Andrew Ver­brugge pitches during a game last season. (Trish Ver­brugge | Courtesy)

The 2019 season is one of high expec­ta­tions for the Hillsdale College Chargers. The Chargers opened their search for another con­ference title last weekend with a dou­ble­header against the Wayne State Uni­versity War­riors in Johnson City, Ten­nessee. While it wasn’t all bad for the Chargers, they struggled to find their rhythm in many areas of the game, losing both games in the dou­ble­header by scores of 7 – 5 and 13 – 1.

“It takes a little while to settle in once you get outside for the first time,” head coach Eric Theisen said. “At the end of the day it’s just two games out of 50. We still have a chance to be one of the best teams in the region.”

In the first game of the dou­ble­header, junior pitcher Andrew Ver­brugge started on the hill for the Chargers. After easily retiring the first two batters in the top of the first inning, Ver­brugge gave up a home run to deep left field. Senior des­ig­nated hitter Steven Ring responding by driving in two in the bottom of the first to give Hillsdale a 2 – 1 lead.

As the game con­tinued, Ver­brugge never seemed to find his groove, giving up seven earned runs in five innings of work. Ring con­tinued to make his presence felt at the plate, sin­gling in another run in the third, and blasting a home run to left in the fifth to cut Wayne State’s lead to 7 – 4.

In the sixth, junior pitcher Kolton Rominski came out of the bullpen and pitched four scoreless innings as the Chargers tried to mount a comeback. After a sac­rifice fly by senior Dylan Lot­tinville made the score 7 – 5, however, the offense stalled and failed to put any more runs on the score­board.

“Offen­sively, we did a good job responding to those runs early in the game,” Theisen said. “The way [Rominski] was pitching, I thought we had every oppor­tunity to come back and win that game. Unfor­tu­nately, baseball’s an exe­cution game and we weren’t putting balls in play.”

The Chargers struggled all day to find offensive pro­duction from the bottom of their order. The bottom six spots in the lineup only managed three hits in 43 at bats on the day, striking out 23 times.

“It’s a major concern if that con­tinues,” Theisen said, “We’ve got to do a better job of bat­tling, espe­cially with two strikes. We just have to do a better job at being tougher outs.”

One of Theisen’s biggest con­cerns coming into the season was defense, and defense cer­tainly put the Chargers in a tough spot as the second game began. Sophomore David Toth started the second game well, but had to fight an uphill battle after a costly error allowed the War­riors to score four runs in the first inning.

After Wayne State stretched the score to 5 – 0 with an RBI single in the second, junior shortstop Jake Hoover got the Chargers on the board with a solo home run. The top of the lineup per­formed well all day for Hillsdale, accounting for all six of runs with 11 hits in 23 at bats.

“For the top of the lineup to put up some runs against some of the best arms we’ll see all season is def­i­nitely encour­aging,” Theisen said. “We just need to be tougher outs top to bottom.”

The rest of the game was a for­get­table expe­rience for the Chargers. By the eighth inning, the War­riors had a 13 – 1 lead.

As Hillsdale looks forward to this weekend’s series against Maryville Uni­versity in Mis­souri, Theisen is con­fident his team has the ability to get in the win column.

“We just have to work on pitch-by-pitch focus and being tougher outs at the plate,” Theisen said. “The main focus is going down to Maryville and proving that we’re a better team than they are.”

The Chargers will begin the series with a dou­ble­header on Sat­urday, with the games at 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. The series will con­clude Sunday with the third game beginning at 1 p.m.