As the MLB season gets underway, teams around the GLIAC enter the heart of conference play, vying for a position in the GLIAC tournament.
This weekend, the Hillsdale College baseball team hosted the second place Northwood Timberwolves for a four-game set at Simpson Field, picking up a win in game one before dropping the back three.
The 1-3 weekend moves the Chargers to 4-8 in conference play and 11-16 overall, landing them in the 10th spot in the conference to this point.
“Overall, I thought we faced some pretty good pitching, and did a pretty good job of piecing together some runs in some of those games,” head coach Eric Theisen said.
Players and coaches alike agreed that it was nice to finally play at home after spending nearly two months on the road.
“We were definitely getting tired traveling all of the time,” sophomore Michael Mitchell said. “It was nice to just be at home in front of our crowd and sleep in our own bed, instead of staying in a hotel.
In the home opener, Charger fans were treated to a back-and-forth nailbiter, which Hillsdale eventually took 8-7.
Hillsdale responded to one Northwood run in the top first with two of their own in the bottom of the inning on RBI singles from both Mitchell — who earned honorable mention GLIAC Hitter of the week honors — and freshman Dante Toppi.
Northwood pushed four across over the next two innings, but then the Hillsdale offense exploded. Over the third and fourth innings, senior Ethan Wiskur and sophomores Colin Boerst and Dylan Lottinville all hit home runs, giving Hillsdale an 8-5 lead.
Junior captain Will Kruse started the game for the Chargers, throwing 5.1 innings and allowing seven runs — five earned — on 10 hits, while striking out five.
Junior Phil Carey — who earned honorable mention GLIAC Pitcher of the Week honors — came on with one out in the top of the sixth and a man on third. Carey recorded the final five outs of the game without allowing a run, sealing the 8-7 Charger victory and recording his first save on the season.
The Chargers ran into an absolute buzzsaw in game two on Saturday, dropping the game 15-1. The lone Hillsdale run came on a homerun from sophomore catcher Donald Ring in the bottom of the first inning.
Five different Chargers took the bump in the game. Senior Joe Chasen and freshman Josh Stella threw hitless eighth and ninth innings, respectively.
“In that game they were just better than us, with great hitting and pitching” Mitchell said. “But it’s a great experience to play a team like that.”
Game one on Sunday was dominated by Northwood junior starter Tyler Jandron. Jandron, who has already earned a GLIAC Pitcher of the Week award, tossed all seven innings, allowing one unearned run on one hit — from junior second baseman Alex Walts — while striking out nine on the way to an 8-1 Northwood victory. Boerst had the lone RBI in the game.
Freshman Jeff Burch started the game for the Chargers, allowing four runs — two earned — over 4.2 innings, while striking out five. Chasen came on in relief, allowing four runs — one earned — over 2.1 innings.
“Jeff Burch did a good job of giving us a chance to win in game three, but their guy was just really good,” Theisen said. “He is one of the top three guys in the conference in strikeouts. He was a tough arm. It’s hard to win when you don’t score.”
After the Timberwolves dominated the middle games, the Chargers fought back to make the finale interesting.
After the top of the fourth, Northwood led 5-0. In the bottom of the inning, Ring blasted his team-leading eighth home run, bringing the game to 5-1. After the Timberwolves matched the solo shot in the top of the fifth, Boerst hit his fifth home run of the season, bringing in three and pulling the Chargers to 6-4.
Northwood pushed the lead to 7-4 in the sixth, but Mitchell got the run back in the bottom of the inning with an RBI single. The Chargers held Northwood in the seventh, eighth, and ninth, but were only able to push across one of the two runs needed to tie the game in the same innings, stranding four men on base over the span.
Carey was called on to throw four innings in relief, in which he limited the Timberwolves to one earned run on one hit, while striking out four. Toppi threw a perfect ninth inning.
“Phil Carey came in and did a good job throwing more pitches than we’ve asked him to this year,” Theisen said. “He did a good job of giving us a chance to win, and we just kind of ran out of outs.”
Coming out of the weekend, both Carey and Thiesen mentioned the importance of starting games at a high level of intensity.
“We don’t really start many games off super excited and in every pitch. The first couple of innings can be kind of quiet in the dugout,” Carey said. “I think once we get that going and always bring the same intensity that we bring to the ninth inning, then I think we will start seeing some pretty big success.”
Hillsdale will stay home this weekend to continue conference play, hosting a Findlay University Oilers (16-7, 7-5 GLIAC) team which Theisen said could bring the toughest pitching Hillsdale will face in GLIAC play. The two teams will meet for doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday, starting at 1 p.m. and noon, respectively.
With 20 conference games remaining, each and every one will prove important, and Theisen said it’s time for the team to dig deep and make a run for a sport in the conference tournament.
“We have to get back to the middle of the pack as fast as we can,” he said. “We can do it. There is no question that we can do it, we just have to be sure that we win the games that we should win and then maybe scratch out a few that are close that, number wise, maybe we shouldn’t.”