By Cody Shook, Sports Editor
Eric Burkle’s Hilltoppers have started their season 4-1 on the diamond with two big wins against the Concord Mountain Lions and a series victory against Chowan University, getting two wins in three games. The bats were as hot as 70-degree weather as they scored 43 runs with two double-digit scoring affairs in their first five games. 13 different pitchers toed the rubber to help seal those four victories with senior starters Yale Hughes and Sean Pare getting two of the wins.
This weekend the Hilltoppers will travel to Chillicothe, Ohio to take on Ohio Dominican University in a three-game series. Saturday will be a double header with the games starting at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m., and on Sunday there will be one game starting at 12:30 p.m.
For Ohio Dominican, these will be their first games of the 2017 campaign. Last season, the Panthers went 19-30-1 with a record of 3-0 against Mountain East Conference opponents. In the preseason GLIAC coach’s poll, the Panthers were picked ninth out of eleven teams.
The Toppers have been able to get things going early and often with junior shortstop Ethan Estes and junior third baseman Nolan Marcus leading the team at the top of the lineup with on-base percentages over 54 percent. Last season, Marcus was second in the MEC in hit by pitches with 21, and this season in 14 at-bats, he has already been hit seven times. Hughes has been a duel threat thus far by leading the team on the mound getting a victory, and at the plate batting .438 with one double, one triple and six runs batted in.
Junior pitcher Justin Retzer is excited about the upcoming season and his new role as one of the weekend starters after getting the opening day start against Concord University. “The team has a different feel to it this year, and I love the direction that this team is moving in,” Retzer said.
The season is still young, but the Hilltoppers are the only team in the north division of the MEC to have a positive record, so there is a lot of promise moving forward in the 2017 season. Senior Hughes said, “We will be a good team if we stick with the same approach to each game, stay within ourselves, and trust the process. In order to keep doing what we’re doing, we have to continue to work hard and have fun while we’re at it.”
The Hilltoppers are no strangers to hot starts as they started the 2016 season with an 8-1 record. After this weekend, the next game for the Toppers will be on March 3 against Ohio Valley University in Washington, Pa. The first home games of the season will be on March 25 and 26 against Concord University and UVA-Wise.
These teams haven’t played each other in the past seven seasons, so they will be coming into the series very unfamiliar with each other. These games will be very important for the Hilltoppers as they will try to climb the regional rankings with non-conference victories. Be sure to follow the baseball team all season on Twitter and log onto hilltoppersports.com for schedules and statistics.