Runs came at a premium for both teams this weekend when a 1 – 2 set against the Malone University Pioneers (21 – 10, 11 – 4 G-MAC) dropped the Hillsdale College baseball team (15 – 18, 12 – 3 G-MAC) to second in the division.
“It was nice to get the last one, that’s for sure, but we have higher expectations than 1 – 2,” head coach Eric Theisen said.
The low scores on the weekend shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, as the two teams entered the weekend set tied for the conference lead in complete games on the conference season.
The lone game on Saturday saw the Pioneers score an unearned run in each of the first two innings. An RBI single from junior Steven Ring brought the game within one in the third, but the Pioneers added a run of insurance in both the fifth and the sixth. Hillsdale mustered one run in the eighth on a single from senior Ryan O’Hearn, but that was the end of the scoring, a 4 – 2 final.
Senior starter Will Kruse kept the Chargers in the game, tossing seven innings, allowing four runs — two earned — and striking out two. Freshman James Krick threw a clean inning in relief.
Pitching has been the story of Malone’s season so far, and they delivered in this game, stranding 11 Chargers on the bases throughout the game.
“Their pitching did a good job with mixing,” Theisen said. “We got some hits but we stranded some runners on base, and ultimately our lack of production with runners in scoring position kept us from outscoring them. Their game is to hold their opponent to under four runs and beat you 4 – 1 or 4 – 2, and that’s what they did.”
Game two on Sunday had a similar feel to the tilt from the previous day. Malone struck for one in the second, before a sac fly by sophomore Jake Hoover tied the game in the top of the fourth. The game was only knotted for half an inning, however, before the Pioneers regained the lead for good, eventually wrapping the game at 4 – 1.
Senior pitcher Phil Carey was the only senior to take the bump for the Chargers, tossing all six innings while allowing four earned.
Three batters into the final game of the weekend Ring hit a ball over the leftfield fence to give the Chargers a 1 – 0 lead. This RBI was Ring’s 111th in Charger Blue, moving him into second place on Hillsdale career RBI sheet.
Hillsdale never checked the rearview mirror after the early bomb, pouring on six more runs throughout the game. O’Hearn drove in two runs while sophomores Dante Toppi and Jake Rhodes, junior Dylan Lottinville, and Hoover all knocked in one more.
The real show, however, belonged to sophomore Andrew Verbrugge. The righty from Grand Rapids threw a complete nine innings, surrendering only four hits, walking one, and striking out seven — a career high.
Theisen praised Verbrugge, adding that he would’ve been his personal choice for G-MAC weekly honors.
“Nine-inning complete-game shutouts are not very common, and he just continues to be great,” he said.
Verbrugge was patently humble in his assessment of his start.
“I just had to have a sense of confidence and know that I, along with my defense behind me, would have the tools to shut down Malone’s offense and give us a good chance to win,” he said. “Whenever I get on the mound I just make sure I‘m doing my best and worshipping God one pitch at a time, and in the end that’s all that really matters…It was cool to get my first complete game shutout and I can only thank God for giving me the opportunity to get out there and do that.”
The Chargers traveled to Allendale, Michigan, on Tuesday, where they dropped a non-conference match to the Grand Valley Lakers (19 – 3, 7 – 5 GLIAC) 14 – 4.
Senior Alex Walts opened the scoring with an RBI single in the first, but Hillsdale never fully recovered from a six run Laker second. Walts drove in one more run later in the game and Ring hit a solo homerun, his 112th of his career.
The Chargers look to bounce back this weekend when the Findlay Oilers (16 – 8, 9 – 4 G-MAC) come to Simpson Field for a three-game set this weekend, as the Chargers look to take back the top spot in the conference.
“We did keep our lead over Malone in the conference and 12 – 3 and in second place isn’t a bad place to be,” Theisen said. “It’s nice that we still have those North Division teams left on the schedule…. We think we’re the best in the North, so it’s about going out and proving it.”