Cincinnati Bearcats Baseball 2011 Intro Video (via CincinnatiBearcats)
The game of baseball is a grind. Generally, teams play 4-5-6 games a week and have to deal with daily challenges such as nagging injuries, unpredictable weather, player slumps, and lineup changes. These can take both a mental and physical toll on a baseball team so coaches are constantly trying to keep their players at an even keel to not get over zealous over a win or over emotional over injuries or a loss. So while what Coach Cleary did this season wasn't exactly a miracle, leading this team to the playoffs is a great accomplishment. Add to the fact that he was doing it with players touting 7.5 total scholarships when the NCAA allows for 11.5 is just gravy. That's not a knock on the walk-ons or anything, but by being 4 schollies short of the maximum allowed leaves Cleary coaching without a full deck.
So before UC took the field this afternoon against the Johnnies, I wanted to let everyone get to know them a little better and give you a brief overview of their season. Overall, UC comes into this game 30 - 25 overall and 14 - 13 in the Big East. The season had its series of ups and downs, from an opening game win over the Buckeyes and a season sweep of Xavier to a disappointing defeat to Division-III Otterbein University. By the time the final weekend of the regular season rolled around, UC was still fighting for a spot in the playoffs.
To say that the Big East standings was a clusterfuck would be an understatement. Teams 3 through 9 were literally separated by 3 games. On top of that, the Bearcats were facing #1 team in the conference, the UConn Huskies who were sporting 2 bona fide MLB 1st round picks. Needless to say, they needed to keep their heads about them as most baseball coaches teach their teams. 26 of their games this season (half of their schedule) were decided by 2 runs or less. While they didn't win all of those games, they seemed to have the experience to play smart when the pressure was on. And that's exactly what they did. After losing the first 2 games of the series to put their backs against the wall, UC came out on the final game of the season to beat UConn 7 - 4. Quite the way to push themselves into the playoffs.
So what's next for the Cats? As I mentioned, they will be facing St. John's this afternoon at 1 pm. You can watch the entire game live here, as I will be doing only occasionally flipping to an Excel spreadsheet whenever one of my co-workers walks by. UC will be trying avenge a series sweep at the hand of the Johnnies earlier in the season and will be led into the game by 1st Team All-Big East outfielder Justin Riddle. He leads the Bearcats with a .360 batting average, 9 home runs, and 67 RBI's. He also made it to the final round of the home run derby, yesterday, but finished last in that round. Pitching for the Bearcats will be sophomore Zach Isler who sports a solid 3.71 ERA with 5 wins to only 2 losses. Opposing him will likely be St. John's pitcher Kyle Hansen, who has 8 wins on the season to go along with his 93 strikeouts and already beat UC earlier this year when he struck out 10 over 7 innings. It will be a tall task for the Bearcats but with Cleary as their skipper, who recently became the all time winningest coach in UC baseball history, and the experience of close games in their back pocket, they have a more than a good chance of pulling out a W this afternoon.