Best-hitting team in the G-MAC? Check.
Regular season G-MAC champions? Check.
Defending G-MAC Tournament champions? Check and check.
It wasn't an easy road to a title, but the road ended in glory for the Hillsdale College softball team, who won the 2018 Great Midwest Athletic Conference tournament championship with a 4-1 win over Kentucky Wesleyan Saturday in Xenia, Ohio.
Hillsdale, 24-14 on the season, received the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Midwest Regional Tournament, its first such appearance in 27 years. The announcement of where, who and when Hillsdale will play will come in the next couple of days.
The Chargers completed an amazing run through the conference tournament, entering as the number 4 seed and knocking off teams with impressive pedigrees, both historical and current, on its way to winning the G-MAC title. En route to winning the championship, Hillsdale outscored its opponents 17-1 and never trailed in any of the 26 innings it played in. The Chargers go into the NCAA Tournament on an eight-game winning streak.
One of the most dominant aspects of the team's performance was that of freshman pitcher Erin Hunt. Not chosen by conference coaches as pitcher of the year or freshman of the year, Hunt made her statement loud and clear where it counts the most - inside the pitcher's circle. She struck out four batters and allowed one run in the championship game, capping a weekend that was as good as it gets.
In winning four games in the conference tournament, Hunt pitched 27 innings in three days, striking out 34 batters with three walks. With pitching like that, it's no wonder the Hillsdale College bus had some extra cargo coming home.
The Chargers got Hunt run support right away from the offense. Sam Catron doubled home Katie Kish in the top of the first to quickly give Hillsdale a 1-0 lead. Kish led off the game with a single, keeping up her brilliant postseason hitting.
The lead grew to 3-0 in the second inning, when freshman Madison Rathbun singled up the middle scoring Victoria Addis. A Kish groundout scored Sydney San Juan with the inning's second run, giving Hunt a three-run cushion to work with.
The Panthers cut into the lead by scoring once in the third. But Hillsdale erased that run with one of its own with another clutch play by a freshman.
Emma Johnson stepped up to deliver a pinch-hit RBI single for the second time in this tournament in the top of the fifth inning. She sliced a single to right, scoring Catron, who opened the inning with a double. Johnson's pinch-hit RBI single in the second game Thursday was the only run in a 1-0 win over Cedarville, perhaps the tournament's most significant run.
Hunt was able to get out of a couple of jams late in the game, forcing Kentucky Wesleyan to strand two in the fourth and three in the fifth. The Panthers stranded 10 runners on base in th egame, partially due to Hunt and her defense's ability to make clean, clutch defensive plays when they were needed most.
Kish and Catron were each 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored.