Cincinnati was primed to use a weekend series against Memphis as a way to flex its muscles to the rest of the American Athletic Conference. They did just that by taking two out of three from the Tigers at home this past weekend.
The Bearcats used pitching to win the first game on Friday, and a season-high offensive output on Saturday before ultimately dropping the series finale on Sunday afternoon.
Cincinnati's successful weekend series win kept the Bearcats in sole possession of first place by a half-game for another week.
Game 1 Friday: Cincinnati 1, Memphis 0
The series opener brought a matchup of the team's aces to the Marge Schott Stadium mound Friday night as Bearcat junior, Andrew Zellner, faced off against the Tigers Colton Hathcock. Most expected a low-scoring game and it lived up to that billing.
Rain finished moving through Cincinnati in the late afternoon, causing a 32-minute delay before Zellner could throw his first pitch of the game. When he finally got his chance, he dominated. Zellner cruised through the first six innings before the rains struck yet again and delayed the game for the second time Friday night. This time it was a 40-minute delay that occurred in the middle of the sixth inning.
When the delay was over, the Bearcats immediately pounced on Hathcock, who was matching Zellner pitch by pitch before the weather delay. Sophomore Connor McVey ripped a double off the left-field wall on the first pitch he saw from Hathcock in the sixth. Two batters later, Treg Haberkorn knocked in his fellow sophomore with a double to give the Bearcats the lead.
That one run was all it took to beat the Tigers that night with Zellner pitching the way he was. Zellner escaped trouble in the seventh and eighth to seal his 5th victory of the season. Zellner's third complete game of the season also garnered him AAC pitcher of the week honors.
Game 2 Saturday: Cincinnati 16, Memphis 4
Despite the win on Friday, the Bearcats offense still could not really improve on their AAC worst overall team batting average.
That disappointment was quickly erased on Saturday when the Bearcats mashed out 17 hits and a season-high 16 runs, en route to a 16-4 win over the Tigers in the second game of the series. Memphis scored in the top of the first inning to take a 1-0 lead, but then it was all Bearcats from there on out.
Eventual star of the night, Kyle Mottice, led the bottom of the frame with a triple and was scored by McVey two batters later. The Bearcats scored three more runs after Mottice scored, which was capped by two-run home run from freshman Connor Murphy.
The Bearcats followed the four-run first with a five-run second inning to put the game out of reach while knocking Tiger starter Connor Alexander out of the game. Alexander, the Tigers leader in innings pitched, only lasted 1.2 innings Saturday and gave up all nine Bearcat runs in the first two innings. From there, the Bearcats added seven more runs and starter J.T. Perez pitched six solid innings to score his fifth win of the season.
Mottice finished the game 5 for 6 and a home run short of the cycle. The second baseman also tallied two RBI's and three runs scored.
Game 3 Sunday: Memphis 6, Cincinnati 2
The series finale Sunday afternoon was not as kind to the Bearcats.
Cincinnati could not recover from a five-run second inning by the Tigers was eventually the difference and Memphis avoided the sweep. Bearcat starter Daniel Orndorff hit the first Memphis batter he faced in the faithful second inning and the wheels fell off from there. Memphis rattled two more singles off Orndorff to score the first run, then a three-run homer from Trent Turner was the devastating blow to the Bearcats. The Tigers finished off the inning with a solo shot from Zach Schritenthal to make it 5-0.
The Bearcats answered back in the bottom of the second with a solo home runs from Ryan Noda and Woody Wallace, but could not muster much more off of Tiger starter Matt Ferguson who went 7.2 innings to get the win. Wallace and Noda lead the Bearcats in home runs with six and five, respectively.
After Orndoff left with one out in the 5th inning, the Bearcats brought in A.J. Kullman out of the bullpen to pitch. Kullman ended up pitching very well in the rest of 4.2 innings left of the game only giving up a solo home run in the ninth inning.
The Bearcats hold a half game lead on Tulane for first place in the AAC after the Green Wave swept UCF this past weekend. Cincinnati will hit the road for a monumental three-game series on the road this upcoming weekend against East Carolina. The Bearcats hold a one-game lead over the Pirates, who currently sit third in the AAC standings.