Many students traded in Michigan weather for warmth and sunshine over break, including the Hillsdale College softball team, which took advantage of the warm weather in Clermont, Florida, to play 14 games. Head coach Joe Abraham said the games gave a young team some much-needed experience before heading into conference play.
With nearly half of the lineup being freshmen, Abraham said the team’s 10 – 13 record shows a perseverance against worthy opponents, which bodes well for the rest of the season.
The series of games began on a high note with a 3 – 2 victory over University of Minnesota Duluth, a team that is 16 – 8 on the season. After getting three runs in the first two innings, including a home run from freshman shortstop Sam Catron, the Chargers held the lead for the remainder of the game. Freshman pitcher Dana Weidinger shut out Duluth over the final six innings, striking out eight batters while allowing only four hits and a walk. Senior outfielder Bekah Kastning scored one run, and junior third baseman Kelsey Gockman’s single scored sophomore second baseman Amanda Marra.
Catron’s home run, the first of her collegiate career, was a theme repeated throughout the course of the week for many of the freshman players.
“A lot of people had their first hits,” freshman catcher Sydney San Juan said. “That was really cool to watch.”
The Chargers’ next set of wins came on Saturday, when they mercied University Saint Francis 14 – 4 and Saint Ambrose University 12 – 4 in respective six-inning and five-inning games. Over the course of the day, the team turned its 27 hits into 26 runs.
In game one against St. Ambrose, San Juan went 2-for-2 with two runs and two RBIs. Freshman outfielder Victoria Addis went 3-for-3, with all hits producing a run. Kastning doubled twice, scoring once, and driving in two more runs.
In game two, Kastning continued her hitting streak with her third four-hit game of her career, scoring four runs. Over the course of the day, she reached base seven times in eight at-bats. Senior catcher Cassie Asselta had a career-high 5 RBIs in game two, and sophomore outfielder Katie Kish scored three runs and had four hits, another career high. Marra also scored twice.
In the circle, Weidinger won game one, and freshman pitcher Erin Gordon got the win in game two in relief.
The next two games proved difficult for the Chargers, which senior pitcher Kyra Rodi said was due to a combination of tough opponents and off-days for the batting lineup.
“We definitely had ups and downs, but I think our team dynamic really grew,” Rodi said. “There were games where we made too many mental mistakes, where if we had been sharper, we would have won,” Rodi said. “We just need to think through the game, and as the season goes on, I think that will get better.”
San Juan agreed, citing the losses as a valuable experience.
“Coach is very optimistic about our losses, just because we have a young team,” San Juan said. “Just being down there playing against the good competition was a good experience.”
The team’s next victories weren’t until Thursday, when they played Concordia University-St. Paul and Viterbo University.
The team came back from a deficit early in the game and headed into the fifth inning tied 4 – 4. The Chargers answered a Concordia run with one of their own in the sixth inning when San Juan’s single brought in junior first baseman Haley Lawrence’s run. Asselta broke the tie in the bottom of the seventh with a walkoff single, bringing in Gockman for a 9 – 8 victory. Over the course of the game, Gockman scored three times, and Lawrence scored twice.
“We just kept hitting every inning and caught up,” Abraham said. “That was a big win for us.”
The winning streak continued against Viterbo with a 6 – 2 victory — freshman pitcher Alexis Newby’s first win on the mound. The Chargers took an early 3 – 0 lead in the first three innings, and answered Vitterbo’s two runs with three of their own in the bottom of the fourth.
On Friday, the team took an 8 – 1 loss to Slippery Rock University and a five-inning 12 – 1 loss to Bemidji State University. Abraham said the team will continue to work on its defense.
“For us to continue to improve, we need to clean up some areas of our defense — we’re giving away too many runs,” he said. “Just a lot of little things add up. We’re working on getting our outfielders better reads off the bat, we’re working on pitcher defense, we have to work on our defense taking outs whenever we can get them. It’s all those things combined.”
The Chargers’ final win of the week was against Dominican College, with three of the runs from the team’s 6 – 2 victory coming from Addis. Abraham said that after the opening victory against Minnesota Duluth, this was the team’s strongest game overall.
“Those are the two games we played the best: good pitching, timely hitting, and solid defense all the way throughout,” he said.
The team closed out their pre-conference play with a close 5 – 4 loss in a second game against Concordia, which was tied until Concordia scored twice in the final two innings of the game.
They ended their time in Florida 6 – 8, and an overall 10 – 13 record heading into conference play. They will open with home games against University of Findlay at 3 p.m. on Friday, and will play an additional two home games against Tiffin University on Sunday at noon.
Abraham said beginning conference play nearly halfway through the team’s season bodes well for the team in terms of experience.
“It has been great to play 23 games before the league starts,” Abraham said. “Now that we’re in the middle of the season, we have a pretty good feel for the lineup and the things we need to work on.”
Rodi agreed, saying the experience provided by the Florida games helped point out areas of improvement for the team.
“I think we’re all excited to get back to work and improve the things we need to improve, but we’re all thankful we got the chance to go to Florida and play so much,” she said.