Matchup: Cincinnati Bearcats (0-0) at Northwestern State (0-0)
Location: Brown-Stroud Field (Natchitoches, Louisiana)
Series History: Northwestern State leads 1-0
- Game One - Friday Feb. 17 7:30 p.m. Andrew Zellner vs. Nathan Jones
- Game Two - Saturday Feb. 18 4:30 p.m. J.T. Perez vs. Johns Carter Sanner
- Game Three - Sunday Feb. 19 12 p.m. TBA vs. Evan Tidwell
Meet the Opponent
Northwestern State is under new management this season, as former pitching coach Bobby Barbier took over as head coach following the Demons’ third-straight 30-win campaign.
Barbier was a natural fit to take over the job, as the Demons’ 33-24 mark last season was built on a strong pitching staff. As a team, they posted an ERA of 3.01, tying for eighth nationally. However, they will be replacing their two top starters from last season, with Adam Oller (8-1, 1.23 ERA) and Chase Hymel (5-6, 2.84) no longer on the roster. Oller threw 109 2⁄3 innings and was the real workhorse of the rotation, so his loss will be tough to swallow. Evan Tidwell, who will start on Sunday, could go a long way in replacing him. The senior right-hander ranked third on the team in starts (13) and innings pitched (75 2/3) last season and kept his ERA to a tidy 2.97 in that time. He did not strike many batters out (25), but there is no arguing with a sub-3.00 ERA.
On the offensive side, the Demons were largely forgettable last season, posting a .261/.346/.369 slash line. Their lack of power was particularly glaring, despite the work of Daniel Garner and David Fry, who combined for 12 home runs and 46 extra-base hits. Garner, who led the team in batting average (.308), on-base percentage (.380) and slugging (.481) is gone, but Fry returns as a big bat in the middle of the lineup. Catcher Kelsey Richard (.300/.377/.390) is the top returning hitter in terms of average on a lineup that also lost Cort Brinson (.306/.378/.379) and Nick Heath, who tied for sixth nationally in stolen bases a year ago.
Game One Breakdown
This will be the first time Andrew Zellner will take the mound after his sensational junior campaign for the Bearcats. A first-team All-American Athletic Conference selection, Zellner threw four complete games and pitched to a 2.32 ERA across 108 2⁄3 innings. He will be throwing to a new guy behind the plate, as Joey Thomas will start at catcher now that Woody Wallace has graduated. How well Thomas handles the starting role will be something to watch in this opening series.
The Demons will counter with Nathan Jones on the mound in game one. He did not start a single game last season, but posted a 3.10 ERA across 40 2⁄3 innings of relief.
Game Two Breakdown
J.T. Perez will get the ball for game two of the series, which will likely be the normal role the Bearcats’ second ace will play this year. Perez was no stranger to going deep into games last season, hurling three complete games and 91 total innings. He finished with a 2.97 ERA despite allowing opponents to hit .272.
Although its unlikely Ty Neal will shake up the lineup after just one game, it will be interesting to see where last year’s top hitter, Connor McVey (.292/.379/.420, 27 steals) will hit in the lineup and whether or not players like Kyle Mottice, Treg Haberkorn and Ryan Noda can show progression.
Junior right-hander John Carter Sanner will be the tasked with slowing the Bearcats down out of the gate on Saturday.
Game Three Breakdown
UC has yet to announce its game three starter, but it will likely be either David Orndorff or A.J. Olasz. Orndorff made 12 starts last season and threw a complete game while ranking third on the team in innings pitched (63). Olasz is one of the better punchout producers on the team and pitched to a 4.15 ERA in 13 appearances (seven starts).
The Demons have made the strategic decision to save their ace for the final game of the weekend, as Tidwell will be on the mound Sunday afternoon.
With the two-headed monster of Zellner and Perez going in the first two games, I like the Bearcats to hold a largely new Demons lineup in check, allowing McVey and company to squeeze out enough runs to pick up back-to-back victories. The Sunday matchup will likely be a bit tougher on the UC lineup, with Tidwell twirling, so in all, a series win and a 2-1 mark after the weekend seems like a reasonable expectation.