The Hillsdale College Chargers opened up their season on Friday with two big wins against ranked opponents in the NFCA Leadoff Classic in Clearwater, Florida. The Chargers came up short on Saturday and Sunday, ending the weekend with three losses.
Head coach Kyle Gross said the first two wins were an enjoyable start to the season, and was impressed by the team’s ability to fight throughout the weekend.
“When you make the final out of the first game, that’s an amazing feeling,” Gross said. “And then you take that and add to it a second win on your first day against great competition. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but we were very happy.”
During the weekend, senior outfielder Katie Kish went 9 for 18 with three runs batted in, and didn’t strike out. Sophomore pitcher and outfielder Natalie Walters went 7 for 13 with three RBI, three doubles, and a home run. She had two starts on the mound, pitching 16 innings while allowing eight earned runs. With her performance, Walters earned a spot on the NFCA Division II Leadoff Classic All-Tournament Team.
Kish said she was happy with the team’s ability to play so well together for it being the first weekend.
“It seems like we have already been playing, it’s as if we were in the middle of our season,” Kish said. “The thing I was impressed with the most is how ready we were to take the field.”
February 8: Hillsdale 2, Lenoir-Rhyne 1
Junior pitcher Dana Weidinger dominated on the mound against Lenoir-Rhyne in her first start of the season. She faced 28 batters in seven innings and allowed just four hits and one run.
The Chargers got on the board in the bottom of the first inning when sophomore catcher Madison Stoner flew out to left field for a sacrifice fly, scoring senior second basemen Amanda Marra. In the bottom of the second, freshman utility player Morgan Cox grounded out to shortstop to score Walters.
Lenoir-Rhyne earned its only run in the top of the third with a double to left field.
February 8: Hillsdale 8, West Chester 5
The Chargers’ consistent offense against West Chester earned them a clear victory against another ranked opponent.
In the top of the first inning, Kish stole home, putting the Chargers on top early. Marra singled to left field in the top of the second, scoring junior catcher Syd San Juan. Later in the inning, junior infielder Sam Catron fouled out to third, bringing home Kish
Kish singled to right field in the bottom of the third, scoring both sophomore first basemen Emma Johnson and freshman infielder Elaine Townley.
Walters smashed a home run over the left-field fence in the top of the fourth to extend the Chargers’ lead to 6 – 0.
“Coach talked a lot before the game about making adjustments, so going into it, we knew that the pitcher for West Chester was throwing the outside curveball and getting strikes for them,” Walters said. “He mentioned last week that he wanted us to get up on the plate and take the outside pitch, and when I did that, I hit one out.”
West Chester responded scoring three runs in the bottom of the fourth.
In the top of the fifth, senior infielder Jessica Taylor singled to center field, scoring junior outfielder Carlin MacDonald Gannon.
West Chester scored one more time in the bottom of the fifth, but San Juan answered in the top of the sixth with a single, scoring freshman pitcher Camryn Olson.
In the bottom of seventh, West Chester earned an run from a single to center field.
From the pitcher’s circle, Walters faced 16 batters in three innings, and allowed two hits and three runs. Redshirt freshman Julia Sayles made her collegiate debut, coming in to pitch during the bottom of the fourth. Olson also made her collegiate debut on the mound in the bottom of the fifth.
February 9: Indianapolis 10, Hillsdale 3
On Saturday morning, the Chargers suffered their first loss of the season to Indianapolis.
Weidinger faced 28 batters in 4 2/3 innings, giving up 12 hits and 12 runs, only three of which were earned. Sayles faced seven batters in 1 1/3 innings and gave up just one hit.
Kish singled to center field in the top of the second inning, scoring Stoner, and Walters scored Taylor in the top of the third and Catron in the top of the fifth.
The Greyhounds came up big in the bottom of the fifth, scoring seven runs, and the Chargers couldn’t respond. Despite the loss, Catron said the team didn’t stop battling back.
“Even when we were down by seven, we still fought until the last out, which is something I think we lacked last year,” Catron said. “This past weekend, I don’t think there was one inning when we were down on ourselves, and the encouragement on the team was constant and positive.”
February 9: North Georgia 6, Hillsdale 3
In their second game on Saturday, the Chargers faced some of the best pitching they may see all season in North Georgia.
“It was awesome to see that, especially early in the season, so that we can be ready for anything else,” Kish said. “If we played the best, we can do anything else that comes in the middle.”
After going against one of the most competitive pitchers at the Division II level, Hillsdale’s offense failed to produce. The Chargers scored just three unearned runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Gross said the team will need to work on making more in-game adjustments at the plate.
“We faced a little better pitching on Saturday then we did Friday, and I think that affected our approach,” Gross said. “When success wasn’t happening rapidly, there was a little bit of apprehension to continue swinging hard and doing the things that made us successful before.”
From the circle, Walters faced 32 batters in seven innings, giving up nine hits and six runs.
February 10: Eckerd 3, Hillsdale 1
In their last game of the weekend, the Chargers fell to Eckerd on Sunday. Weidinger got the start on the mound but only faced eight batters. She gave up four hits and three runs in the first inning.
Walters came in for relief and pitched six shutout innings. She faced 27 batters and gave up just five hits.
The Chargers’ only run came from Catron’s single to left-center in the bottom of the fourth inning to score Marra.
“My mentality was just to go up there and produce a hit,” Catron said. “If I didn’t get hit, at least I did my best. I did everything that I could.”
The Chargers won’t take the field again until Friday, March 8, in Clearmont, Florida. The Chargers will play 14 games during spring break against teams from across the country. Leading up to these games, Gross said the team will be working on making adjustments for facing different pitchers.
“After this weekend, the future looks really good with young players but also this season,” Gross said. “I’m looking forward to getting into conference later and working out the last few things over spring break.”