Pulling into campus in the wee hours of the morning is commonplace for the Hillsdale College baseball team.
This past weekend, the Chargers returned from Tennessee at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday with a season-opening split against Saginaw Valley under their belts.
“Everybody is pretty positive,” senior pitcher Phil Carey said. “We hoped for better than a split, obviously, but being our first weekend outside, we played well.”
After rain delayed the series on Saturday, the two teams met at TVA Credit Union Ballpark in Johnson City, Tennessee, on Sunday, where the Cardinals took game one, 16 – 9.
Saginaw opened up a 7 – 2 lead over the first three innings, but the Chargers fought back to take a 9 – 7 lead by the end of the fifth. That was the end of the scoring for the Chargers, however, as the Cardinals plated nine runs over the next four frames, including four in each of the eighth and ninth innings.
Junior infielders captain Colin Hites and Colin Boerst and sophomore outfielder Dante Toppi all drove in two runs in the effort, while sophomore infielder Jacob Depillo added one RBI of his own.
Senior pitcher and captain Will Kruse opened the season on the mound for Hillsdale, allowing seven runs — only three earned — on eight hits in 3 2/3 innings of work. Freshman Sawyer Allen made his Charger debut next, hurling four innings and allowing five runs, four of which were earned.
The Chargers bounced back in game two — which started on Sunday but was finished on Monday morning, due to darkness — winning 8 – 7.
“You have to rebound the way you rebound from anything that doesn’t turn out in your favor — you just move on. You learn from it and move on,” head coach Eric Theisen said. “It was a new game.”
Toppi opened the scoring with a three-run home run in the second, the first of his Charger career. Boerst drove in another run in the inning, giving Hillsdale an early 4 – 0 lead.
Saginaw took the lead with five runs in the top of the fourth, starting a back-and-forth which brought the Chargers to a one-run deficit entering the bottom of the seventh and final frame. After a walk by Boerst and a single by redshirt freshman Rob Zurawski left runners on first and second, sophomore Jake Rhodes stepped to the plate for a two-out pinch-hit at bat. A walk-off double to left later, the Chargers poured onto the field victorious.
“Coach told me I would be hitting in the fifth spot coming up, so I knew if it got to me it would be an important at bat because that would mean we had guys on and a chance to win the game,” Rhodes said. “He trusted me with the opportunity and I just wanted to step up for my teammates. I just really wanted to get that hit and get us started on the winning track.”
Game three of the series belonged to senior starter Phil Carey, who struck out four in a seven-inning complete game, leading Hillsdale to a 5 – 2 win. Carey said while his go-to changeup was not working well, he was able to locate his fastball, which gave his defense a chance to make plays.
“It was a big confidence booster. To get the first one out of the way like that and get the season started on a good note, that’s pretty big for me and I hope to carry that momentum to next weekend,” Carey said. “What really won the game, though, was the defense. Every single game this weekend they showed up and they backed everybody. I give them full credit for that game.”
The Chargers never trailed in the game after scoring three runs in the top of the first. Boerst, senior captain Ryan O’Hearn, and juniors Dylan Lottinville and Steven Ring all drove in a run in the win, which brought the Chargers to 2 – 1 on the season.
Hillsdale spent all of game four trailing after a four-run second from the Cardinals opened the scoring. Despite the early deficit, the Chargers stayed in the game, only trailing 5 – 4 at the end of the fifth. Unfortunately for the Chargers, this was how the game ended, when Boerst was left on third after a leadoff double in the seventh.
“I’m excited about the passion this team plays with and the belief that we’re never out of a game,” Theisen told the team in an email after the series. “We’ve begun to utilize our depth and versatility and that will continue. I’m excited about the identity we’re starting to create for ourselves.”
Freshman David Toth threw a solid 1 2/3 innings in relief before battling some control issues in the fifth, when Toppi came in to finish the game. The two combined to hold Saginaw scoreless over their three innings out of the bullpen.
“We asked a lot of David Toth for his first day of college baseball…and he did a great job,” Theisen said. “And Toppi being able to come in straight from the outfield — he’s just a gamer. He just gets it done.”
Theisen also highlighted senior infielder Alex Walts — who had a huge weekend at the plate, going 7 for 13 on the weekend, while also filling in behind the plate some — and junior pitcher Jonathan Lapshan, who picked up two very important outs in the game two victory.
This weekend, the Chargers head to Evansville, Indiana to play one game against each of Missouri S&T, Southern Indiana, Grand Valley St., and Rockhurst, four teams which bring strong squads into the 2018 season.
“We’re ready. We’re kind of chomping at the bit,” Carey said. “We’re going to see some of the best teams in the region this season and we’re eager to prove ourselves against them. As coach always says, ‘We’re not going to fear them. We’re going to be the team that other teams are afraid of.’”