Faith might be about all Michael Brown has left in his first year at the University of Washington. The Vacaville High School graduate has to believe better days are ahead for the Huskies because this season turned sour long before its expiration date. Washington will need to win two of its remaining three Pac-12 games to avoid matching its worst conference finish since 2011.
And this is a program that in 2018 finished 20-10 in the Pac-12 and advanced to the College World Series. The cupboard may not be bare at Washington, but there is only a few cans of dog food left. They are Huskies after all and have done little else this season than learn how to play dead. Even if Washington sweeps Washington State to end the season, the Huskies (19-28, 5-19 Pac-12) will finish with their fewest wins since going 17-37 in 2011.
The Huskies had a bit of bark in them Saturday when they pulled out a 2-1 victory over Utah to snap a 10-game losing streak. Prevailing in a battle of Pac-12 bottom feeders is little cause for celebration, but the Huskies will take what they can get at this point. They followed with a 6-5 victory Sunday to win their first Pac-12 series since taking out of three against UCLA in April. The Bruins were ranked 10th at the time.
Shea Kramer, a 2017 Vacaville graduate, went 1-for-10 in the series for Utah. After belting his first home run of the season in the eighth inning Sunday, Kramer grounded out with the potential tying run at third base to end the game.
Having earned a degree in communications, Kramer will leave Utah after this season with one year of eligibility remaining and play elsewhere in 2022 as a graduate transfer. He is batting .238 this season, is second on the team in RBI with 29 and leads the Utes in triples with three – the first three of his college career.
“I’ve got more in me,” Kramer stated in a text message.
Much more is in store for Brown, who has faced four former Bulldogs in his freshman season. Kramer was the fourth, following Troy Claunch at Oregon State and the duo of Cole Elvis and Brian McClellin at Cal. Brown’s record against the four is 2-7, and he had nothing to do with two victories against Utah because he did not play in either game.
Brown was Washington’s designated hitter in the series opener Friday and went 1-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to a season-high four games. He struck out twice, raising his season total to 39. He is third on the team in strikeouts despite having far fewer at-bats (95) than the two players ahead of him – Christian Jones (56 strikeouts in 135 at-bats) and Will Simpson (47 in 156). Brown is batting .189, the lowest average of eight Washington players with at least 90 at-bats.
Being the designated hitter, as Brown has been in starting 28 of the Huskies’ 47 games, gives him plenty of time between at-bats to dissect each of them. “I got through the at-bat in my head, what I did right or what I did wrong,” he said. “Then you have to leave it behind and cheer on the next guy.”
A freshman such as Brown could fall into the trap of pressing at the plate to prove his worth, but Brown balked at such talk. “You can’t try to do too much,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s all about getting the win. I have to do what I can to contribute to that.”
It is all about winning. Brown remembers that from 2019 when Vacaville High set a school record with 31 victories in 33 games and claimed its second consecutive Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship. Brown’s senior season and the Bulldogs’ shot at a three-peat in 2020 came to an abrupt end with the spread of COVID-19.
A pandemic might not be enough to stop the Huskies in 2022 if Brown has anything to say about it “We’re never giving up. We’re never quitting. It’s that brotherhood. We play for each other,” he said. “This (season) is only going to make us stronger. We’re going to finish this year strong and come back next year with our hair on fire. I have no doubts.”
Faith can be that powerful.