4 1/3, having allowed five runs — four earned — while striking out seven. Freshman Jeff Burch took over for Kruse, tossing three innings of two-hit ball, allowing only one unearned run.
Theisen said the team’s pitching was solid throughout the weekend, but added that they still need to work on raising their effective pitch counts.
Five Chargers had a hit in the game, while sophomore shortstop Colin Boerst added two RBIs.
In game two, the Chargers scored one in the top of the first on a leadoff home run from Boerst, but failed to push another across for the rest of the game. The Knights were scoreless until the third, where they exploded for five runs. Senior Joe Chasen and redshirt-freshman Joe Hamrick combined for 3 1/3 innings of relief, allowing one earned.
Junior second baseman Alex Walts and sophomore Christian Rodino each had one knock in the affair, and Ring added three hits of his own, on his way to receiving a GLIAC Hitter of the Week honorable mention.
“It was good to see (Ring) have some good at bats. He had the two-run home run in the first game to tie it, which was huge.” Kruse said. “CB, Colin Boerst, has been hitting the ball well. As guys get more ABs, we should start putting together more runs, which will be a plus.”
When the two teams returned to play on Sunday, all of the scoring went Bellarmine’s way. Despite only out hitting the Chargers 11 – 8, the Knights were able to use timely hitting and three Charger errors to coast to a 10 – 0 win. Of the 10 Bellarmine runs in the game, only five were earned.
“Obviously it doesn’t feel good to lose, and especially to get swept,” junior captain Ryan O’Hearn said. “We know we’re a better team than we are playing like right now, and so that’s the frustrating part. But we trust ourselves, and we know we can come back around, because we know the potential that we have, and we know how we can play this game.
After 10 Hillsdale errors on the weekend, the Chargers plan to start at the base and work their way up, to be sure they are taking care of the little things.
“We’re going to practice playing catch,” Theisen said. “I’ve always said that playing catch is to baseball as skating is to hockey…I read on the way home that ‘greatness is in the dirt.’ We’ve got to get back to that foundation — to the dirty work.”
O’Hearn said the team started Tuesday’s practice working on footwork on throws, fielding exercises, and simple pitchers’ fielding practice.
One interesting parallel is between this year’s squad and the early years of the class of 2017. A parallel which makes Theisen call this year’s team a “flashback.”
“This is familiar. It’s three years ago familiar, but it is,” he said. “There is no question that we’re very talented right now, but talent can only go so far.”
Theisen said the team will also focus on its general preparedness heading into games, so they can arrive to the field ready to focus only on the game.
“We’re playing like a young team and playing anxious,” he said. “Part of the reason for that is that we’re not freeing ourselves up enough with our preparation to only worry about the game.”
The Chargers will look to rebound this weekend, when they travel to Lebanon, Illinois, to face the McKendree University Bearcats in a four-game set. The veteran Bearcats will also enter the weekend of play with a 1 – 6 record. Theisen said his team is up for the test of a bounce back.
“They’re not happy. We’re not happy and they’re not happy,” he said of his players and the coaching staff. “They know we have some work to do, but there is no doubt that they’re up for it. And it’s not only them that has to get back to the basics — it’s us in the office too…it’s back to the dirty work all around — making sure that we have clear standards and expectations.”