As the Hillsdale College baseball teams continues to improve year by year, offseason scrimmages and workouts have become an important part of the team’s success.
After facing Albion and Kalamazoo colleges in exhibition doubleheaders last weekend, the Chargers are preparing for their annual Fall Classic and Prairie Challenge.
Head coach Eric Theisen said fall exhibition games are about getting players reps and mixing guys into game-like situation, rather than final results, since so many of the substitution rules are relaxed.
“They are good opportunities to find out what we have depth-wise,” he said. “It also gives us an opportunity to let our older guys step back and do a little teaching.”
Several Chargers sat out of the weekend’s friendlies, either due to injury, or to give younger players more innings.
“It gives younger guys and more experienced guys a chance to start to make some runs at some roles,” Theisen said. “Some guys did a really good job, and some guys were a little inconsistent, were really good one day and maybe a little poor the next, and some guys struggled a little bit, and we know we have to get those guys more opportunities.”
Last season, Hillsdale proved itself capable of coming from behind to win games. Last weekend, Hillsdale failed to score first in any of their games. Theisen said one of the biggest motifs of the fall season has been starting games on a stronger foot.
“It has become too normal to start slow and then come from behind,” he said. “It’s almost like we don’t play our best until our backs are against the wall. One of the good things about finding that out the last couple of years is that we play really, really well with our backs against the wall…instead of folding. That has become a major strength of ours, but the next step is to not get our backs on the wall.”
Senior pitcher Will Kruse, the ace of the staff last year, said this comes down to a team-wide mindset.
“As a team, it’s just understanding the importance of every at bat, every pitch, and every game,” he said.
There were some notable performances on the weekend. Sophomore Jacob DePillo racked up a double-digit hit total in the four games, including a home run.
“That guy went off,” Theisen said. “I think he only swung and missed at two balls out of the zone all weekend … he was definitely our offensive player of the week.”
Junior Chris Ackerman sent two balls of his own out of the ballpark.
With the exhibitions behind them, the Chargers now turn their attention to their two major fall competitions: The Fall Classic and The Prairie Challenge.
The Fall Classic will take place on Sunday, Monday, and Tuesday. The seniors on the team will split up and draft two teams, which will compete head-to-head in a three-game series.
“Guys will get in uniform, we’ve got umpires coming out, and for all intents and purposes it is a three nine-inning game series, and those guys have bragging rights,” Theisen said.
Runs scored in the series will go towards The Prairie Challenge, the second major event of the coming week, where the same teams will face-off in a series of mentally and physically demanding challenges.
“The Prairie Challenge really brings the guys together,” Kruse said. “It puts a really tough cap on the ball, but also a really good cap.”
For the newest members of the team, the coming weekend brings both anticipation and uncertainty.
“I am really excited, but I don’t know exactly what to expect yet,” freshman Chris Iazzetta said. “They haven’t told everything that will be a part of it, but I know it’s another opportunity to prove my position.”
This season, strong fall preparation is especially important, as the Chargers prepare for an tough nonconference schedule, which Theisen said the team put together on purpose, as they seek a place in the NCAA tournament.
“This year is full of challenges,” Theisen said. “In order to get to that level, we have to beat those teams. And guess what, for those teams to get to that level, they’re going to have to beat us, and that isn’t going to be easy.”