That other shoe is dropping a lot harder than Cincinnati would have hoped. Just two weeks ago the Bearcats were sitting high atop the American Athletic Conference standings thanks to consistent series wins against league opponents. Fast forward to today and they are looking at back-to-back series losses, which have sent them spiraling down to a tie for third place in the standings with UConn. The most recent run of bad luck came against the Houston Cougars, a team with 31 wins on the campaign that is somehow still chasing the Bearcats. Let's unbox the weekend together, shall we?
Game 1 - Bad Guys 3, Good Guys 1
If you leaf through the dictionary in search of a definition of 'pitcher's duel', you are likely to find a handwritten copy of the box score from Friday night. Bearcat ace Andrew Zellner went head-to-head with Houston's Seth Romero in a showdown of two of the best the AAC has to offer. Romero (7-4, 1.94 ERA), unfortunately for the home fans in attendance, dialed it up a bit more than Zellner, tossing a complete game in which he struck out nine batters and allowed just one run on five hits. Despite being tagged with the loss, Zellner also went the distance, but let up three runs on seven hits while punching out five. It was the fourth complete game of the season for Zellner, making him the first Bearcat to throw three or more in a season since Dan Osterbrock back in 2008. (That is until J.T. Perez went the full nine on Saturday, but more on that later.)
Perhaps most unfortunate for Zellner, is the fact that Cincinnati staked him to a 1-0 lead in the first inning and then did little else to help his chances during the rest of the contest. The Bearcats got three hits and a digit on the scoreboard in that opening inning and although they left three on base, it appeared that they might be able to crack Romero's armor. That was not to be the case as just two players managed to get on base in the final eight innings. Following the loss, Zellner is now 6-4 with a 2.23 ERA, his ERA having jumped quite a bit following back-to-back starts of at least three runs.
Game 2 - Bad Guys 1, Good Guys 0
None, zip, zero, stingy with RUNS. Once again, two pitchers battled to the last with Perez firing bullets through nine innings and Houston's Mitch Ullom adding a 'CG' to his stat line as well. Perez's complete game shutout was absolutely needed as the Bearcats managed to put together just a single run against Ullom, They have won four games by a score of 1-0 this season.
To get that fourth 1-0 victory, the Bearcats used the stolen base to get the deciding run, as Treg Haberkorn singled and then stole second to set RJ Thompson up for an RBI single. Haberkorn has been successful on all 13 of his stolen base attempts and at .261, is second on the team in batting average. The first of those stats is a testament to how aggressive UC has been on the basepaths, as it leads the AAC in steals (84). However, Ty Neal knows he has to keep opposing pitchers on their toes and force the issue because this team does not hit well at all. With a .232 team batting average, UC is last in the AAC and 15 percentage points behind Memphis, the team ahead of the Bearcats in the rankings.
But let's not let the largely silent offense take all the credit. Perez, who has been overshadowed a bit by Zellner, and rightfully so, has been an excellent No. 2 starter on the weekends. Like Zellner, he doesn't strike out a ton of batters (51 kazoos in 83 1/3 innings), but he is 6-4 with a 2.92 ERA and has three complete games, putting him one behind Zellner.
Game 3 - Bad Guys 4, Good Guys 0
Here lies Kyle Mottice's hitting and on-base streak, which ended at 11 and 17 games, respectively. Those are telling statistics as Mottice's inability to get on base Sunday was indicative of the Bearcats' struggles overall. They did manage seven hits, the most of any game in the series, but six runners left on base, plus a pair of failed steal attempts kept the offense in neutral. That's one of the dangers of being a stolen base heavy squad, sometimes you don't succeed and it can absolutely kill rallies. Another problem that kept the Bearcats off the board was the lack of any pop, which has really been a pain all season. Of the team's 17 hits against Houston this past weekend, not a single one went for extra bases. UC is last in the league in doubles, (65) and although it actually leads in triples (16), it is the only program in the AAC not to have reached 600 total bases.
So even if David Orndorff returned back to reality (2 2/3 innings, six hits, three runs) the blame for Sunday's loss, and ultimately the loss of the series, falls on the continued muting of UC's lumber.
Cincinnati will get a chance to stop going backward against Western Carolina on Tuesday before a final AAC weekend series against Memphis.