Within 24 hours, the softball team saw its highest and lowest points of the season: taking two games from Ohio Dominican University — then the No. 1 team in the G-MAC — after getting swept by Ursuline College, head coach Joe Abraham said.
After concluding the conference season with a sweep of the Alderson Broaddus Battlers, the Chargers will enter the G-MAC championship tournament as the No. 4 seed.
Despite playing six games in the three days prior to the doubleheader against Alderson Broaddus (5 – 35, 4 – 18 G-MAC), Abraham said the team kept energy levels high while closing out the conference season.
“We were ready to go,” he said. “Even after four consecutive days, I thought we were in pretty good shape.”
Hillsdale opened with a 4 – 1 win with runs from freshman pitcher Natalie Walters, freshman outfielder Sarah Wojcik, sophomore shortstop Julia Huebner, and junior shortstop Jessica Taylor. In game two, the Chargers took an early five-run lead in the bottom of the second, which they extended by another five runs over the next two innings to end the game in five innings. Sophomore shortstop Erin Gordon scored three runs for the Chargers, junior outfielder Katie Kish went 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI, and freshman catcher Madison Rathbun went 3-for-3 with 5 RBIs in a breakout game.
“It was amazing to be a part of that, mostly because it felt like God had been preparing me for those moments, especially coming into tournaments. It was super cool to have a game like that this late in the season,” Rathbun said. “With God’s timing and the team’s support and my own work put in — it was a good equation.”
Sophomore pitcher Dana Weidinger tossed a shutout in game two against the Battlers, allowing only two hits in five innings of work.
Just the day before, the Chargers swept the Ohio Dominican Panthers (32 – 19, 18 – 6 G-MAC) to secure their place in the G-MAC tournament with 6 – 1 and 6 – 0 wins.
In game one, sophomore outfielder Victoria Addis put the Chargers on the board with a leadoff home run in the top of the second inning, followed later by a Kish single that scored sophomore catcher Sydney San Juan. The Chargers extended their lead with four more runs in the sixth inning with a two-run singles from sophomore shortstop Sam Catron and Taylor.
“Through and through, there was clutch hitting, and our bats were coming around throughout the team,” Rathbun said. “It’s not just one person, it’s our whole team that’s coming together at the right time. I think that’s the most important thing.”
The Chargers completed the sweep with another six-run victory. The team took an early lead in game two, starting with a two-run double from senior third baseman Kelsey Gockman that scored Catron and junior second baseman Amanda Marra. Four more runs — including solo homers from Walters and Rathbun — kept the Chargers ahead.
“When Natalie Walters and Madison Rathbun hit their first home runs, we all went berserk,” San Juan said. “That was so special to see them breaking out and hitting bombs.”
Hillsdale’s strong offense and pitching was reinforced with some of the strongest defense of the season, San Juan said.
Over the two games, freshman pitcher Erin Hunt pitched seven hitless innings.
“Natalie and Dana also really picked it up this weekend, and each of them pitched three or four good innings against ODU,” Abraham said. “Erin had several wins and had a great four days, too.”
Just the day before sweeping ODU, Hillsdale fell to Ursuline (15 – 27-1, 10 – 13-1 G-MAC), scoring only one run across both games in the 4 – 1 and 1 – 0 losses.
“In the game of softball, there’s really no such thing as an upset,” Abraham said. “At Ursuline on Friday, we just came out flat and didn’t bat — plus we hit into some atrocious luck. Then we come out the next day and hit off two of the best pitchers in the conference. You just never know. We’re just trying to keep an even keel through it all.”
Thursday, Hillsdale split a doubleheader against Cedarville University (30 – 16, 19 – 5 G-MAC), battling through nine innings for a 6 – 5 win. The game was scoreless through the fourth inning until the Yellow Jackets put up five runs between the fifth and sixth innings. The Chargers returned with four runs of their own off a Walters single and doubles from Addis and Kish in the bottom of the sixth, and a Taylor double scored Wojcik in the bottom of the seventh to tie up the game.
“It was really cool. Almost every girl was part of that game, whether it was as a runner, a hitter, or a sub,” San Juan said. “Almost everyone’s name was in the scorebook, and even the girls who weren’t were ready to step up.”
San Juan said she felt confident that the team would win, it was just a question of who would be the one to step up. After the eighth inning passed scoreless, Catron’s walk-off double proved to be the game-winning hit, scoring Marra in the bottom of the ninth.
“That was the type of hit we needed all year, and that was a great comeback win for us,” Abraham said. “Up until ODU, that was one of the high points of the season.”
Hunt started on the mound for the Chargers, aided by Walters in the seventh inning, and returned in the eighth and ninth inning to hold the Yellow Jackets down. She leads the G-MAC pitchers in strikeouts.
The Chargers were unable to complete the sweep, however, and fell to Cedarville 13 – 1 in the nightcap.
“I think it was hard to come back after the emotional win in game one,” Abraham said.
Consistency and even-headed playing will be important headed into the conference tournament on Thursday, Abraham said. Hillsdale will face Trevecca Nazarene University (29 – 15-1, 15 – 9 G-MAC). The teams have not played since they split a doubleheader in the Chargers’ season opener.
“It will be a good, even matchup,” Abraham said. “Both teams have good pitching and solid hitting. But we’re capable of doing it. We went to the first place team and beat them, so we’re capable of winning the tournament.”