Entering Wednesday's game, the mental and physical challenge facing the Hillsdale College baseball team was daunting.
Challenge accepted and passed.
The Chargers put on an impressive offensive display in defeating Grand Valley State University 14-8 on a breezy and sunny afternoon at Simpson Field. Hillsdale is now 9-17 on the season.
The Lakers and Chargers have met many times on the diamond over the years, with GVSU generally getting the better of this rivalry. But on this day, the Chargers, who were playing their fifth game in 48 hours, played loose and confident, from the team's freshman starting pitcher to its veteran all-time home run leader.
Hillsdale busted open a 6-6 game with an eight-run seventh inning, punctuated by a grand slam home run from senior Steven Ring. It was his eighth home run of the season but his fourth in the team's past five games. His blast, which easily cleared the right-center field fence, provided the final four runs in an inning which was already momentum-changing for Hillsdale.
Junior outfielder Dante Toppi stepped up with a bases-loaded single that scored two runs, coming right after Christian Rodino drew a bases-loaded walk to restore the lead for the Chargers. Rodino later scored on a passed ball, and two batters later, Ring left no doubt in the final result of this game.
Rodino, a senior, is having a spectacular season at the plate, and he added to that in his game. He crushed a three-run home run in the bottom of the first inning that helped spring Hillsdale to an early 4-0 lead. He finished 2-for-4 with three runs scored and a career-high four runs batted in. Ring was 2-for-5 with 4 RBI and two runs scored. Toppi also set a season-high with 3 RBI for Hillsdale.
Freshman pitcher Cody Kanclerz finished with a no-decision, but looked impressive in his start on the mound. He struck out a career-high seven batters in his five-inning appearance. He pounded the strike zone effectively and pitched with cool and confidence.
Sophomore David Toth got the win in relief, striking our four batters in three innings. He ran into trouble in the top of the eighth when GVSU loaded the bases with no one out. But he struck out the side, working his way out of a critical jam to help keep Hillsdale in the lead.
PHOTO: MaryKate Drews