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Jake Hoover fields a throw during a game last season. (Trish Ver­brugge | Courtesy)

After a dis­ap­pointing beginning to their title defense, the Hillsdale College Chargers traveled to St. Louis, Mis­souri looking to get back in the win column. After sweeping the Maryville Uni­versity Saints in a three-game series, the Chargers are now 3 – 2 in non-con­ference play heading into next weekend’s matchup with Bel­larmine Uni­versity.

Against Maryville, the Chargers ignited offen­sively, scoring an average of just under twelve runs a game and seeing pro­duction from up and down the lineup.

“It was good to get some wins,” Head coach Eric Theisen said. “It was good to see the ball start to fly.”

 

Sat­urday, Feb­ruary 23 (Game 1): Hillsdale 10, Maryville 9 (11 innings)

The offense opened up the series in St. Louis with a dif­ferent level of intensity. After junior Dante Toppi drove in a run with two outs in the first inning, the Chargers seemed to get going offen­sively. After the bottom of the order loaded the bases in the top of the second, junior shortstop Jake Hoover walked in a run to make the score 2 – 0.

With senior third baseman Colin Boerst out due to injury, freshman Matt Granzotto got the start at the hot corner. Granzotto kept the rally going after beating out the throw to drive in a run. Catcher Steven Ring hit a sac­rifice fly to center to score another run as Hillsdale took a 4 – 0 lead.

After a tough start to the season, junior Andrew Ver­brugge started game one on the mound for the Chargers. Ver­brugge showed much better command throughout the game, only allowing eight hits and two earned runs in five and two-thirds innings pitched.

“He’s been pretty con­sistent for us on the mound,” THeisen said. “He’s a reliable guy, and we’re con­fident he’ll keep improving and making an impact.”

After Maryville scored two runs to narrow Hillsdale’s lead to 2, Hoover con­tinued a great start to 2019, hitting a deep home run to the opposite field, to expand the lead back to 3. The Saints and the Chargers traded runs in the 4th and the 5th to make the score 6 – 3.

In the 6th, the top of Hillsdale’s lineup tried to put the game away. After getting his second hit of the day, Hoover stole second, then scored on a throwing error by the catcher as he was stealing third. This pro­duction on the basepaths is crucial for the Chargers offen­sively.

“It’s great to watch him,” Theisen said. “There are times and reasons that he’s running. It’s putting pressure on the defense, it’s setting the tone and forcing the defense has to make plays. As long as the risk is worth the reward, it’s great to see him be aggressive on the basepaths.”

Imme­di­ately afterward, Ring homered to right center, giving Hillsdale an 8 – 3 lead and firm control of the game going into the bottom of the sixth inning.

Maryville, however, had no inten­tions of giving up. After Ver­brugge allowed a run in the bottom of the sixth, junior Kolton Rominski came in from the bullpen to relieve him. After giving up a run in the bottom of the seventh, Rominski pitched well through the eighth with some addi­tional support from a Granzotto home run.

In the ninth, things got dicey. Rominski entered with a four run lead, but after allowing two home runs, loading the bases, and walking in two more runs, the Saints tied the game at 9. Sophomore pitcher David Toth entered the game and shut down Maryville’s rally, sending the game to extra innings.

“That’s why we went to him,” Theisen said. “He’s our high-leverage guy, and there’s very few sit­u­a­tions that are going to be higher leverage than that one. Once we got him on the mound we were pretty con­fident.”

After neither team scored in the tenth frame, senior infielder Kevin Monson racked up his third hit of the day to drive in a run and give the Chargers a 10 – 9 lead. After allowing two walks, Toth retired the Saints to give Hillsdale its first win of the season.

“I think we were sup­posed to struggle for that first W,” Theisen said. “Nothing brings a team closer than a game where you have to fight it out, scratch and claw a little bit. That kind of battle and that kind of pressure was exactly what we needed.

 

Sunday, Feb­ruary 24 (Game 2): Hillsdale 10, Maryville 8

After reg­is­tering their first win of the season, Hillsdale struggled to find their stride in the beginning of the second matchup in the series. Toth was the expected starter in game two, but after his relief appearance the night before the Chargers turned to freshman Cody Kan­clerz.

In his first col­le­giate start, Kan­clerz showed potential, but also struggled with his command at times. Kan­clerz allowed two runs in the first and one in the second, putting Hillsdale in an early 3 – 0 hole.

The Chargers answered in the top of the third, when Ring knocked in two with an RBI single. A Jacob DePillo home run in the top of the fourth knotted the score at 3.

