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UC Baseball Enters Key Final Homestand against Houston

The Bearcats are not in first place anymore, but are still in the thick of the race for the AAC conference title. They will be tested this weekend by a Houston Cougars team right behind them in the standings. For the few Bearcat seniors, this will be their last conference series at home.

After spending the last two weeks on the road, the Cincinnati Bearcats baseball team will return home this weekend looking to recover from losing their first AAC conference series last week against UCF. They will welcome in the Houston Cougars, who sit one game behind the Bearcats in fourth place in the AAC standings.

The Bearcats rough weekend in Orlando left them in third place after spending the majority of conference play this season in first. With this series against the Cougars being the second-to-last conference series of the season, time is running out for the Bearcats to take back first place from the Tulane Green Wave.

As it has been for most of the season, the Bearcats will send ace Andrew Zellner (6-3, 2.15 ERA, 55 K) to the mound to kick off the series tonight. Zellner battled, but was handed his first loss since April 1st in his last start against UCF a week ago, going 6 2/3 innings while allowing six earned runs on nine hits. Two of those runs were charged to Zellner after he was removed in the bottom of the seventh before A.J. Kullman allowed a go-ahead grand slam. The junior right-hander battled control issues throughout, but still pitched well enough to win before the bullpen let things get out of hand. Facing a Houston lineup that has three hitters that are batting over .300, Zellner will need to be at his best to set the Bearcats in a position to win.

On Saturday, J.T. Perez (5-4, 3.27 ERA, 46 K) will look to snap a two-start losing streak after being burned by errors against the Knights last Saturday. Perez was charged with just two earned runs in 6 1/3 innings, but he could not recover two defensive miscues in the seventh, which forced him out of the game after allowing just one run in the first six innings. Nevertheless, it was an encouraging start after getting battered by East Carolina the start before.

No starter has been announced Sunday for either team, but for the Bearcats it will most likely be David Orndorff. Orndorff pitched his best game of the season against UCF last Sunday, scoring his first ever complete-game victory.

For the Cougars, they will send junior right-hander Andrew Lantrip to the mound tonight against Zellner, and sophomore left-hander Seth Romero against fellow southpaw Perez on Saturday night. With ERA's of 2.45 and 2.55, respectively, the Cougars top two starters help mold an overall team ERA of 2.49, which is the best in the AAC by a fair margin.

Cincinnati has not defeated Houston since 2014 after being swept last season in their three-game series. The drought also includes a loss to the Cougars in the first round of the AAC conference tournament last season. While the Bearcats pitching staff needs to hold its own against the Cougars potent offense, it simply comes down to the offense. Ranked last in the conference, the Bearcats showed offensive life for most of last weekend's series against UCF. In a season that has been filled with surpassing expectations, maybe they can breakout against the best staff in the AAC.

Quick Notes:

Records: Houston (27-19, 8-9) fourth in AAC, Cincinnati (22-25-1, 10-7-1) third in AAC

Venue: Marge Schott Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio

TV:  Bearcats TV

Game Times:

Friday May 13th, 6pm

Saturday May 14th, 6pm

Sunday May 15th, 1pm

Last Games:

Houston May 11th (Louisiana, W 3-2)

Cincinnati May 8th (at UCF, W 4-2)

Last Meeting:

May 18, 2015

American Athletic Conference Tournament first round

Houston 8, Cincinnati 4

Players to Watch:

Houston: Joe Davis (C/INF)

The Cougars main offensive threat is in his first year playing college baseball. Davis leads the AAC with 65 hits and 107 total bases, plus he ranks second in the conference in batting average (.337). He also finds himself in the top 10 in most other offensive categories as well. Not bad for a freshman.

Cincinnati: Kyle Mottice (2B)

The Bearcats' second baseman currently holds a 15-game on-base streak. Mottice has held steady with a .251 batting average, becoming one of the main Bearcat offensive weapons as the lead-off man. To break through the Cougars staff, Mottice will need to set the tone by getting on base, giving his teammates a chance to drive in some runs.