(Photo: Hillsdale College Ath­letics)

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.”