A year ago the Cincinnati Bearcats finished a decent 13-10-1 record in American Athletic Conference play. It was a stunning (in a good way) reversal from the previous season when they went 6-18 against the rest of the league.
Hopes that the trend upward will continue took a small hit this weekend, as the Bearcats dropped two of three games at home against the Memphis Tigers in the opening conference series of the 2017 campaign.
UC is now a game below .500 (13-14) and its sparkling home record has fallen to 9-4. Let’s get to the breakdown.
Game One - Memphis 7, Cincinnati 5
Staff ace Andrew Zellner did not pitch well in the series opener on Friday. He didn’t walk many players (one), but gave up six hits and seven runs through just three innings. All seven of those runs and six of those hits came in the third frame, after which Zellner was unceremoniously pulled.
On the brighter side, the bullpen was strong, with Tristan Hammans (2 1/3), Nathan Kroger (3) and Jarod Yoakam (2/3) combining to shut the Tigers out the rest of the way.
That bullpen pitching allowed UC to make an attempt at a comeback. It was a failed one, sure, but the team managed to fight back rather than keel over and die. Connor McVey and R.J. Thompson had two hits in the contest, while Eric Santiago drove in two runs. McVey and first baseman Ryan Noda each had a double to account for the only extra-base hits of the night for the Bearcats.
Game Two - Cincinnati 4, Memphis 3 (10 innings)
Manny Rodriguez hit a bunt single to drive in Jace Mercer in the bottom of the 10th and gift the Bearcats with a victory. The Bearcats were able to force extra innings despite entering the ninth inning down 3-2. However, an RBI single from Connor McVey plated A.J. Bumpass, who hit a two-out double and kept the game going long enough for UC to claim victory.
Bumpass went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and McVey laced two hits while driving in two runs and walking twice as well. At the bottom of the order, Joey Thomas and Rodriguez each had a pair of base knocks.
In a duel of pitchers, J.T. Perez got UC off to a great start with just one run allowed through five innings. David Orndorff then worked his way through 4 1⁄3 innings, but allowed two runs in that time. A.J. Kullman then came in to pitch the last two outs of the top of the 10th and earned the win after Rodriguez’s walkoff.
Game Three - Memphis 7, Cincinnati 5
Game three of the series was similar to game one. UC’s starter was chased early and then it failed to complete a comeback. Reese Robinson surrendered four runs and didn’t make it out of the first inning to take the loss. The Tigers would go on to take a 7-2 lead going into the bottom of the eighth, which was more than enough, even if the Bearcats scored three runs in the final two innings.
Bumpass, Santiago and Thomas each had two hits, with Thomas adding three RBI. Bumpass also smacked his eighth double of the season in the losing effort.
Series MVP - A.J. Bumpass
It may be time to start naming this award the A.J. Bumpass trophy, as the outfielder was once again the best player for the Bearcats this past weekend. Even if he didn’t have a game-tying or game-winning hit, his two-out double on Saturday in the bottom of the ninth was the spark the Bearcats needed to drag out an extra inning victory. In total, Bumpass batted .429 against Memphis, improving his overall slash line to .360/.448/.610 while managing to up his extra-base hit count to 15.
A rematch with in-state rival Miami (Ohio) is on the plate for Tuesday and will serve as a tune-up before the Bearcats face off with perennial AAC power Tulane in a three-game home series.