In the bottom of the fourth inning, Maryville struck back. Kan­clerz allowed a leadoff home run to the Saints catcher. One more run would cross the plate in the inning as Maryville regained a two-run lead.

In the bottom of the fifth, Hillsdale turned to sophomore southpaw Sawyer Allen. After strug­gling in the series against Wayne State, Allen seemed to settle in nicely, dom­i­nating the Saints order through the heart of the game.

In the sixth, the bats at the bottom of the lineup strung together some key hits, and Hoover drove in two with a double to left, tying the score at 5. The Chargers put two more across in the seventh and two more across in the eighth to take a com­manding 9 – 5 lead.

“It was great to see some guys from the bottom of the lineup and from off the bench start to produce,” Theisen said. “It’s not an easy lineup to nav­igate. No other team has that pos­si­bility for damage through the lineup, some­times it just takes them a little bit to get settled in.”

Maryville seemed poised to make a comeback after putting three across the board in the eighth inning, nar­rowing Hillsdale’s lead to 9 – 8. Junior pitcher Chris Stewart was able to steady the ship however, and the Chargers entered the ninth with a one-run lead.

Stewart got a little help from the offense in the top of the ninth, as James Krick hit a solo shot to extend the lead to 10 – 8. Stewart set the Saints down in order in the bottom of the ninth to secure the second game for Hillsdale, and ensure a series win.

 

Sunday, Feb­ruary 24 (Game 3): Hillsdale 14, Maryville 4

The Chargers started the third and final game in the series with a bang, putting four runs on the board in the top of the first inning. Ring doubled in a run to give Hillsdale the lead. Later in the inning, junior Jake Rhodes hit a three-run home run to right center, stretching the lead to four.

Freshman Caleb Biedenharn got the start on the mound for the Chargers. His first col­le­giate start was less than ideal, however, as he allowed four runs in just two-thirds of an inning pitched. With two outs in the bottom of the first, Theisen turned to senior Jonathan Lapshan, who got HIllsdale out of the inning with the game tied at four.

After the first inning, every aspect of the game belonged to the Chargers. In the top of the second, Ring hit his second home run of the series, scoring Granzotto and Monson to give Hillsdale a 7 – 4 lead.

After the second, the Chargers’ bat fell silent, but Lapshan dom­i­nated on the mound. On the day, he pitched 8.1 scoreless innings, striking out six. Maryville was never able to mount any form of rally as Lapshan closed out a com­manding per­for­mance out of the bullpen.

“He def­i­nitely figures into some higher-leverage sit­u­a­tions, he cer­tainly is one of those guys,” Theisen said. “It was great to see him stretch out so far and be so dom­inant.”

In the top of the seventh, Hillsdale piled on the runs. After Toppi led off the inning with a single, Krick hit his second home run of the series to drive him home. The bottom of the order kept the rally going, getting on base and moving around the basepaths. The third game of the series saw the Chargers steal five bases, which created numerous oppor­tu­nities.

“We saw an oppor­tunity and took advantage of it,” Theisen said.

Hoover and Ring both added to their RBI totals in the seventh, stretching the score to 12 – 4 in favor of Hillsdale. The Chargers put two more across the plate to stretch the lead to 14 – 4, and Lapshan retired the rest of the Saints in the bottom of the ninth to earn Hillsdale its third victory on the season and a series sweep.

 

Summary

Not only did the series against Maryville get the Chargers back in the win column, it also demon­strated noticeable improvement in all aspects of the game. Defense, a big concern for Theisen coming in to the season, didn’t seem to be an issue.

The biggest story through the first two weekends of the season is Ring’s per­for­mance at the plate. Ring entered the year as one of the most pro­lific hitters in Hillsdale history, but this year has seen his output sky­rocket. Through five games, Ring has three home runs, 15 RBIs and has a .600 batting average in 20 at bats. Ring’s per­for­mance earned him G‑MAC Offensive Player of the Week.

“He has stayed locked in for full at-bats than I’ve ever seen him so far,” Theisen said. “He’s stayed in some very dif­ficult at-bats and fought off some tough pitches to put some quality swings on the ball and give himself a chance to do some damage on the ball. It’s been really fun to watch him.”

The Chargers will be back in action this weekend with a huge four-game series against Bel­larmine, one of the best teams in the region.

Games will take place Sat­urday and Sunday, with dou­ble­headers both days starting at noon and 2:30 p.m.