By Hayes Gardner
This past weekend, the Grinnell baseball team hosted Illinois College and went undefeated in games in which they scored a run. However, the Pioneers only scored in two of the four games, resulting in a 2-2 weekend and changing their overall record to 8-14 and 3-5 in conference.
The Pioneers pitched remarkably well, allowing 14 runs–only six of which were earned–in four games.
“Pitching has been definitely the strong suit for the entire season,” said shortstop Anthony Mack ’16.
And while the Pioneers have pitched well in their eight conference games thus far, they have struggled at the plate in several games.
“Pitching was solid,” said head coach Tim Hollibaugh. “Offense, in three games we dominated. In five games, we were average if not below average.”
Hollibaugh noted the ability of the Illinois College team, but also felt a portion of the blame fell with his own team, including the fact that they are averaging nearly three errors per game in league play and were on the receiving end of a no-hitter on Sunday.
“We’re young and [Illinois College] showed it,” he said. “So ultimately, they beat us. But we also gave them additional opportunities on defense and when you don’t score any runs in two games, let alone get no-hit, it’s hard to beat anybody.”
The Pioneers fell victim to a remarkable pitching performance by Illinois College senior pitcher Nate Jones, who did not allow a single hit to the Pioneers all game.
“That was probably one of the worst feelings I’ve ever been a part of,” Mack said.
However, the team rallied in the second game of the doubleheader and posted 15 hits as they rolled past the Blueboys, 10-4.
“The offensive guys had a team meeting in between games and just discussed what they were doing in terms of their approach at the plate… I’m just happy how we responded, how we came back in the second game,” Hollibaugh said.
The team’s lineup is still changing as the coaching staff attempts to find the right mix of guys to score the most runs, which has resulted in many first- and second-years getting more playing time than expected.
“There comes a point where you have to make some tough decisions and make some adjustments with your lineup and unfortunately some of our upperclassmen weren’t getting the job done,” Hollibaugh said. “There’s some good young talent [and] we had to give them some opportunities.”
In fact, twice over the weekend, the Pioneers started only two position players who were third- or fourth-years.
“I feel a sense of pride as a class that we’ve been able to step up so much,” Mack said of the first years.
Right-handed starting pitcher Jason Ormond ’13 noted the ability the team has displayed at times, such as their pitching against Illinois College and their run production in their second game against Knox, when they posted 14 runs.
“We’ve been up and down this year, but we’ve shown we can be a very good team if we perform to our potential,” he said.
Mack sees the team as capable of making a playoff run if they play within themselves.
“We’ve really got to stick to what we know best,” Mack said. “After [Mike Nodzenski ’12] graduated last year, we really lost that power in the lineup. So we have to stick to what we know how to do, which is small ball. Bunts and getting singles and stuff. I feel like if we do that, we’ll be able to make a push for the playoffs.”
As the team moves forward, they have eight more conference games to improve their record and finish as one of the top two teams in the South Division, permitting them entry into the conference tournament.
“What’s encouraging is that even though we’ve underperformed, we’re still pretty much in complete control over our destiny,” Ormond said.
Grinnell will host a doubleheader against the Rams of Cornell College this Saturday at 12:00 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. and will travel to Mount Vernon to complete the four-game series on Sunday.