We all know Cincinnati has been playing with house money on the diamond in 2016. After managing only 15 wins a year ago and failing to finish at .500 for the last four seasons, the Bearcats didn't lift expectations very high. That's why its been so surprising seeing the 'Cats roll into first place in the American Athletic Conference and win series after series against AAC foes.
Well, the other shoe may have finally dropped and it happened in Orlando, where UC lost two out of three against UCF, a team that entered play at 6-9 in conference action. As Monday morning rears its ugly head, UC is now third in the AAC with a 10-7-1 record. The Bearcats trail Tulane (31-14, 11-5 AAC) and East Carolina (30-16-1, 11-6-1), teams that will be difficult to scoot past with just two weeks left in the regular season. But let's look back before we look ahead and unpack this weekend's trip to the Sunshine State.
Game 1 - Bad Guys 8, Good Guys 7
Its always difficult to take a loss when your ace is on the mound. Andrew Zellner had been hanging zeros on the board left and right entering last weekend, so the Bearcats had to feel good about their chances in the series opener. (I know I did). Zellner started off fine, holding the Knights scoreless in the first two innings. But he lost his touch a bit in the bottom of the third when he was tagged for two runs on three hits, although a fielding error in the inning did not help.
Zellner still went deep in the contest, but failed to get out of the seventh inning, despite getting the first two batters out. A pair of wild pitches and a couple of hits led to his exit, but the bullpen couldn't put a close to the bleeding, especially when A.J. Kullman let up a grand slam to Sam Tolleson. Zellner's final line read 6 2/3 innings, nine hits, four walks, six earned runs and six strikeouts. It really could have been much better as he was just one out away from putting up a seven-inning, three-run effort. If only, if only the Bearcat sighed.
The off day from Zellner was particularly painful to endure because the offense did its part, putting seven runs on the board, including a pair during a failed rally in the ninth inning. Treg Haberkon went 2-for-3 with two runs scored as the only player with multiple hits, but the top four hitters in the lineup scored all seven runs.
Game 2 - Bad Guys 12, Good Guys 1
*Takes deep breath*
Well, this was the low point of the weekend. Deep Impact crater in the earth type of low point. Starter J.T. Perez pitched perfectly well, fighting his way through 6 1/3 innings, but a few fielding mishaps put five runs on his head, although only two of the earned persuasion. Jarod Yoakam spelled Perez and finished out the contest, but was hit all around the park, as he was responsible for the other seven runs the Knights scored.
There was no sound from the Cincinnati bats to drown out the offensive eruption by UCF. UC went 6-for-32 as a team, with Connor McVey's RBI double the lone knock that went for extra bases.
Well, that was depressing. Here's something to cheer you up.
Good Guys 4, Bad Guys 2
David Orndorff wouldn't walk Bryce Harper. The sophomore right hander saved UC from a sweep by using his pitching magic to toss a complete game win, the first of his career. He allowed eight hits but just two runs, one of which was earned, while collecting four kazoos. After the bullpen imploded twice over the weekend, Ty Neal probably just wanted to avoid using the telephone Sunday afternoon and he got his wish.
While Orndorff was keeping the Knights off balance, McVey was bumping up the old BARISP. He knocked in three runs and went 2-for-4, extending his hitting streak to 10 games. Speaking of streaking, Kyle Mottice got a single in the first inning and has now reached base safely in 15-straight games.
The win was the 10th in conference play for the Bearcats, which marks the first time they have reached double digit league wins since 2011.
There is no mid-week test for UC so the next time it is on the field will be this Friday against Houston, which kicks off a four-game home stand for the Bearcats. Its also the second to last series of the season.