The Hillsdale College baseball team has arrived to the G-MAC with bells on.
This weekend pitching led the way as the Chargers (11 – 14, 8 – 0 G-MAC) swept doubleheaders from the Trevecca Nazarene Trojans (12 – 15, 3 – 5 G-MAC) and the Kentucky Wesleyan Panthers (12 – 13, 2 – 6 G-MAC) to stay tied for first in the G-MAC — both overall and in the North Division — with Ohio Dominican (19 – 4, 8 – 0 G-MAC).
“We’re doing a lot of things right right now,” head coach Eric Theisen said of the weekend. “Our pitching was outstanding, that was definitely the story … but we did a great job playing defense and running the bases and we were able to put some pressure on them.”
Hillsdale started off the weekend with a 12 – 3 thrashing of Trevecca, a game in which nine separate Chargers recorded a hit. Last week’s G-MAC North Division Player of the Week junior Steven Ring carried the previous weekend’s momentum into the game, tallying three hits — two home runs — and four RBIs. Junior Dylan Lottinville drove in two runs of his own, while three other Chargers each also added an RBI.
Senior starter Will Kruse set the tone for the Hillsdale pitching staff. In just 109 pitches Kruse covered the entirety of the nine-inning game and struck out 11 Trojans, allowing only three runs — two earned — on six hits.
“[the pitching] has been huge,” redshirt freshman Rob Zurawski said. “We don’t feel like we need to hit four or five home runs a game. We know they’re going to go out there and shut it down.”
With strong pitching behind them, the Chargers bats rolled right over into game two, scoring four runs over the first two innings.
Two runs for the Trojans pulled the game within two, but four runs in the fourth for the Chargers and a squashed comeback attempt for the Trojans gave Hillsdale a 7 – 4 win for the sweep.
Senior Alex Walts and junior Colin Hites each drove in two in the game, with three Chargers adding one of their own.
Senior Phil Carey started the game and earned the win. Sophomore Kolton Rominski and freshman David Toth each tossed an inning in relief to halt a late comeback effort from the Trojans.
Saturday meant a new opponent at Simpson field when the Chargers hosted the Kentucky Wesleyan Panthers for a two-game set on a cold Michigan day.
The Panthers gave the Chargers their first deficit of the weekend in game one, scoring two runs in the top of the first. Sophomore Andrew Verbrugge shut the valve after that, throwing the final eight innings of the game without allowing a run.
“He worked really hard in the off-season to develop another arm angle…and he took to that really well,” Theisen said. “And then his command of the strike zone has greatly improved and that has been the biggest key for him — his aggression in the strike zone and allowing to life on his pitches to get the outs for him.”
Hillsdale responded with a run right away in the bottom of the first, taking the lead for good in the third inning before adding insurance in the seventh and eighth. Walts, Ring, and Hites all had an RBI in the game.
Thanks to efficient starts from the rotation earlier in the weekend, Rominski was able to start the second game on Saturday.
“The efficiency was really good. Our attack mentality on the mound was good,” Theisen said. “We’ve been really good on the ground the last three weeks and it started in Springfield.”
Rominski gave the Chargers five strong innings, allowing two earned runs over five innings, before Toth came in to record a six-out save.
The Chargers carried a 1 – 0 lead into the fifth, when the Panthers tied the game in the top of the inning before the Chargers took a 3 – 1 lead in the bottom. The two teams repeated the process in the sixth, bringing the game to 5 – 2 entering the final frame. The first four Panther batters of the inning reached, but Toth induced a ground ball to sophomore Jake Hoover at short to start a 6 – 4-3 double play. Then, with the tying run 90 feet away, Toth forced yet another groundout to Hoover to seal the game 5 – 4.
“During the game I always keep myself focused wanting the ball, so in that specific situation I was thinking, ‘Hit the ball to me, let’s get it started.’ Preparing mentally for the ball to be hit to me is the biggest thing in tense situations like that,” Hoover said in an email. “That second where I recognize it’s hit to me is great, because I know I’ll have a chance to make the play we need.”
Junior Colin Boerst and Ring each had two RBIs in the game, while Walts had one.
Over the course of the entire weekend, Theisen said he thought his team did a good job of playing aggressive and smart baseball.
“We want guys to kind of be their own coach and play the game to win,” Theisen said. “If you see in open base, take it. I don’t put on very many signs, but we trust that we have taught these guys how to play this game correctly and aggressively. It was really cool to see them go, “OK, the game’s in our hands, we’re gonna take it over here.”
Over the weekend Theisen earned his 100th victory as the head coach of the Chargers. He said he was unaware of the impending milestone.
“The only person that knew was my dad. Your parents don’t stop keeping your stats, do they?” Theisen laughed. “I didn’t know, nor is it important to me, but it’s cool to have shared so many of those with former players and current players.”
On Tuesday, the Chargers traveled to Grand Rapids for a nonconference game against the Davenport Panthers (12 – 9, 3 – 1 GLIAC), losing a barn burner, 23 – 12.
“The game stays the same no matter who you are, or who you’re playing against. You’ve got to throw first pitch strikes, two out of the first three pitches in the zone, and stay out of three ball counts,” Theisen said. “We’re looking forward to being at our best for more conference action.”
The Chargers will close out non-division conference play this weekend when they head to Ohio Valley (9 – 16, 0 – 8 G-MAC) and Cedarville (6 – 14, 2 – 6 G-MAC) for doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday. Then, Hillsdale will host former GLIAC foe Grand Valley (13 – 10, 2 – 2 GLIAC) for a nonconference tilt on Tuesday.
“We just want to keep playing as we’ve been,” redshirt freshman Rob Zurawski said after the weekend. “We want to play at our own level, know that we’re a good team, and keep stepping on throats.”