Twelve games into the G‑MAC season, the Hillsdale College baseball team (14 – 15, 11 – 1 G‑MAC) is the king of the North.
After a 3 – 1 Easter weekend against the Cedarville Yellow Jackets (6 – 16, 2 – 8 G‑MAC) and the Ohio Valley Fighting Scots (11 – 18, 2 – 10 G‑MAC), the Chargers sit atop the G‑MAC North Division and the conference as a whole heading into divisional play.
“Everyone has started to figure out what they can do to help the team win,” head coach Eric Theisen said. “Whether it be in the dugout, on the field, charts, scouting reports, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is figuring out, ‘Hey, I can have an impact and I can help this team win.’”
While Theisen and his players said they are happy with the 11 – 1 conference start, they said they were disappointed after their loss to Ohio Valley on Monday, something senior Ryan O’Hearn said is indicative of where the team is at.
“If you told the team we would’ve been 11 – 1 to start G‑MAC play, I think we would’ve been extremely happy,” O’Hearn said. “But after the loss there was a somber mood. I think it’s just because we’ve realized how good we are, and we’ve set really high expectations for ourselves.”
These expectations are going to be tested in the coming weeks, as the Chargers turn their attention to G‑MAC division opponents. So far, North Division teams carry a 53 – 15 record over its South Division counterparts, a record which the Chargers contributed to against Cedarville.
Game one of the doubleheader belonged to senior starter Will Kruse, who dominated the Yellow Jackets for all nine innings in a fashion which has become standard for him, allowing only one unearned run on five hits. His 13 strikeouts earned him G‑MAC North Division Pitcher of the Week honors earlier this week.
“I’ve just been trying to trust my stuff… and know that it’s the hitter’s job to adjust to me, and I’m not going to adjust to him,” Kruse said.
Kruse added that it’s nice to see Chargers being recognized for their performances over the past two seasons, his honor being the latest.
Juniors Steven Ring and Colin Hites and sophomore Jacob Hoover all drove in a run in support of Kruse, giving the Chargers the 3 – 1 win.
The Charger offense made itself known in game two, scoring 13 runs over the first three innings, eventually finishing the game with 19 runs on the board. Redshirt freshman Rob Zurawski and sophomore Dante Toppi each had three RBIs in the 19 – 7 win.
Senior starter Phil Carey blanked the Yellow Jackets over the first four frames, before allowing a run in the fifth and finding a little trouble in the sixth, exiting the game with the Chargers ahead by a comfortable margin.
On Sunday, The Chargers and the Fighting Scots faced off on the campus of Ohio Dominican University in Columbus, Ohio.
A cold day brought the Chargers their first-ever G‑MAC loss, 3 – 1, although they outhit the Scots, 8 – 7.
Despite taking the loss, sophomore Andrew Verbrugge was excellent in the effort, tossing a complete-game eight innings, allowing three earned on seven hits, striking out six. The strong starting pitching on the weekend was more of the same for the Chargers, who are tied for the G‑MAC lead with eight complete games this season.
“It all starts with the guy in the middle of the diamond,” Theisen said. “Our starting pitching has been outstanding and it has become the story of our first 12 games in conference.”
Pitching coach Gordie Theisen attributes this to the mentality his pitchers are taking on the mound.
“A lot of it is about their mental process and their willingness to play the game one pitch at a time,” he said. “They focus on the next pitch and they’re not going to let situations overwhelm them.”
Ohio Valley opened the scoring in game two with a run in the bottom of the first, but sophomore starter Kolton Rominski continued the pitching trend, coming back to throw the following five innings without allowing another run.
Hillsdale trailed until Hoover scored on an error in the top of the third. After this, the Chargers took the lead in the fifth on an O’Hearn single, never again relinquishing, but instead pouring on the insurance runs, including a home run from Ring. Junior Dylan Lottinville put the exclamation point on the game with his first home run of the season in the seventh inning, bringing the game to its 10 – 1 final.
Eric Theisen said his team is starting to settle into its roles. This is prominent in a group of hitters who like to call themselves the “top bottoms.”
Made up of Toppi, Hoover, O’Hearn, and Hites — often the Chargers’ six, seven, eight, and nine hitters, in some order — the “top bottoms” take pride in serving as a type of top of the order in the bottom slots, according to O’Hearn.
“We take pride in our speed and it’s kind of like a second top in that second half of the lineup,” O’Hearn said. “Our goal is to get on base, anyway, anyhow, and apply pressure by taking bags.”
The team’s ability to contribute within such roles is going to be paramount this weekend, when it heads to Canton, Ohio, to face the Malone Pioneers in a four-game set. The Pioneers feature strong starting pitching, equaling the Chargers with eight complete games in G‑MAC play. Hillsdale can expect this sort of challenge to persist the rest of the season, as they head into North Division play.
“The North is going to beat up on each other a little bit,” Eric Theisen said. “We just want to be the ones handing out the beatings.”