Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
BELTON- After losing last Thursday’s duel at LeTourneau in extra innings, the UMHB baseball team made sure it did not let another tight one slip away.
Ninth-inning heroics powered the Crusaders to victory under the bright lights of Red Murff Field Tuesday night, as they downed their third Top 25 opponent of the season. In this case, it was No. 25 Texas Lutheran. The final score of 6-5 does not capture the story of the final inning. But perhaps the final play does.
In a contest where UMHB had two more hits, one more walk, four more home runs and three more stolen bases than the visiting Bulldogs, the Cru also had an unparalleled confidence.
“It’s kind of been the story all year,” UMHB head coach Mike Stawski said, “Every game that we’ve walked into that we weren’t supposed to win, we have a different mindset, a different intensity, a different chip on our shoulder.”
In the top of the ninth, with TLU at bat and the score knotted at five, runners stood on first and second, with no outs. Zack Honey, coming off two challenging outings last week, was brought onto pitch for Cameron Bogan, and he faced just one batter, but it was the last batter that stepped to the plate for TLU. Asher Bonnell lined into a triple play as second baseman Caimyn Holiday caught the hard-hit ball for the first out, before firing it to shortstop Sam Mungia, who got it to Malek Bolin on first base. Both runners were called out, unable to get back to their respective bases in time.
That momentum carried over to the bottom of the inning, as Holiday walked, stole second, then third, before sprinting home on Robert McCall’s sacrifice flyout to center field. As Holiday crossed the plate, the dugout erupted. UMHB had earned the walk-off victory.
“It’s classic Cru baseball,” Stawski said of the turn of events in the bottom of the ninth. “We get a guy on base. He steals second. He steals third. And all we have to do is hit a fly ball to win the game. Without our run game, maybe we don’t win that game. But Caimyn was out there and was prepared to do what he does best: get on base and create havoc.”
And if McCall had not hit the sacrifice fly in that at-bat?
“I’m going to be honest with you, I told the coaching staff, if Robert doesn’t do a job there with one out, we were probably going to try to steal home with two outs,” Stawski said postgame. “We were going to take the chance.”
While that would have certainly added to the drama of Tuesday’s contest, Stawski and his team were happy to end it with McCall celebrating near first base as Holiday scored.
“We didn’t have a normal preparation coming into this game,” Stawski said, noting how Easter weekend and a JV doubleheader yesterday affected the regular routine. “So for the guys to come out and focus and come out the way they did, that was the most impressive part.”
Storylines in the victory
Power-hitting guided the Cru early: The scoring success began early in the contest, as UMHB took the first lead of the game on Bolin’s two-run homer in the first. McCall followed that up with a homer of his own later in the frame, and two innings later, Bolin sent another home run deep over the outfield wall, breaking what was a 3-3 tie. The senior now has 13 home runs on the year, with at least one in each of the last two games. The fifth inning saw Holiday send a home run of his own, tying the score at five, which put the Cru in the position for the eventual walk-off.
Stawski: “The home runs we’ve hit are not something we recruited, something we count on or something we practice. We prepare to move guys around, steal bases and hit with two strikes. I think a lot of it comes from that preparation when you aren’t trying to do too much, and take team swings.”
Honey picked up the win on the mound: Honey threw just four pitches, but those four pitches gave him a confidence booster after allowing five earned runs over just 1.2 innings in two appearances last week. Getting back on the mound and playing a role in the ninth-inning triple play is something Stawski believes will serve the left-handed reliever well in this weekend’s series at Sul Ross State.
Stawski: “I’m not sure there’s anyone else on the pitching staff that throws with more confidence than he does. So when he’s confident and has momentum, he’s as good as anyone we have on the staff. He’s absolutely someone we’ll count on this weekend in Alpine.”
Non-conference success capped by Tuesday’s win: The series win over TLU closes out the non-conference portion of UMHB’s schedule. With non-conference arrangements set up with two, and in some cases, three games during the course of a season, the Crusaders played 10 games against four different opponents in 2022. And UMHB did not lose in any of those series. They swept Austin College, split two-game series against Southwestern and Trinity, and on Tuesday night, took down TLU for a 2-1 series win. The Cru previously hosted the Bulldogs on Feb. 27 in a doubleheader, which was split.
UMHB will make its first trip to Alpine, Texas for a series at Sul Ross State under the direction of Stawski, the Cru’s third-year head coach. Played at historic Kokernot Field, the series opens with a doubleheader on Friday at 4 p.m., followed by the 1 p.m. series finale on Saturday.