Above photo by CJ Halloran/@cjhall_photography
BELTON, Texas- The UMHB baseball team tallied its second sweep of the season on Sunday afternoon, defeating ASC rival McMurry to close out its final home games of the 2021 season.
The trio of victories moved the Cru to 16-14 on the season and 9-9 in conference play. McMurry, who entered the series just a game behind UMHB in the conference standings, dropped to 8-21 on the year and 5-16 in ASC play.
UMHB was led at the plate by a trio of consistent hitters, as shortstop Caimyn Holiday, catcher Hunter McQuary, and second baseman Blake Harmon each tallied a hit in all three victories. Holiday extended his hitting streak to 10 games, going 4-for-10 on the weekend. McQuary also hit safely in each of the last 10 contests, going 5-for-13. Harmon, a freshman, had struggled at the plate prior to the series, but came up with several big hits and went 3-for-10. Hunter Jones did not play game three, but went a combined 5-for-6 in Saturday’s doubleheader.
On a cold, windy day to open the series, UMHB’s starters were red hot.
Jeb Zolman started game one, which marked the final start of his collegiate career in Belton. The senior pitched to perfection, striking out 12, in a complete game, seven-inning performance. He walked none, and gave up just one hit, a double that hooked away from the outstretched glove of left fielder Hunter Jones.
He demonstrated an ability to mix speeds and place the ball in the strike zone, which kept McMurry on its toes.
“Baseball is pretty romantic in those kinds of things,” UMHB head coach Mike Stawski said of Zolman’s performance. “He deserved it. Those kinds of things don’t just happen, baseball gods exist and he’s earned it. I always say, ‘People get what they deserve in life and in the game’ and he’s put in the work.”
The Cru had trouble of its own when it came to scoring, as the score remained knotted at zero for the first five innings of play. After Zolman recorded his fifth three-up, three-down inning of the day in the sixth, UMHB’s bats came alive, as five runs came across.
The offensive outburst began with a series of bunts, the first of which put Jones on first, and the second moved Dawson Shibley, pinch running for Jones, over to second. Harmon was responsible for the only run the Cru needed, as he drove a double down the left field line that scored Shibley.
The floodgates then opened, as Holiday drove two runs and McQuary pushed across another, both coming on singles. McQuary’s RBI knocked McMurry starter Nick Hamel out of the game, but the Cru’s offense continued against Warhawks reliever Logan Ehr.
McMurry had no answer, as Zolman closed out the contest in the top of the seventh, striking out the final two batters he faced in dominant fashion.
UMHB’s game two starter Andrew Acierni battled rain along with the wind, but kept McMurry at bay. He had a no-hitter going through two innings, but the Warhawks tallied four hits and a run in the third.
That was not a problem, however, as UMHB had tallied a four-run second to take a commanding 4-0 lead. The bats came alive for the Cru, as 10 batters stepped to the plate in the frame, tallying five hits.
A disastrous fifth inning for the UMHB infield put the Warhawks back in contention, as Holiday tallied two errors, both with two outs. The latter of the two allowed runners to score from second and third as the hard-hit grounder bounced off the shortstop’s shin.
Eventually, the rain was just too much to battle. The lightning warning signal sounded throughout the ballpark, and the tarp was soon rolled out. Fans were cleared from the metal bleachers with the score tied at four and one out in the top of the sixth with a runner on second.
The contest was set to resume an hour later, but lightning again forced the contest to be put on hold…this time until 5 p.m.
As it turned out, it was worth the two-hour wait to see the final four innings, as a combined 10 runs were scored and UMHB rallied for the 10-8 victory.
After McMurry’s Sam Hillyer swatted a two-run homer in the sixth to give the Warhawks a 6-4 lead, the visitors from Abilene added two more. But UMHB responded soonafter, pushing three across in a seventh-inning rally to cut the deficit to 8-7.
The Cru did not stop there, and took a 10-8 lead in the eighth on what was undoubtedly the play of the game, as McQuary launched a ball to the left-center field wall, and scored a rare inside-the-park home run. He drove in runners from second and third as well, for his fourth hit of the day.
As it turned out, Stawski’s decision to send McQuary, who barely beat the throw with a headfirst slide, home, was the deciding factor, as McMurry scored one in the top of the ninth.
“I was looking at the relay and I was watching where the shortstop was,” Stawski recalled. “When the relay came in, the shortstop had to move one step to his left. That’s all I needed. But honestly, when he hit second base, I knew I was sending him [home].”
Plenty of credit goes to UMHB reliever Trevor Ripke, who gave up three hits and a run, but induced a groundout when it was needed most, with the bases loaded, two outs, and the Cru leading by one.
“The thing about a rain delay is it’s real easy to build an excuse,” Stawski said postgame. “But that’s not what this team is anymore. The team expects to win. You can see how acted those last three innings. I was never worried, even when we went down four. I knew offensively if we could just get to their guy and cause some havoc on the bases that they would struggle.”
McMurry struggled in game three, having already lost the series on Saturday. In Sunday’s contest, the last of the season at Red Murff Field, the Crusaders put on a show for the home crowd, winning 7-1.
Ripke, UMHB’s starter, held McMurry to just two hits and two walks through the first five innings, though it was the Warhawks who took an early 1-0 lead in the third.
The Cru had a counter, scoring five runs in the fifth to put the game out of reach. The key moment of the offensive outburst came four batters into the inning, when Harmon drove a single to right center that scored runners from second and third. Right fielder Kaden deBerardinis was the go-ahead run, scoring from second to put UMHB in front 2-1. That was the difference in the contest, though five additional insurance runs were added over the next three innings, three coming later in the fifth.
Every starter for the Cru had at least one hit, with third baseman Rhett Grosz posting the only multi-hit day as he went 2-for-4. Harmon led UMHB with two RBI.
UMHB looks ahead to a midweek contest on Tuesday against Southwestern before resuming ASC play next weekend in Abilene against Hardin-Simmons.