Freshman pitcher Andrew Verbrugge allowed three runs ­­­— two earned — over six innings of work on Friday. (Photo: Matt Kendrick / Hillsdale Collegian)

As the Hillsdale College baseball team fights for a spot in the GLIAC tournament, the cliche of “every game counts” couldn’t ring more true.

The Chargers split a doubleheader with the Wayne State Warriors on Wednesday, after taking three of four from the Saginaw Valley Cardinals over the weekend. This brings Hillsdale to 12-12 in GLIAC play, which lands them at sixth place in the conference.

Game one on Wednesday started with three Warrior runs in the top of the first, but a two-RBI triple from senior Ethan Wiskur and an RBI ground out from sophomore Michael Mitchell tied the game in the bottom half of the inning.

The Chargers opened the floodgates in the bottom of the second inning, scoring nine runs thanks to home runs from junior Alex Walts and sophomore Dylan Lottinville, and a three-RBI triple from sophomore Colin Boerst. Sophomore Donald Ring also added an RBI. A sacrifice fly from Walts gave Hillsdale another run in the third, before Wiskur crushed a two-run home run in the bottom of the fifth. Two Warrior runs in the top of the sixth brought the score to the 15-5 final.

After allowing three earned runs in the first inning, junior Will Kruse settled in, throwing four more innings of scoreless ball, while recording seven total strikeouts. Freshman Josh Stella tossed the final two innings of the game, allowing two earned.

After a weather delay, game two was eventually called after 6 1/2 innings, due to darkness, with the Chargers trailing 14-6. The current understanding of the GLIAC bylaws seems to indicate that the game will revert back to the final completed inning, which would give the Warriors an 11-6 victory. This result should be confirmed by the GLIAC office in the following days. 

In the game, the Chargers opened a 5-1 lead over the first two innings, with RBIs from Ring, junior Ryan O’Hearn, sophomore Colin Hites, and Boerst.

Starting in the top of the fourth, however, the Warriors plated multiple runs in each remaining inning, pushing the score to 14-6, with the final Charger RBI coming from Mitchell.

Freshman Kolton Rominski started the game for the Chargers, throwing 4.2 innings of five run — three earned — ball.

Head coach Eric Theisen shared his post-game text message to his team with The Collegian.

“Fellas, Thinking about it a bit more, I believe that the inconsistent focus and results are an indicator of some immaturity, which can be expected some with as young of a squad as we have,” he wrote. “All of you except the freshmen have been around for the playoffs and know how fun they can be. It’s time we start looking at ourselves as a veteran team instead of a young one. Let’s step it up and lock it in and get that tourney bid.”  

The split came on the heels of a 3-1 weekend against the Saginaw Valley Cardinals.

In game one on Friday, Hillsdale took a 3-0 lead with one run in the first, fourth, and fifth innings on RBI singles from Mitchell, Walts, and Hites, respectively. Saginaw Valley responded with one in the top of the fifth.

In the bottom of the sixth, the Chargers pushed the lead to 7-1, thanks to a two-RBI single from Hites and an RBI single from Ring, who is second in the GLIAC in RBIs, behind only Boerst.

Freshman starter Jeff Burch was fantastic in the effort, allowing four runs — three earned — over six innings of work, on his was to honorable mention GLIAC Pitcher of the Week honors.

“It means a lot to be able to go out there and throw strikes for the team,” Burch said. “I knew that my guys would pick me up no matter what. My changeup was really rolling over, and the infield was great, and so I knew my guys had me. It was great to be able to get the W.”

Freshman Dante Toppi came on midway through the seventh, recording the final three outs, while allowing one earned run, squashing a Cardinal rally and sealing the 7-5 Charger victory.

“When I turned around and saw [Toppi] running in, I knew we were going to win,” Burch said. “There was no doubt in my mind that that game was ours.”

Game two on the day was another tight one. The Chargers opened the scoring in the bottom of the third on a three-run Wiskur home run. A solo shot by Ring in the fifth added one more for the Chargers before Saginaw Valley scored two in the top of the sixth. Hillsdale responded with an RBI single from Boerst in the bottom of the inning — then the Cardinals added two more in the top of the seventh.

The final Charger run came on an RBI single from Hites in the seventh, bringing the score to 6-4. Saginaw Valley hit a solo home run in the ninth, but Hillsdale was able to shut them down after that, taking the game 6-5.

Two freshmen hurled the game for the Chargers. Andrew Verbrugge started the game, throwing six innings of four-hit ball, in which he allowed three runs — two earned. Josh Stella took over for the last three innings, allowing two earned runs on as many hits.

“Our freshmen continue to get better on the mound. Those guys continue to learn and improve,” Theisen said. 

The first game on Saturday was the only game the Chargers dropped in the series. Saginaw was able to turn eleven hits, two Charger errors, and seven free passes into 14 runs to top the Chargers 14-8.

Boerst had three RBIs in the game, while Ring and Mitchell had two. Walts and Lottinville each drove in one of their own. Ring and Lottinville both homered in the effort.

The final game of the series was one to remember, with a combined 39 hits and 36 runs culminating in a 19-17 Charger victory.

“You have to love [games like that],” junior Ryan O’Hearn said. “We play this game to be competitive, and that was one of the most competitive games I have ever played in.”

The biggest inning of the day came in the bottom of the fourth, when the Chargers scored 10 runs on eight hits and two Cardinal errors. This gave the Chargers a 12-3 lead.

“I remember telling our guys at the time, ‘This game is far from over,’” Theisen said. “A high-scoring game is kind of expected when both teams are on their sixth game in four games and the wind is blowing out 10 to 15 miles per hour.”

Saginaw Valley proved Theisen correct, scoring 12 runs over the next two innings. The Chargers added five of their own over the next three, to push the score to 17-15 in their favor.

The Cardinals tied the game in the top of the ninth, setting the stage for Boerst, who blasted a two-run walkoff home run in bottom of the ninth to send the Chargers home victorious.

The game winner was Boerst’s third home run of the game, which brought him to eight RBIs on the day, earning him honorable mention GLIAC Hitter of the Week honors.

Wiskur and Lottinville also homered in the effort, recording two and four RBIs on the game, respectively. Hites and O’hearn each also drove in one.

The game was the Chargers’ sixth game in four days, which meant a bit of patchwork was required on the mound to accommodate a well-worked pitching staff. Theisen praised junior starter Phil Carey for stepping into an uncommon role and giving the Chargers a chance to win with five innings of work. He also noted the importance of the Chargers playing an error-free game, despite the high volume of balls put in play.

“A lot of things came together in that last win, which was really important, as far as the tiebreaker goes,” Theisen said. “We had guys step up and do a good job all around. Wins like that are definitely team victories.”

The Chargers will host the fourth place Grand Valley Lakers for a doubleheader on Saturday, before heading to Allendale on Sunday for two more against the Lakers.