Above photo by CJ Halloran/@cjhall_photography
RICHARDSON, Texas- The UMHB baseball team never saw its season ending this way.
But then again, few outside the program thought the Cru would even reach the ASC Tournament when this season began.
Following Thursday’s 6-3 victory over Concordia (TX) in the ASC Tournament, the first in program history since 2014, Friday brought about two losses for UMHB at the hands of top-seeded UT Dallas and Concordia in an elimination game.
The losses eliminated the Cru from the tournament, concluding a memorable year in which UMHB posted a record of 22-17.
A day after UMHB starter Andrew Acierni fired a complete game, Jeb Zolman followed suit against UTD. The fifth-year senior, making the first ASC Tournament start of his career, threw all nine innings, keeping the Cru in the game for the majority of the contest. He did allow four earned runs in his final collegiate start, the last coming on a sacrifice bunt that scored the go-ahead run.
Though UTD delivered the final blow, it was UMHB who scored first, taking a 2-0 lead in the third inning when first baseman Malek Bolin pulled a pitch down the left field line, sending it past the outfield fence for a two-run homer that also scored shortstop Caimyn Holiday.
The Comets were not silenced for long, striking back in the fourth with a four-run outburst. UTD pushed across its first run of the contest, as Zolman allowed consecutive singles to open the inning. The damage was compounded in the following at-bat when Zolman tried to nab the runner going to second, but misfired, and instead put runners on first and second after the error. A base hit two batters later from Deylan Moreno gave UTD its first lead of the game, as the Comets went up 3-2.
Despite trailing 4-2 entering the seventh, the Crusaders made the most of their opportunities at the plate, as Holiday was hit by a pitch and came around to score with two outs, diving headfirst to beat the tag at home plate after a passed ball.
Designated hitter Ryan Farmer’s double was followed by an RBI single from center fielder Dawson Shibley in the eighth, as the Cru knotted the score at four apiece.
UTD proved why it was the top seed, however, scoring in the bottom of the inning to reclaim the lead on the sac bunt to the first base side by Marcos Villegas that was mentioned above.
The loss sent the Cru into an elimination game less than an hour afterward, facing a familiar opponent in Concordia. Not only had the two ASC foes played Thursday, but had also finished the regular season last weekend with a two-game series.
From the first pitch, the Crusaders, playing their third game within the last 30 hours, showed signs of fatigue, with starter Trevor Ripke allowing the game’s first run on a base hit down the right field line off the bat of Concordia’s Chris Varljen.
Concordia never surrendered the lead from that point on, using an error and four hits to add two insurance runs in the third.
The Cru did not score its lone run until the fifth inning, as right fielder Kaden deBerardinis singled to center field with one out, moved to third on a double from second baseman Blake Harmon and scored when Farmer grounded out to the shortstop in the following at-bat.
UMHB pieced together four hits over the final four frames, but failed to generate consistent offense. Stawski’s team was outhit 12-9 as it fell by a score of 6-1, and was eliminated from the tournament. Holiday accounted for a third of the Cru’s hits, going 3-for-4.
Left fielder Hunter Jones, catcher Hunter McQuary, deBerardinis, Harmon, and Bolin all tallied at least one hit in both of Friday’s games.
The consecutive losses are tough to swallow, especially considering the team was sky-high in confidence following Thursday’s win.
Yet, the Cru, picked to finish 11th in the ASC’s preseason poll, well out of the conference tournament conversation, defied the odds, reached the postseason and managed to tally a win there. That cannot be overlooked when analyzing the season, because the fight Stawski’s squad showed revealed plenty about the culture of the program. Underestimated, the Cru proved the doubters wrong, and this appears to be the foundation for deeper conference tournament runs, and NCAA tournament berths. UMHB has a solid incoming recruiting class and will look to build upon this season’s success in the years to come.
With the 2021 campaign now in the rearview mirror, it is safe to say Stawski’s first full season in Belton brought forth a new level of passion for baseball in Cru Country.