Above photo by Luke Zayas/True To The Cru
MARSHALL, Texas- They took on a valiant fight, a fight no Crusader baseball team had taken on before, and while in the end, it ended in a loss, what this year’s UMHB baseball team accomplished will set a standard for years to come.
On Sunday afternoon, in the Blue Bracket final of the ASC Tournament, the UMHB baseball team went toe-to-toe with top-seeded ETBU, nearly stunning the Tigers in the process with a victory. But ETBU rallied late, winning 10-9 on a walk-off single in the 10th inning.
Regardless of the final result, the Cru set a program record for ASC Tournament wins (2), in the weekend’s performance. The team also won 25 games, and with most of this year’s squad returning in 2023, Stawski was encouraged by the performance, especially considering Sunday’s game was UMHB’s fifth in the last three days.
“Advancing further [in the ASC Tournament] was definitely a step we wanted to take,” Stawski said Sunday. “It vindicated the progress we have seen over the last 12 months both in recruiting and development. It was nice to see it happen on the field.”
How it played out
In the early innings, it appeared that Sunday’s matchup would follow a very similar pattern to Saturday’s 10-0 victory for the Tigers. ETBU pushed two across in the first inning on back-to-back homers from Carson Wilson and Will Kelly, before adding another in the second for a 3-0 lead.
The Cru had other ideas, scoring four runs both the fourth and fifth innings, taking a commanding 8-3 advantage. UMHB opened the fourth with consecutive walks to Caimyn Holiday and Malek Bolin, and both came around to score one batter later on Hunter Jones’ RBI double. Rhett Grosz’s double with two outs in the inning scored Ryan Farmer, giving the Cru its first lead, 4-3.
“We played much more loose today and had fun for 10 innings,” Stawski said. “That was the biggest difference in the two games [we played against ETBU]. We went down 3-0 in both games. Yesterday our dugout was silent. Today we were still ready to fight.”
That lead remained through the sixth, but true to form, ETBU found its offensive rhythm in the late innings. A two-run seventh was the first sign of the comeback. Then a three-run eighth added to the growing momentum.
But UMHB still entered the ninth, holding a 9-8 lead, after Sam Mungia’s eighth-inning RBI single to center field. UMHB reliever Alex Palczewski allowed a single following the inning’s first out, but struck out Austin Barry for the second out. In a critical point, one out away from the loss, ETBU’s Brett Wagner rose to the occasion, with a double that scored the runner on first and tied it at nine apiece. Unable to hold off the Tigers’ charge, UMHB’s Zack Honey did all he could in the 10th, but Christopher Robinson’s walk-off single with the bases loaded won it for the conference’s regular season champs, who advanced to the ASC Championship series.
Stawski gave ETBU all the credit for the comeback, noting “we didn’t lose the game, ETBU won it.”
“I really attribute [the comeback from ETBU] to the fact that they are a really good team with a lot of older guys who have played in big games,” he said. “That can’t be understated in that type of an environment.”
In his final game as a Crusader, Holiday went 2-for-4, scoring a pair of runs, while Farmer tallied three RBIs in a 2-for-5 performance. Jones recorded three RBIs of his own, as one of five UMHB players with a double in the contest.
Starting pitcher Andrew Acierni struck out five in 4.2 innings, allowing just four hits, but those hits combined with three walks led to ETBU’s first three runs. Trevor Ripke also provided 2.1 innings of solid relief, with three strikeouts in his second appearance of the tournament.
UMHB ends its season at 25-19, having won five of its 10 ASC series during the regular season. Stawski’s third year in Belton saw the program win 25 games for the first time under his direction, which is also the third highest single-season win total for UMHB as a D-III institution. Nicklas Fenner, Robert McCall, Mungia and Holiday each earned ASC All-Tournament honors.
“These guys experiencing winning like this and then unfortunately a loss like that only creates more well rounded players moving forward,” Stawski said. “The young guys become experienced real quick and the veterans gain even more experience. Making it to the conference tournament has been a goal these past two years. It won’t be any more. It will be something we do from here on out.”