Above photo by CJ Halloran/@cjhall_photography
ABILENE, Texas- The UMHB baseball team successfully defended its place as the hottest team in the ASC this weekend, notching its seventh straight victory while sweeping conference rival Hardin-Simmons on the road.
The trio of victories moved UMHB to 20-14 on the year, and 12-9 in conference play, sweeping a conference opponent for the second straight week. HSU dropped to 9-24 on the season and 5-16 in the ASC.
Most importantly, the sweep secured a berth in the ASC Tournament for the Cru, something the program had not accomplished since 2017.
What UMHB head coach Mike Stawski’s team has put together in the last seven games is something remarkable. This win streak is far from a fluke, and instead, the product of veteran leadership, a high-octane offense, and pitching that is hard to match. Simply said, the Crusaders are clicking when it matters most, in the final month of the regular season, but are from peaking. Ask almost anyone within the program and they are likely to tell you something to the effect of, “The best is yet to come.”
The Cru was powered by two four-run innings in game one as the visitors from Belton rolled to a 12-6 victory Friday night.
The second of those four-run outbursts came in the top of the ninth, as UMHB put the game away after entering the inning with a slim 8-6 advantage.
HSU tallied two outs after the Cru put two runners on base to open the frame. That is when the UMHB offense went to work. With the bases loaded and facing a new pitcher, designated hitter Hunter Jones knocked a single to left field that scored both shortstop Caimyn Holiday and center fielder Dawson Shibley, putting UMHB in front 10-6. The insurance was increased one batter later, as third baseman Rhett Grosz laced a double into the left-center field gap that brought Brandon Madden and Ryan Farmer sprinting across the plate to make the score 12-6.
HSU had no answer in the bottom of the final frame, as UMHB reliever Trevor Ripke notched his fourth and fifth strikeouts of the day, allowing no hits or walks with just one error in the scoreless inning.
Zack Honey earned the win for UMHB to move to 2-1 on the season, while Ripke tallied his third save of the year.
Jones was critical to the Cru’s success at the plate, going 4-for-6 with four RBI. Catcher Hunter McQuary had an equally strong day at the plate, with a 3-for-5 performance and a key sacrifice bunt in the ninth. Second baseman Blake Harmon was unstoppable, with a 3-for-3 day. Right fielder Mateo Calle, who left the game in the sixth inning, had the Cru’s only home run.
Game two witnessed a slightly lower-scoring contest that had the same victor, as UMHB pulled out the series win 6-1.
The Cru started fast, scoring two runs in the first on a triple to right field by first baseman Malek Bolin in the top of the first. UMHB starter Andrew Acierni kept a no-hitter going for the first three innings before giving up two hits in the fourth. But he was virtually untouchable all afternoon, throwing a complete, seven-inning game, with just four hits, zero walks, one earned run and seven strikeouts.
The victory did not come without a pinch of controversy, however. In the top of the sixth, with UMHB leading 4-0, Harmon sent a pitch from HSU starter Wyatt Tumlinson in the air down the left field line. It barely stayed fair, sneaking past the foul pole for a two-run home run. Or so the umpires said.
HSU’s coaching staff though differently, conversing with the umpires for several minutes as the officiating crew attempted to determine the correct call. Harmon was eventually rewarded with the homer, as he and Grosz literally walked across the plate to make the score 6-0.
That was enough to seal the game two victory, though HSU pushed one across on a single to left field with two outs in the seventh.
The series finale later on Saturday afternoon provided the same result, with the Cru coming up victorious 13-6 to earn the sweep. UMHB clearly had the better offensive approach, running aggressively on the basepaths.
The Crusaders went 7-for-7 on stolen base attempts, as the HSU infield was kept on its toes.
Jones ignited the offense in the second inning, driving a pitch through the middle to score Bolin, who had walked to open the inning, and put UMHB in the lead 1-0.
Though HSU took advantage of an error to tie the score, and then captured a 2-1 lead on a sac fly in the bottom of the inning, the Cru never panicked, instead going to work at the plate as the third rolled around.
Kaden deBerardinis knocked a double to right field in the first at-bat of the third, and got a great jump on the next play, scoring from second off a base hit from Shibley. Holiday added the Cru’s third hit of the frame in the following at-bat, with a single through the left side of the infield that scored Shibley, who had reached second on a wild pitch.
The Crusaders never looked back, though they continued to demonstrate their offensive firepower well into the contest. A four-run top of the fifth secured the sweep, which was highlighted by Holiday’s speed. The shortstop singled, then proceeded to steal second and third, before scoring, along with Bolin, on a hard-hit single to left from Jones.
Bolin fired another blow for the Cru in the sixth, giving UMHB a 10-6 lead as he launched a pitch over the plate past the left-center field wall. Grosz turned on a good pitch one batter later, following a walk from Jones, and sent a two-run homer over the left field fence, adding to the significant lead.
HSU had no answer, as the Crusader bullpen held the Cowboys hitless over the final three innings, though HSU did make the game interesting in the fifth, pushing across four runs to briefly cut the lead to 8-6.
The offensive contributions came from a variety of starters, as seven different players had at least one hit.
Jones stood out as a consistent bat in UMHB’s lineup throughout the weekend, going 6-for-13 with seven RBI. Holiday was not stopped on the basepaths either, stealing five bases in the series, including four in the series finale. Bolin had one hit in each game, as did Shibley, who went 5-for-13 and has had a multi-hit game in four of his last six appearances.
The Cru, who have shown no signs of slowing down as the final week of the season approaches, will now prepare for a three-game set at Concordia (TX) to conclude the regular season schedule next weekend.
Then, of course, it is tournament time.