Don't close the book on the GLIAC history for Hillsdale College athletics just yet.
The Charger baseball team qualified for the 2017 GLIAC Tournament thanks to a dramatic 6-5 win over the Lake Erie College Storm Sunday afternoon in Painesville, Ohio.
Hillsdale completes the regular season 24-24 overall and 17-15 in the GLIAC. The Chargers enter the conference postseason tournament for the second year in a row - a program first - and will be the No. 6 seed. Hillsdale will face No. 1 seed Northwood at 2 p.m. Thursday at the Athletes in Action complex in Xenia, Ohio. The tournament is a double-elimination format, and Hillsdale will play at either 10:30 a.m. or 2 p.m. Friday, depending on if it wins or loses the first-round game with the Timberwolves.
The Chargers clinched the postseason spot by going 3-1 against the Storm this weekend, while Ohio Dominican went 1-3 against Tiffin. Hillsdale needed to finish two games better than the Panthers over the course of play this weekend to keep its season going, and that's exactly what it did.
Not that getting there was easy.
Saturday, Hillsdale leapfrogged ODU into sixth place in the GLIAC standings thanks to a decisive rout of Lake Erie, outscoring the Storm by a combined score of 27-6. But neither game Sunday would be easy, and Hillsdale's postseason fate was very much in doubt after it lost to the Storm 11-7 in Sunday's first game.
Ohio Dominican jumped out to a 7-0 lead on Tiffin in its second game and hung on for a 13-7 victory, meaning Hillsdale had to win in order to make the conference tournament.
The Chargers scored twice in the fifth and three more times in the sixth to open up a 6-1 lead on the Storm. But Lake Erie came roaring back with a four-run sixth inning to make it a 6-5 ballgame. All four of Lake Erie's runs came with no outs, which is when Hillsdale coach Eric Theisen went to the youngest member of his bullpen.
Freshman Dante Toppi, an outfielder by trade, got the final three outs of the sixth then allowed just one hit over the next three innings for a season-saving effort out of the bullpen. In all, he pitched four innings, allowing one hit and one walk with no runs allowed.
The Storm got a double in the ninth, and a groundout got their runner to third with one out. But two harmless flyball outs later, and Hillsdale could finally celebrate a return to the postseason.
Toppi was far from Hillsdale's most clutch player on its biggest day of the season. Senior Ethan Wiskur nailed a bases-loaded single that added to the Chargers' sixth-inning rally, runs that turned out to be the game winners.
Freshman pitcher Andrew Verbrugge was terrific on the mound, getting his fourth win of the season and held Lake Erie to one run before running into trouble in the sixth. He kept the Storm from building off any momentum from their game one win, and held the team in check while the Charger offense worked its way into the lead.
This win continues a great story penned by this Charger baseball team this year. In 2016, Hillsdale had a senior-laden team and hit 68 home runs as a team to end a 13-year GLIAC Tournament dry spell as well as qualifying for the NCAA Division II Regional Tournament for the very first time. But the loss of 11 seniors, as well as a reliance on a disproportionate number of freshman, meant that this could have been classified as a rebuilding year. But players like Boerst, Steven Ring, Hites and Ryan O'Hearn answered the bell with terrific offensive seasons. The team has had to overcome crippling injuries to the pitching staff, and somehow, found its way back to the postseason in its final season of competition in the GLIAC.
That farewell GLIAC tour Charger athletes have discussed all season? It has one more stop to go.