Well, well, well. Who’s the talk of the American Athletic Conference now? The Cincinnati Bearcats, that’s who. I’ll admit that I had no expectation that the Bearcats would do much this past weekend against the high-powered USF Bulls, but one win wouldn’t have stunned me. What actually happened has me mildly floored.
The Bearcats went south to Tampa and racked up a series win against the Bulls, proving that despite its largely mediocre play, UC is capable of slaying giants. (Isn’t that right, Louisville?)
UC (18-17) has won three of four games overall and is now just a game behind the fourth place spot in the AAC standings. Here’s how they got there.
Game One - Cincinnati 9, USF 3
Let’s start with the good stuff. UC didn’t seem all that frightened of Phoenix Sanders, who is in the middle of a great year for the Bulls. Sanders did pitch into the sixth inning, but he allowed five runs (three earned) on five hits. However, it wasn’t until the seventh inning that things really broke open, when the Bearcats dinked and dunked their way to four runs.
That dinking and dunking was helped by five errors from the Bulls, who had as many hits as the Bearcats (seven), but six fewer runs (obviously). R.J. Thompson went 2-for-5 as the only player with more than one hit for the visitors. Ryan Noda only had one hit, but that knock was more than a garden variety single, it was his sixth home run of the season.
It was pretty lucky that UC was able to win the opener even if it did score nine runs. Thanks to erratic pitching from their staff, the Bearcats walked nine batters and the Bulls left 15 runners on base. Andrew Zellner didn’t fix his recent issues and walked three in two innings of work. However, by stranding runners, he and the rest of UC’s pitchers did enough to pull out the win.
Game Two - Cincinnati 3, USF 2 (10 innings)
J.T. Perez and A.J. Kullman carried the Bearcats to victory in game two of the series, even if Joey Thomas’ sacrifice fly in the top of the 10th was the real game-winner. Perez hurled 5 2⁄3 innings of solid baseball, allowing only two runs, even if he didn’t help the ol’ WHIP by surrendering four hits and three walks. Kullman came in and finished the job by pitching even better. He was guilty of only two hits during his 4 1⁄3 innings of work and improved to 5-3 on the season.
Even though Thomas had the most important piece of contact in the game, Eric Santiago had the best day at the plate, going 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI. Manny Rodriguez went 2-for-3 with a double of his own.
Game Three - USF 4, Cincinnati 2
The Bearcats nearly pulled off a sweep, but the Bulls rallied in the late innings to ruin a fine outing from David Orndorff and avoid a winless weekend. It was a 2-2 game entering the bottom of the eighth inning and Ty Neal kept Orndorff in there, even after his starter had let the Bulls even things up the previous frame. Orndorff recorded two outs in the eighth but also allowed two runs before Neal finally pulled him. Cam Alldred came in to get the final out, but it was too late, as the Bearcats were unable to score in the top of the ninth.
Ryan Noda went 2-for-4 in the losing effort and also stole his fifth base of the campaign.
Series MVP - A.J. Kullman
Even if he only appeared in one game during the series, Kullman’s brilliant work in relief on Friday was a major reason the Bearcats were able to force extras and scratch across the winning run. Kullman has five wins on the season, leading the team, and has been a workhorse out of the bullpen, posting a 4.22 ERA in 32 innings.
The baseball version of the Crosstown Shootout is on the menu this week, as the Bearcats take on Xavier during the Joe Nuxhall Classic beginning on Tuesday.