This past week, the Hillsdale College baseball team went 4-2 against two of the top pitching staffs in the GLIAC.
After taking all four games from the Findlay Oilers over the weekend, the Chargers dropped two games to the Wayne State Warriors on Wednesday, moving them to 8-10 in GLIAC play.
Game one against the Warriors — who are ranked No. 3 in the Midwest region, according to D2BaseballNews.com — was a heartbreaker for the Chargers. After Wayne St. opened up scoring with two runs in the bottom of the first, the Chargers replied with five runs over the next three innings, including a three-run home run from senior Ethan Wiskur — his fourth of the week — and an RBI single from sophomore Colin Boerst. This gave the Chargers a 5-2 lead, which they carried into the bottom of the sixth inning.
Wayne St. stormed back in the sixth and seventh, pushing one run across in the sixth, before stringing together five hits in the seventh to score three runs and secure the walk-off victory 6-5.
“Those ones are always tough to lose — when you think that you’ve got ‘em, but they slip through the cracks — but you have to get over it and get onto the next one,” head coach Eric Theisen said.
Sophomore Will Kruse started the game, throwing six innings of three-hit ball, in which he allowed three earned runs, while striking out five.
“Will Kruse had an incredible outing on short rest,” Theisen said. “We needed that. That was big.”
The Warriors carried their offensive momentum from game one into game two, scoring five runs in the first two innings.
Hillsdale was able to pull within one run in the top of the sixth, thanks to an RBI single from sophomore Donald Ring in the fifth and RBI singles from sophomore Chris Ackerman and junior Ryan O’Hearn in the sixth.
From this point on, however, the game belonged to the Warriors, who scored eight runs in their final three at bats, sealing a 13-4 victory.
Despite the lopsided final score, Theisen said the game was closer than the scoreboard indicated, given the large first inning and the late explosion from the Warriors. He also commended freshman starter Kolton Rominski for recovering from a tough first inning to get through 5.1 innings.
Theisen said free bases hurt the Chargers, who committed eight errors on the evening.
“We gave a good team too many freebies,” he said. “They’re a regionally ranked team, and we can’t afford to give a team that good freebies and still have a chance to win.”
The Chargers will see Wayne again next Wednesday, when they host the Warriors for a doubleheader to finish out the season series. Theisen said, however, the team’s focus is on the weekend series against Saginaw Valley.
“We have to take care of Saginaw,” he said. “We aren’t going to worry about Wayne St. until the Saginaw series is over. We kind of look at it as two separate series against Wayne.”
The back-to-back losses to the Warriors came on the heels of a tremendous weekend against the Findlay Oilers.
Entering the weekend, the Oilers’ pitching staff had an ERA of 2.92 and had allowed only 14 home runs. After the Chargers blasted 10 home runs in four wins, the Oilers’ team ERA had inflated to 3.90.
“It was huge,” Theisen said. “In college baseball, the regular season is the playoffs to make the postseason. The top six teams make the tournament, and we talk about not necessarily competing with other teams, but with the .500 mark in conference, because every year the sixth place team seems to be around that .500 mark.”
The barrage started in game one. After three hitless Charger innings, sophomore Dylan Lottinville opened the floodgates with a grand slam. O’Hearn and Junior Alex Walts each added two RBIs in the game, while Lottinville drove in one more of his own, bringing the final to 10-2.
“We did a great job the second and third time through the order of making adjustments and learning from our first at bats,” Theisen said.
Lottinville explained what he saw as the key to the Chargers offensive explosion.
“Going into it, we had the mindset of ‘OK, this is statistically the best pitching staff in the conference, so we need to lock in and have tough at bats,’” he said. “And it was just a mentality thing, to make sure that every one of us had really good quality at bats from the beginning of the games.”
As has become routine, Kruse took the ball in game one, setting the pace for the weekend. He threw all seven innings, allowing two runs — one earned — on eight hits while striking out the same, which earned Kruse honorable mention GLIAC Pitcher of the Week honors.
Game two provided no reprieve for the Oilers. In the bottom of the second, Waltz put the Chargers on the board with an RBI single, then O’Hearn drove in two more with a double. Throughout the rest of the game, sophomore Colin Hites tallied two RBIs, while Lottinville, Boerst, and sophomore Donald Ring all drove in one. Ring’s RBI came on a solo home run in the third.
The Charger pitching staff was fantastic in the 9-2 victory. Rominski started the game, hurling 6.1 innings, allowing two earned and striking out five. Senior Joe Chasen and sophomore Josh Leymaster combined to throw the final 2.2 innings, each allowing one hit and no runs.
“Our younger starters are learning, and they’re improving,” Theisen said. “Obviously, consistency is the name of the game, and they’re young, but those guys are learning what it takes to compete and keep the team in the game.”
When the two teams returned to Simpson Field the next day, the Charger bats took three innings to return to life. Findlay took a 3-0 lead in the top of the third, but, starting in the fourth, the Chargers pushed across 11 runs in their final three at bats. Boerst, Ring, Walts, and Wiskur — who earned honorable mention GLIAC Player of the Week honors — all hit home runs in the game, while freshman Dante Toppi drove in two runs and Hites added one RBI of his own.
Jeff Burch started the game, allowing five runs — four earned — over 5.1 innings, while striking out three. Junior Phil Carey finished the effort, allowing two earned over the final 1.2 innings, sealing the 11-7 win.
Lottinville said the performance of the pitching staff on the weekend freed up the offense and allowed for the weekend’s outburst.
“Playing with a lead lets you do so many more things,” he said. “It means even if you put up a zero one inning, nobody has to panic, because you know your guy is going to go out there and shove the next inning.”
With the sweep on the line in game four, seven separate Chargers recorded hits, including two home runs from Wiskur and one from both Boerst and Lottinville on the way to a 9-5 victory. Wiskur and Lottinville each drove in four runs in the effort to punctuate stellar weekends, which included 10 RBIs for Lottinville.
Freshman Andrew Verbrugge started the game for the Chargers, allowing three earned over 6.1 innings. Redshirt freshman Joe Hamrick, sophomore Tanner Sizemore, and Toppi threw the final 2.2 innings, allowing only two unearned runs.
The Chargers have emphasised fostering a desire to compete and in picking up their teammates in recent weeks. Verbrugge said the level of energy in the dugout was important to the team’s success against Findlay.
“As long as we are staying positive in the dugout and cheering each other on, we tend to do better,” he said. “When we get down on ourselves, we tend to slack off in the dugout, and that can really bring down the team. This weekend helped a lot with building our confidence.”
The Chargers will host the Saginaw Valley Cardinals this weekend, for doubleheaders on both Friday and Saturday, before hosting Wayne St. for a doubleheader next Wednesday.
“[Saginaw] has started to play better as of late, after a slow start,” Theisen said. “There are no easy conference games.”