The results of this past weekend's major series against East Carolina were definitely different by most standards for the Cincinnati Bearcats baseball team.
After splitting the first two games, the Bearcats and Pirates played to a 3-3 tie Sunday afternoon. The tie was caused due to travel constraints for the Bearcats and as a result, there was a drop dead time issued for 4pm. The bizarre circumstances left the Bearcats still in first place in the American Athletic Conference after another weekend.
Game 1 Friday: Cincinnati 3, East Carolina 0
For Cincinnati, this weekend series against 17th ranked East Carolina was no question the biggest series to date this season. The Bearcats and Pirates entered Friday night one game separated from each other in the AAC standings.
Andrew Zellner has become not only the ace of the Bearcat pitching staff, but one of the best pitchers in the AAC this season. He got the ball Friday night in the series opener and did not disappoint. Zellner twirled seven dominant innings of shutout baseball, leading the Bearcats to a huge series opening win in Greenville Friday night.
With Zellner dominating, the Bearcat offense was able to grind out three runs in three different innings to give the Bearcat ace enough support. In the third inning, Connor McVey and Woody Wallace ignited a two out rally with back-to back singles and then executed a double steal to add more pressure to Pirate starter Evan Kruczynski. Kruczynski then threw a passed ball with Vince Augustine at the plate to score McVey, giving the Bearcats a 1-0 lead.
The Bearcats held a 1-0 lead until the seventh when designated hitter Joey Thomas singled through the right side that scored Augustine, who was already on second base. Ryan Noda added the final Bearcat run of the game the next inning with a sacrifice fly.
A.J. Kullman was brought in to relieve Zellner in the eighth and proceeded to get the final six outs with little issue, giving Zellner his team-leading sixth win of the season. For Kullman, it was his second save of the season while the Bearcats also handed Kruczynski his first loss of the season.
Game 2 Saturday: East Carolina 6, Cincinnati 4
With a chance to clinch another series win on Saturday night, the Bearcats knew they would be getting the best out of the Pirates.
After being shut out the night before, East Carolina jumped on Bearcat starter J.T. Perez in the bottom of the first. Three Pirate singles loaded the bases with one out, but it seemed Perez would get out of the inning unharmed after striking out the Pirates top hitter, Dewanya Williams-Sutton. Unfortunately for Perez, he hit the next Pirates batter, Ryan Littlefield, giving the Pirates a 1-0 lead.
Perez escaped without further damage in the first, but the second was not as friendly. Perez issued his first walk in 39.2 innings to start the inning, then got in more trouble after a fielding error on a sacrifice bunt left two Pirates on second and third with no outs. A ground out and single later, and the Bearcats found themselves down 3-0.
The Pirates added another run in the third and then two more in the sixth after knocking Perez out of the game, seemingly blowing the game open at the time. Cincinnati could not solve Pirate starter Jimmy Boyd for six innings and was on the verge of getting shutout entering the ninth.
In the ninth, the Bearcat offense finally came to life. Woody Wallace broke the shut out with a double and was later scored from a pinch-hit single from senior Devin Wenzel to make it 6-2 Pirates with no outs in the ninth. Cole Murphy then made every Pirate player and fan nervous the next at-bat with a two-run home run to make it 6-4, in favor of the Pirates with still no outs. With the Bearcats relentlessly cutting into the lead, the Pirates finally brought in their closer, Joe Ingle, who ultimately shut down the Bearcat comeback with recording the next three outs with no problem.
Game 3 Sunday: Cincinnati 3, East Carolina 3 (8 innings)
The rubber-match provided to be a bizarre ending to the three-game series in Greenville.
Kyle Mottice led off the game with a home run giving the Bearcats a quick 1-0 lead, the exact start they needed after being shut out for eight innings the night before. Then the rains came after the second inning, forcing a 94-minute delay.
After the delay, the Pirates tied the game at one in the bottom of the third off a RBI groundout from Turner Brown. Bearcat starter, David Orndoff, recovered from last week's start against Memphis with four innings of one-run baseball.
Eventually the Bearcats brought in Jared Yoakam, who cruised until the seventh inning when the Pirates threatened with no outs. Charlie Yorgen gave the Pirates the lead with a RBI single, then added one more run from a groundout from Parker Lamm in the next at-bat.
With the drop-dead time announced, the Bearcats needed to either tie or take the lead in the top of the eighth or they would drop the series and fall out of first place. Backs against the wall, Cincinnati rallied against the Pirates bullpen again. Manny Rodriguez tripled to make it a one-run game before McVey tied the game with a clutch two-out single.
Yoakam just needed four pitches in the next half-inning to preserve the Bearcats first tie since 2002, when they tied with these same Pirates. The tie keeps the Bearcats up a half-game in the AAC standings over Tulane
The Bearcats will face the ninth-ranked Louisville Cardinals in a road non-conference game Tuesday night at 6pm, then will continue their long road trip this weekend for a three-game series with the UCF Golden Knights in Orlando.