Above photo of Caimyn Holiday by CJ Halloran/@cjhall_photography
BELTON, Texas- The UMHB baseball team’s 13-14 record does not jump off the page. Only when the context is understood does the record’s significance become apparent.
Take for example senior pitcher/infielder Jeb Zolman, who has played his entire collegiate career in Belton. Not only has Zolman never enjoyed a winning season, but he’s never played in the ASC Tournament.
Junior infielder Malek Bolin is the same way. He recently pointed out to head coach Mike Stawski that he had never experienced a season in which the Cru won 10 or more games.
“When we beat Sul Ross a couple weeks ago in that third game, Malek Bolin said, ‘This is the most wins I’ve ever had in my career’,” said Stawski. “At that point we were 11-11. I was like, ‘Really?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’ve won 9 games and 10 games twice.’
“If you’re an outsider looking in, you’re like, ‘That team’s 13-14. They’re fine.’ But in reality, from where the program was to where we’re heading, we’ve had a very successful season. It’s the most wins we have in five years, a chance to make the conference tournament. [The UMHB Athletics Department] couldn’t even come up with the last time [UMHB] had a four-game sweep, which we did at Schreiner. They couldn’t even find that in the record books.
“So it’s these little accomplishments that we’ve had that those who are inside the program and who know the history of it, look and say, ‘These guys are 13-14 with a bunch of young guys in the field.’ I’ve very proud of where we’re at. We’re 13-7 since we started out 0-6.”
The formula for success seems to have started with the Cru’s approach at the plate. UMHB has the seventh-fewest home runs in the league with 13, yet have still scored 149 runs on the season.
“Our big thing is, you need to get on base,” Stawski said. “We don’t recruit for guys to hit home runs, it’s hard to hit doubles. Our philosophy is, put good at bats together, try to find some barrels and maybe good things will happen. Don’t get me wrong, everyone likes slugging percentage and all that, but we’re more about, how do we create runs?”
Putting themselves in a position to score has been a critical aspect of the strategy, considering the majority of the lineup is not described as “power-heavy”. With singles making up 79 percent of the Cru’s total hits, stealing bases has become commonplace.
“It’s kind of a calling card,” Stawski said of stealing bases. “It’s what I’ve been known for for the last several years. It’s a full system. I just think it’s another way to score runs. It’s an element that a team needs to prepare for and stop. I think it helps us stay away from slumps.
“Honestly, our guys enjoy it. Malek’s excited, Jeb’s excited. Those guys are slow runners but they know when they get to first, there’s a chance they’ll get to steal second. I think that’s important. I think creating that kind of atmosphere and having a fun type of team to play for, it can result in winning.”
Leading the offensive charge is shortstop Caimyn Holiday, who is one of just two players on the roster to have started all 27 of UMHB’s games this season. Holiday is in the lineup for good reason, as he is second on the team in batting average hitting .368, and is 12-for-12 on stolen base attempts.
For Stawski, Holiday’s on-field achievements only tell half the story. His leadership has played a critical role in the Cru’s performance this season, and contributed to the team chemistry that is evident on this young team.
“I know his numbers are good and he’s played great and he’ll probably get some honors at the end of the season, but his leadership has been what has really stuck out to us,” Stawski said. “As impressive of a season as he’s had statistically, the way he’s handled the program and the way he’s bought in and what he’s doing for his teammates is way more impressive to us [as a coaching staff]. That’s the stuff people don’t get to see.”
On the mound, newcomer Andrew Acierni has fit into his role as the Cru’s game two starter nicely. He leads the team in ERA (min. three innings pitched) at 1.92, and has made seven starts, throwing 47 innings this season. With an arsenal of pitches, he averages 4.9 strikeouts per outing. Coming to Belton after one year at Brookhaven College in Farmer’s Branch, Texas, Stawski was not sure what to expect from the Waco native.
“I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t think he was a good as he is,” Stawski said. “I liked him. If I’m recruiting you I really like you. He was a strike-thrower, he’s got some command. That’s everything you can see.
“Then you start having conversations with him, your bring him on campus, you meet the family, and all of a sudden, you’re like, ‘Man, this kid is an all-star’. At that point, I thought, ‘I think it’d be good. I think he can be one of our guys.’
“But then you get him here and you watch him work. And you see his work ethic and just actual ethics and what he does for the team. He’s an absolute stud.”
Heading into this weekend’s three game series at home against McMurry, UMHB is taking it game-by-game, with the ultimate goal to be one of the eight teams to make the conference tournament. Currently, the Cru is eighth in the ASC standings, as there are no divisions in ASC baseball. McMurry enters the series at 8-18 in conference action.
“I think there’s a lot of, ‘Hey, I want to play more,'” said Stawski. “How do we play more? We have to make the conference tournament. That’s what the focus has been, but you can’t look ahead three or four weeks to the conference tournament. You have to win the game that’s in front of you.”