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UC Defends First Place Against UCF

Cincinnati baseball squares off for a weekend series with the UCF Knights starting Friday in Orlando.

The American Athletic Conference leading Cincinnati Bearcats (21-23-1, 9-5-1 AAC) will take on the UCF Knights (22-24, 6-9) Friday with the first pitch set for 6:30 p.m. The three-game series between the Bearcats and Knights continues at 4 p.m. on Saturday and finishes up on Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Bearcats will get the weekend started with Andrew Zellner (6-2, 1.64 ERA, 49 K) on Friday. Zellner enters play fresh off earning himself a spot on the weekly honor roll in the American Athletic Conference. The junior righthander is all you could ask for in a Friday starter, as he is sporting the stat line of a legit stud. He's 6-2 with a 1.64 ERA in 77 innings pitched. Speaking of innings, Zellner really likes to eat those up as he leads the team in frames pitched and has gone the full nine three times already, including a pair of shutouts. Last Friday, he put his spell on East Carolina, twirling seven innings of shutout ball. He is currently riding a streak of 17 2/3 innings without allowing a run. He will put that one to the test against a UCF team that is batting an even .250 on the season, tied for fifth in the conference.

On Saturday, the Bearcats will turn to J.T. Perez (5-3, 3.31 ERA), who has been solid but is a considerable drop-off from Zellner's ace status. Perez was tagged with the loss last Saturday against ECU, as he had trouble avoiding the Pirates' bats. That's not necessarily a 'him' thing, considering ECU leads the AAC in batting (.291). Still, letting up 11 hits over 5 1/3 innings is rarely going to lead to good things.

If you're looking for a hitter to pay attention to, Connor McVey is your guy. UC's shortstop was named Academic All-District 5 by CoSIDA on Thursday., Easily the most potent bat in a lineup that doesn't always knock the laces off the ball, McVey leads the squad in batting average (.303), runs (30), hits (50), doubles (12), slugging percentage (.448), on-base percentage (.393) and stolen bases (23). The latter total of is tied for the league lead. He is second in home runs (4) and RBI (22) on the team as well.

On the other side of the lineup card  on Friday for the Knights will be righthander Robby Howell (7-2, 1.67 ERA, 51 K), who leads the AAC in wins and ranks third in the conference in ERA behind Zellner and ECU's Evan Kruczynski. The Knights also have a big gap between their No. 1 and No. 2 starters, as Juan Pimentel (2-6, 4.45 ERA, 45 K) will get the ball on Saturday.

Neither team has announced their starter for the Sunday matinee.

Cincinnati is in first place in the very tight AAC standings. The Bearcats notched an impressive win over No. 18 Coastal Carolina giving them an edge going forward, although that contest took place in early March. If the Bearcats were to go on a mini slide again, this conference could be all tied up, and even though they did not take the series with ECU, a win and a tie against the Pirates will do them some good down the stretch.The series with UCF is pivotal for the conference standings as the regular seasons wraps up at the end of May.

You can follow the games here on Game Tracker.