Above photo by Russell Marwitz/True To The Cru/russellmarwitz.com
BELTON- The confidence is growing at a rapid rate for the UMHB baseball team.
On Tuesday night, just three days after taking down a UT-Dallas team now ranked No. 5 in the nation, the Crusaders added a second consecutive Top 25 win, defeating No. 16 Trinity, 12-9, for the first time since 2017.
“Our offense has been rolling now for probably two weeks,” UMHB head coach Mike Stawski said postgame, “if you look at game three of the Ozarks series [until now] minus game one against UTD. I was excited about the way we swung it. We didn’t put up eight or nine run innings, but we didn’t let off the gas.”
Swing it they did. UMHB tallied 17 hits, hitting .405 as a team, and scored 12 runs for the second straight game. As is the blueprint in a number of Tuesday night duels, in which coaching staffs enter with the goal to use a minimal number of pitchers in order to save arms for the weekend series, the contest was high-scoring from the first inning on.
Trinity pushed two runs across early in the opening inning, but UMHB countered with two of its own in the bottom of the first. But the Tigers responded with a run of their own, giving Trinity a 3-2 advantage. That lead only widened as the contest progressed, with Trinity getting a stretch of good innings from starting pitcher Cade McGahan, while adding two runs to its advantage in the fifth behind three walks and a single.
The Crusaders fought back with three runs over the next two innings, but truly made their mark in the seventh. Trailing 7-5, UMHB rattled off an impressive display of hitting and baserunning, as the Cru tallied four runs and took its first lead of the game, 9-7. Two errors and a passed ball aided greatly in the effort, as UMHB proved aggressive on the basepaths, and moved runners into scoring position at a rapid rate. 10 batters stepped to the plate in the inning, combining for four hits and two walks as Trinity made two pitching changes, seeking some way to slow UMHB’s offensive momentum.
The success began with Malek Bolin at the plate, Trinity up 7-5, and runners on first and second. Seeing an opportunity, the Cru executed a double steal, as both runners broke for second and third base, respectively. Bolin quickly delivered with his second infield single of the day, beating out a throw from the shortstop as Drake Herrera scored from third. With Ryan Farmer now standing on third, Trinity catcher Tyler Pettit attempted a pick-off, trying to catch Farmer off guard and record the second out of the inning. But it only got worse.
Pettit’s throw to third was too high, sailing into left field as Farmer raced home, tying the score, which earned a loud cheer from the home crowd. The scoring was only beginning for UMHB, however, as Warren Sammons ripped a base hit to right field in the next at-bat, as Bolin crossed the plate, giving UMHB its first lead of the game. Yet another pick-off error, this time on Trinity pitcher Jonathan Newman to first base, advanced Sammons to third, with him later scoring on Garrett Gregory’s RBI single.
For the remainder of the game, Trinity played catchup. The Tigers pushed one across, tying the score in the eighth, but UMHB had another answer, this time in the form of Farmer’s solo home run that traveled beyond the left field wall. Two more runs from the Crusaders in that frame extended the advantage, before Zach Carroll closed it out for UMHB on the mound in the ninth.
Here’s a closer look at the win, as UMHB moves to 10-9 on the year:
UMHB took advantage of baserunning opportunities: The Cru put themselves in a position to win because of something Stawski embedded into the program from the first time he arrived on campus: UMHB runs the bases exceptionally well. That includes taking advantage of any opportunity, which on this particular night included four errors, a passed ball, and even simply catching Trinity off guard at certain points. In a prime example, with Sammons on first, Newman attempted a pick-off but the throw was out of reach for the first baseman. Most baserunners would sprint to second, and stop there. Not Sammons. He raced all the way to third in a slightly-risky, yet very beneficial play. He came around to score, creating a two-run cushion that proved key in the final two innings.
Stawski: “I tell the guys all the time, you have to score when you shouldn’t. The way you score when you shouldn’t is, you get on first and steal second. Then, all of a sudden, with two outs, you get a single over the second baseman’s head and score, the opposing bench is thinking, ‘Man, they haven’t done anything. They didn’t earn anything except the fact that they run the bases well and do what they’re supposed to do.’ That’s how you win these kinds of games. Our run game will never slump. If we get guys on base, those guys will be ready to go.”
Consistency on the mound: A major difference in Tuesday’s victory compared to last Tuesday’s 18-13 road loss at Southwestern was the pitching performance. Nine runs allowed is not a bright spot, but the way those runs were allowed could be viewed as one. In no inning did Trinity score more than two runs, and considering Southwestern used an 11-run inning seven days earlier to seal the win, that was an improvement. Six different pitchers saw action for the Cru, with Carroll finishing the job over the final two innings, picking up his first win of the year.
Stawski: “We minimize the damage every single inning. That is what we asked our guys to do, avoid the really big innings. Our guys made some really big pitches in key spots.”
Bolin’s success at the plate: Bolin played a key role in the victory, going 5-for-6 on the evening, one of those a double, along with two RBI and two runs scored. A senior leader, Bolin has stepped up, especially at the plate, and extended his hitting streak to 11 games Tuesday night. Additionally, he reached season highs in hits and runs scored.
Stawski: “He’s solidified the middle of the order, and it has allowed the guys around him to hit with calmness and ease instead of feeling like they have to do a lot. Malek is going to take off his business. I think that’s been the most important part of his responsibility as the “old guy” in the lineup. He has said, ‘I’ll take the brunt of this. You guys just handle your business and I’ll take the load.’ He has. You can see it in his numbers.”
UMHB travels east for a three-game weekend series at Belhaven. The Blazers are 10-8, with all 10 victories having come in ASC play. Friday’s doubleheader begins at 4 p.m. CT, followed by a 1 p.m. game on Saturday.