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The Hillsdale College softball team poses in Florida during it’s 6 – 6 spring break trip to open the season. (Photo: Jessica Taylor | Courtesy)

Strong hitting and solid pitching from the softball team weren’t reflected in a 6 – 6 record as its season began in Florida over spring break, but head coach Joe Abraham said the team’s spring break per­for­mance bodes well for the rest of the season.

In their opening game, the Chargers outhit Northern State Uni­versity 7 – 6 but left seven runners on base over the course of the game for a 3 – 2 loss.

In only their second game of the season, the Chargers faced the unde­feated defending cham­pions Min­nesota State Uni­versity-Manako, holding the Mav­ericks to a single run until the top of sixth inning, when a series of bunts and slap hitting gave the Mav­ericks a 7 – 3 lead.

“For six innings, that was probably our strongest game,” Abraham said. “We just had three or four plays there that kind of defined that game, and as we’ve told our players, if you lose focus for one or two plays at this level, it’s enough to beat you. But oth­erwise, not only did we stand toe to toe with national champs, we actually out­played them with a whole bunch of freshmen on the field in the second game of the year.”

After the opening two losses, the Chargers went on a four-game winning streak. Junior out­fielder Katie Kish scored the only run of the game against Mer­cy­hurst Uni­versity, putting the Chargers ahead in the third inning for a 1 – 0 win. Freshman pitcher Natalie Walter recorded the win from the pitcher’s circle, allowing no runs in four innings of work. Freshman pitcher Erin Hunt fin­ished the remaining three innings, striking out five and allowing a single hit.

The Chargers fin­ished the day with a 5 – 4 win against Bentley Uni­versity, putting up four runs in the first three innings. Junior Amanda Marra went 3‑for‑3 in the game with a run scored and 2 runs batted in.

The fol­lowing day, Hillsdale put together two seven-run games for vic­tories over Nyack College and Min­nesota State Uni­versity-Moorhead. In game one, Hunt pitched her first col­le­giate shutout, allowing only two hits and striking out 13 in seven innings.

At the plate, Kish, Mara, and sophomore catcher Sydney San Juan scored two runs apiece. Freshman first baseman Emma Johnson and freshman catcher Madison Stoner both went 3‑for‑4 in the game.

Against Min­nesota State Uni­versity-Moorhead, senior first baseman Haley Lawrence, Kish, and Marra all went 3‑for‑4, and senior third baseman Kelsey Gockman scored twice. Sophomore pitcher Dana Wei­dinger recorded the win from the pitcher’s circle.

Hillsdale took two close losses to Florida Southern State Uni­versity the fol­lowing day, falling 2 – 1 in the first game and 1 – 0 in game two.

“We lost, but every single factor pointed in Florida Southern’s favor, and we basi­cally played them even,” Abraham said.

In the closing game against Florida Southern, the Chargers outhit the 8 – 2, but stranded seven runners on base. Sophomore out­fielder Vic­toria Addis went 2‑for‑2 with a triple, and Johnson and Taylor each notched two hits.

“We didn’t get the key hits often enough, but that kind of thing tends to even out over the course of time,” Abraham said.

The team took two more losses the fol­lowing day, falling to Barry Uni­versity 5 – 2 and to Lewis Uni­versity 4 – 3. Between the two games, the Chargers racked up 21 hits, but ulti­mately left 18 players on base.

Throughout the week, however, Abraham said the team main­tained an OPS, or com­bined on-base and slugging sta­tistic, of around 200 points higher than their oppo­nents. He said this offensive trend paints a better picture of the team’s overall per­for­mance, and is a pos­itive sign going into the con­ference season.

“If we con­tinue to have an OPS even 100 points higher than our oppo­nents, let alone 200, we’re going to win a ton of games,” Abraham said. “If we played those 12 games again and played like we did, we would probably go 9 – 3 or 10 – 2.”

Sophomore shortstop Sam Catron, Johnson, Kish, and Marra all hit around .500 over the course of the week while facing good pitching, Abraham said.

The team fin­ished the week strong with two wins over Kutztown Uni­versity and the Uni­versity of Pitts­burgh-John­stown.

“We played some really good teams down there and held our own and battled,” Hunt said.

The Chargers put up one run for each of the first five inning against Kutztown for a 5 – 1 victory. Hillsdale started a strong game two against Pitts­burgh with a two-run homer from Catron in the first inning. Freshman out­fielder Stephanie Stepa­nenko also went 2‑for 3 with two runs scored. Taylor went 2‑for‑2, and both Kish and Marra went 2‑for‑4 in the victory. Wei­dinger recorded the win, striking out six in six innings.

“The last two games, we got our offense together and were able to score some runs and not leave people on base,” junior third baseman Jessica Taylor said. “It was nice leaving on two wins and ending on a strong note.”

Hillsdale will open the con­ference season against Trevecca Nazarene on March 24.