Through two weeks of the spring 2021 softball season, the Hillsdale College Chargers have been battle-tested.
Following a 1-3 record in a trip to North Georgia to take on two traditional powers the previous weekend, Hillsdale made their annual trip to the Chicago area for the Lewis Flyer Dome Classic this weekend, going 2-3 against tough competition in the Rosemont Dome.
After taking a 2-1 win over host Lewis on Friday night, the Chargers battled four straight GLIAC opponents on Saturday and Sunday, starting with Northwood.
Hillsdale got behind early in a 7-0 loss to the Timberwolves, giving up two runs in the top of the first inning.
The Chargers hung tough for three more innings, but could never get the bats going against Northwood pitcher Shayna Frank, and five runs by the Timberwolves in the fifth and sixth innings put the game out of reach.
Julia Sayles took the loss for the Chargers, and Camryn Olson and Erin Kapteyn each pitched three innings of relief for Hillsdale, combining to strike out three batters and concede four hits and one earned run.
Hillsdale turned things around offensively in the nightcap, beating Ashland 11-3 in five innings.
The Chargers scored five runs in the top of the first inning, started off by an RBI double from Stepanenko in the team's second at-bat.
Hillsdale added two more runs on an error by Ashland on a ball put in play by Townley that allowed Stepanenko and Reagan Gensiejewski to score, and also got a RBI each from Renee Bielawa on a sacrifice fly and Sarah Wojcik on a single.
The Charger built a 10-run lead with five more combined runs in the second and third inning. The Eagles kept hope alive with three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning, but Bielawa closed the door on Ashland with a RBI double in the top of the fifth inning that gave Hillsdale the margin it needed to end the game early.
Stepanenko led Hillsdale at the plate against Ashland, going 3 for 4 with a double, a RBI, and three runs scored, and Bielawa chipped in two hits with a double and four RBIs.
Dana Weidinger was strong on the mound for the Chargers to pick up her third win of the season, striking out four and walking one in four innings of work, and Kapteyn pitched a scoreless inning of relief, striking out two of the three batters she faced.
Now 3-4 overall, the Chargers went to battle on Sunday with two teams that appeared in the most recent NFCA poll, No. 24 Grand Valley State and HM Saginaw Valley State.
Hillsdale clamped down on Grand Valley St. defensively and had a chance to upset a ranked team, but couldn't find a timely hit in a 2-0 loss.
The Chargers had the potential tying run on base in both the sixth and seventh inning but couldn't break through against GVSU relief pitcher Genesis Eggart, emblematic of a contest where Hillsdale outhit the Lakers 6-5 but stranded 10 baserunners.
Sam Catron went 2 for 3 with a double for the Chargers in the loss, and McKenna Eichholz chipped in a pinch-hit double as well for the Chargers. Renee Bielawa, Reagan Gensiejewski and Madison Rathbun each added a hit as well.
Julia Sayles was the hard-luck loser in her best outing of the year to date, scattering five hits and conceding just two earned runs in six innings of work. Only a two-run single by Lydia Goble in the third inning allowed GVSU to escape with the victory.
Hillsdale experienced more of the same in their final outing against the Cardinals, holding Saginaw Valley scoreless for four innings and out-hitting the Cardinals 7-6, but struggling to find the break-through hit it needed in a 4-1 loss to close out the Lewis Dome Invite.
The Chargers scored their lone run of the game on a single by Bielawa in the bottom of the sixth inning and had bases loaded with one out trailing the Cardinals 2-1, but SVSU pitcher Emily Depew got a strikeout and induced a fly-out to end the threat, and the Cardinals pulled away with two runs in the top of the seventh.
Catron added a double and Jenna Cantalupo a triple for Hillsdale at the plate against SVSU, and pitcher Dana Weidinger had another strong start, striking out two and walking two in six innings while giving up just four hits and two earned runs. Camryn Olson pitched an inning of relief for the Chargers.
Hillsdale now sits at 3-6 on the year. While the Chargers have missed some golden opportunities at the plate to pull off upsets so far this year, they've gotten strong pitching and have been competitive with every team they've played besides North Georgia, the current No. 2 team in the nation. That bodes well for Hillsdale as the schedule eases up in the near future.
The Chargers travel to Glenville State in West Virginia this weekend for five contests against Mountain East Conference foes, beginning with host Glenville St. on Friday at 1 p.m.
Photo by Camryn Olson