Above photo of Caimyn Holiday by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- It seems there is no better way to begin a season than against a rival. Because on Saturday afternoon, the UMHB baseball team performed at a remarkably-high level, defeating Hardin-Simmons in Belton, and earning a 2-1 series victory to begin the 2022 schedule.
Under the lights of Red Murff Field Friday night, the season began with a thrilling finish, a 6-5 UMHB win, as Carson Hagan’s sacrifice flyout to center field scored Warren Sammons from third base in the ninth inning for the walk-off victory.
It seemed the year could not have gotten off on a better foot, as the Crusaders tallied seven hits, two each from seniors Malek Bolin and Caimyn Holiday, while Trevor Ripke was credited with the win after four solid innings of relief.
Though UMHB delivered the final blow, it was HSU who struck first, taking a 1-0 lead on Garrett Frazier’s first-inning home run. The designated hitter came back in the third for another homer off freshman starting pitcher James McGlumphy, extending the advantage to 4-0. But the Cru clawed back into it, scoring in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, tying the score at four apiece. Holiday’s RBI double scored the speedy Drake Herrera from first base in the eighth, as UMHB took its first lead of the ballgame, and came back to break another tie in the ninth in dramatic fashion.
HSU took game two, 3-2, after a superb pitching performance from starter Grant Mitzelfelt. UMHB was held to just two hits, but was in it until the final out of the seven-inning contest, when Holiday lined out to second base with a runner standing on third.
But UMHB came back thirty minutes later and won the series finale, 6-3. Hunter Jones singled in the third with the score tied at three, and scored both Sammons and Holiday, as the Cru took a 5-3 lead. That proved enough, as Cameron Bogan held the HSU lineup to just one hit over the final three innings in his UMHB debut.
Newcomers made an early impact: Several newcomers saw action in the series, including starting pitchers McGlumphy and Nicklas Fenner, as well as Herrera, who started all three games in the outfield. Behind the plate, Sammons displayed excellent leadership and command of the defense in addition to hitting with confidence. Fenner picked up the win in Saturday’s game three, with a quality performance that saw him go six innings, allowing just three runs.
UMHB head coach Mike Stawski:”Drake got off to a slow start but we believe in him, we have a lot of confidence in him and his game and we know he’s going to contribute next weekend.
“Warren was great behind the dish and he swung the bat well. My favorite part about his game is that he helped with the new guys on the mound. He controlled their game as much as he controlled his own.
“Fenner was awesome. I knew he was nervous but he stayed composed the whole time and competed for us for six innings. He didn’t surprise me by his outing, he just vindicated what we already knew; that he is going to be a guy for us this year.”
Aggressive base-running: A large part of the offensive success can be attributed to UMHB’s baserunning style. Aggressive and fast-paced, taking advantage of every passed ball and error, the Cru moved its runners into scoring position early and often. In the second inning of game three, Herrera walked, sprinted to second base on a wild pitch, reached third on a flyout, and then crossed the plate on another wild pitch from HSU pitcher Brandon Girod, as the UMHB dugout erupted in excitement.
Stawski: “Drake has really bought into our base running system. He loves it. He will definitely be a catalyst in that department.”
Relief pitching was key: In Friday’s victory, Ripke’s performance was a critical component in keeping HSU’s hitting at a minimum. The right-hander fired four innings, allowing just one run, as he displayed excellent command of the strike zone. In the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, it was Alex Palczewski who was called upon in the fifth inning. The Fort Worth native turned in three straight scoreless innings, two of which saw him send the Cowboys down in order. And to close out the weekend, Bogan struck out five and did not walk a batter in three scoreless innings.
Stawski: “The relievers were awesome. Ripke kept throwing up zeros which allowed our offense to claw its way back into the game. If he would have given up a run here or there, the outcome of that game would have been very different. He arguably was our most valuable guy in game 1. AP and Bogan were great today. They both do everything we ask them to do. They come in with some presence, command the zone and give us a chance.”
What Needs Improvement
UMHB struck out 14 times between the three games, and Stawski noted that a high percentage of those came as the result of swinging at pitches outside the strike zone with two outs. Improving that plate discipline, even slightly, is something Stawski believes can have a positive impact on the Cru’s scoring.
Stawski: “The one thing that we are going to focus on is to not have our hitters chase pitches out of the zone with two strikes. Almost every single strike out on Saturday was swinging at a pitch out of the zone. If we can clean that up just a little bit our offense can get very dangerous.”
UMHB takes its first road trip of the season, battling McMurry in Abilene in a three-game conference series. The Warhawks were swept by Sul Ross State this weekend in Alpine.