With snow still gathered in the shadows of foul-territory of Simpson Field, the Hillsdale College baseball team began its G-MAC era with doubleheader sweeps of both Alderson Broaddus University and Davis & Elkins College this weekend.
“Everybody was excited to play at home,” head coach Eric Theisen said. “We’ve been on the road for four straight weeks… so it was good to break that up. We like playing at home, we like our field, we’re comfortable here, and it was huge to get off on a good foot like that.”
After facing an exceptionally tough nonconference schedule, the Chargers (7 – 13, 4 – 0 G-MAC) took out some tension on the Alderson Broaddus Battlers (3 – 12, 1 – 3 G-MAC) on Saturday. Hillsdale scored the first nine runs of game one, with six different Chargers recording an RBI, including a home run from junior Steven Ring. After the Battlers scored their lone run in the sixth, the Chargers tacked on six more runs — including another home run from Ring and one from freshman James Krick — to bring the game to its 15 – 1 final.
In all, six different Hillsdale players drove in at least one run, while Ring, Krick, sophomore Jake Hoover, and junior Colin Hites all drove in at least two.
“It was good to finally see the offense start rolling,” Theisen said. “We’ve been putting together good at bats and putting good swings on balls for the last few weeks, so it was good to finally see the floodgates open a little bit.”
With substantial offensive backing, senior Will Kruse dominated on the mound, tossing seven innings of four-hit ball, allowing only one earned run and striking out nine. Senior Matt Young finished the effort, striking out one in two innings of scoreless work.
“[Kruse] is our workhorse, our ace, our captain, and you just know what you’re going to get out of him,” Theisen said. “You’re going to get 100 competitive pitches out of him and he is going to do the best he can to give us a chance to win…. He sets the tone for the weekend, and so for him to go deep into game one sets our bullpen up for the weekend.”
The Chargers opened the scoring in game two as well, jumping to a 3 – 1 lead after two innings, thanks to a home run from senior Alex Waltz and a single from Hites.
When a strong outing from senior Phil Carey ended in the sixth — five innings, two runs, one earned, three strikeouts — freshman David Toth entered the game with the bases loaded, nobody out, and the score at 3 – 2. Toth induced a ground ball to Hites at second, who made a strong play to force the runner at the plate. Toth then struck out a batter for the second out and forced a pop out to end the Battler threat.
“Hites made a huge play on that ground ball to cut the guy off at home to get the first out and Toth got a big strikeout for the second out,” Theisen said. “That was probably the biggest inning defensively that we had all weekend.”
After the Chargers tacked on two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth, Toth left three runners stranded again in the seventh to seal the afternoon sweep.
When the Davis & Elkins Senators (4 – 17, 0 – 4 G-MAC) came to Simpson Field on Sunday, they scored the very first run of game one. Eight innings later the Chargers walked off the field with a single-game Hillsdale record 24 runs, thanks to 23 hits spread out over 12 different hitters. Sophomore Dante Toppi and Ring each drove in four runs, while junior Kevin Monson, senior Ryan O’Hearn, and Walts all tacked on two. Eight Chargers drove in one run on the way to a 24 – 13 win. Sophomore Andrew Verbrugge started the game from Hillsdale, allowing four earned runs over 5 1/3 innings while striking out five.
“The offense never let up,” Ring said. “It was cool to see every single guy that got in there compete, get good hits, and play good defense… It’s a team sport and you need every guy doing their part.”
Game two against the Senators took a different pace. Davis & Elkins opened the scoring in the top of the first, but sophomore Kolton Rominski settled in, allowing no more runs and only one hit in his next six innings of work. While Rominski said it was great to provide such a strong performance for the team, he passed most of the credit on.
“[Assistant coach Gordie Theisen] called a great game and gave me a great game plan,” he said. “The defense played really well behind me and so all I had to do was throw strikes and let them hit it to them.”
Although the Chargers were scoreless over the first four innings, a four spot in the fifth on a Ring double and Crick single gave the Chargers the 4 – 1 lead, which would be the final, finishing the second sweep of the weekend.
“I think it’s a good confidence booster to get everybody back on track,” Rominski said. “We played really good teams leading up to conference play and we just needed something to push us over that edge.”
While several Chargers had big weekends, Ring stood out, earning the G-MAC North Division Player of the Week Award. He blasted three home runs — moving into second all-time for career home runs at Hillsdale — drove in nine, and slugged 1.437 on the weekend.
“It’s always an honor to win an award, but I’m just happy we won four games this weekend,” Ring said. “If we went 4 – 0 and I hit .200 I would be just as happy. The most important thing right now for us is to win games and win championships.”
Other Chargers were less humble in talking about Ring’s weekend.
“He was hitting pretty well before that, but in the four weeks before that he had multiple fly balls to the warning track with the wind blowing in,” Rominski said. “He is an All-American, a great player, and it’s awesome for him to be on my team so I don’t have to pitch to him… He is a leader on the team.”
With G-MAC momentum on their side, the Chargers prepare to host the Trevecca Nazarene Trojans (12 – 10, 3 – 1 G-MAC) and the Kentucky Wesleyan Panthers (12 – 9, 2 – 2 G-MAC). Doubleheaders will start at 1 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.
“We’ve got two of probably the best teams in the South Division coming to town this weekend, so it was huge to get off on a good foot, but we have to take of business this weekend, too,” Theisen said.