Well, here we go. Its just day two of the American Athletic Conference tournament and the Cincinnati Bearcats are already playing in a do-or-die contest. After being blasted back to next month yesterday against Houston, the No. 4 seed Bearcats find themselves facing the precipice with the No. 8 seed UCF Knights standing on the other side.
Even though the Knights are also coming off a loss in the opening round, their 4-3 setback against nationally ranked and No. 1 seed Tulane was a much better way to start the tourney than a 9-1 drubbing by the hands of a team seeded lower (albeit it slightly) in the field. The Knights actually jumped out to a 3-0 lead against the Green Wave, highlighted by a two-run single from designated hitter Sam Tolleson in the top of the fifth inning, before eventually succumbing to defeat.
Here's some good news for UC. UCF already used its ace, as Robby Howell (7-4, 1.96 ERA) got the start for the Knights against Tulane. He allowed four runs over 6 2/3 innings and will not be on the mound tonight. That's especially nice for a Cincinnati team that has been hitting like a group of blind squirrels in a slow pitch softball league. Juan Pimentel (3-7, 3.98 ERA) and Cre Finfrock (4-6, 4.26 ERA) are the likely candidates to start in this one for UCF, although Harrison Hukari (2-3, 3.40 ERA) has pitched 50 1/3 innings, appeared in 32 games and has the tools to start, despite making just one all season.
On the offensive side of the moon, UCF is led by Brennan Bozeman (.309/.398/.349) and Eli Putnam (.300/.350/.428, 4 home runs, 26 RBI) along with the power stroke of Austin Griffin (.247/.356/.489, 10 home runs, 41 RBI).
Well I hope those three are ready for the pain that Andrew Zellner is about to bring down on their heads. Ty Neal gambled by not using his ace in the first game of the tourney and it backfired. If the Bearcats had won yesterday, they would have had Zellner to lean on against Tulane. Instead, they now need him to bring them back from the brink. The First-Team All-American Athletic Conference selection has done it time and time again, eating innings, posting zeroes on the scoreboard and sending batters back to the dugout wondering why they aren't on base. As Cincinnati continues to lack the offensive punch to overcome even one-run deficits, Zellner has to be flawless. Its a lot of pressure, sure, but Zellner is the guy with the best resume to handle it.
Kyle Mottice (.280/.329/.355) has not been at fault in the least bit for UC's offensive struggles, at least its recent ones. The Bearcats' second baseman is batting .372 since April 13 and had his team-high 16th mutli-hit game of the season against Houston on Tuesday. At some point the Bearcats need Mottice's heat to become contagious and pass to Connor McVey, Treg Haberkorn and Woody Wallace, who make up the 1-4 spots of the Bearcats' lineup.
If the bats can put some runs up and Zellner plays the ace once again, UC will advance to Friday, where it would play the loser between Tulane and Houston, who play on Thursday. If the Bearcats lose...well, let's not talk about that just yet.