Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- Malek Bolin saw the ball well, and unleashed his powerful swing, sending the pitch deep and over the furthest part of the outfield wall in center field. 395 feet and a two-run home run. It was No. 2 on the day for the first baseman. And a 17-2 lead. In the fourth inning.
It is safe to say a performance like the one in the series finale on Saturday afternoon has not been seen for quite some time in Belton. Taking advantage of the limited depth in Concordia’s bullpen, the floodgates opened for UMHB’s hitting. For the vast majority of the 24-7 rout of Concordia, there was nothing the Tornadoes could do to stop the Crusader bats.
UMHB head coach Mike Stawski has long prided his teams on having the ability to score even without a high number of hits. But Stawski had no need to call double steals, or surprise bunts, or any other of the “small ball” tactics typically found when UMHB is at the plate. That was because the runs came on their own. Not just in game three. But throughout Saturday’s doubleheader, as the Crusaders notched a series sweep, and moved into fourth place in the ASC standings.
“We had a really good week of preparation and we felt we’d been trending in the right direction,” Stawski said. “We hadn’t had a sweep this year, besides Austin College. It’s really hard to sweep in this conference.”
Bolin’s fourth-inning blast made the senior the program’s all-time career leader in home runs (27), capping off a memorable weekend. He swatted a solo homer in the fifth inning of game two as well, finnshing the series 6-for-10 at the plate.
As would become a trend throughout the weekend, UMHB trailed early in the series opener, with Concordia taking the lead in a three-run second inning. But the Cru soon found its rhythm at the plate, with Rhett Grosz’s base hit in the third sparking the scoring. Caimyn Holiday doubled with two outs after Grosz stole second, and Holiday scored on the following at-bat, as Bolin singled.
Bolin came up with yet another RBI single in his next at-bat, just before Sam Mungia did the same. Kaden deBerardinis topped it all off in the seventh, sending a pitch past the outfield wall for a solo home run, claiming the 5-3 victory for the Cru.
The bats continued to shine in Saturday’s doubleheader, as the Cru took the series with an 11-7 game two victory. Concordia jumped out with a 3-0 lead in the opening frame, before UMHB starting pitcher Rahul Champaneri settled down, striking out two in a three-up, three-down second inning. That led to an impressive five-run outburst for the Crusaders in the bottom of the inning, as Robert McCall took a swing on the first pitch he saw, and sent it deep to right-center field for a two-run home run. Holiday’s bases-clearing two-out double later in the second put UMHB up 5-3, a lead the Crusaders protected for the next five innings, though the Tornadoes did tie the score at six apiece in the fifth. That tie did not last long, though, as Bolin connected on the first pitch of the fifth, swatting his eighth homer of the season, as UMHB regained the lead, and closed it out in a four-run sixth.
The offensive surge continued into game three. By the third inning, everyone in the lineup had at least one hit and the Crusaders led 11-2. Everything was in sync and pitch after pitch was sent into the outfield gaps, and the runs soon piled up. Warren Sammons’ grand slam in the second inning broke a 2-2 tie, and from that point on, UMHB controlled the game. A five-run third followed, as two fly balls were lost in the sun in right field by Concordia fielders, extending the offensive surge with more runners reaching base. An eight-run fourth all but sealed it, extending the lead to 19-2. Not surprisingly, UMHB run-ruled the Tornadoes in seven innings.
“The biggest focus for us after the first two games was to go out and win the first few innings,” Stawski said of the 17-run victory in game three. “We gave up a two-spot in the first and then we really came back in the next few innings.”
Storylines throughout the series
Power-hitting at its prime: Typically reliant more on its baserunning and stolen bases than home-run hitting, UMHB put on a show at the plate in both games of the doubleheader. The Crusaders hit four homers in game two with McCall, Bolin, Staton Dudley and Hunter Jones each sending one past the outfield fence. In fact, six of UMHB’s 11 runs in the victory came on homers, and even outside of those, the Cru’s final two runs in the sixth were the result of sacrifice flyouts. And Sammons’ grand slam in the second inning of game three proved to be one of the series’ most critical plays. UMHB tallied a total of five home runs in the series finale, a season-high.
Stawski: “I thought from an offensive standpoint that we were going to be a tough matchup for them. They pitch it well and I thought if we handled our business in the plan the coaches put together, I didn’t think they were going to be able to hold us down long enough.”
Game three etched itself into the record books: A look at the program record book reveals just how rare a victory like the one on Saturday afternoon was. For the first time since 2009, UMHB pushed 22 or more runs across the plate, and the mark tied itself for fourth in the program’s D-III era in single-game scoring. The five home runs is tied for second in that all-time category, with the Cru’s performance against Texas Wesleyan on April 14, 2004. And the 23 RBIs are also second amongst UMHB’s contests at the D-III level, tying the mark set against Austin College in 2003. The Cru’s 49 total bases is second in that statistical category. UMHB had not recorded 40 or more total bases in a game since 2008.
After consecutive series at home, UMHB travels to San Antonio for its final non–conference matchup of the season against No. 21 Trinity (TX) at 7 p.m. on Tuesday. The Tigers are 20-7 overall and 15-3 at home.