The Cincinnati Bearats’ de facto rival in the American Athletic Conference is UConn. That’s 99.99999999999 percent because of basketball and a fraction of a fraction because of football. Maybe baseball should have something to do with it as well. The Bearcats visited the Huskies over the weekend and played three tight ball games, with each game decided by two runs or less. Unfortunately, setbacks on Saturday and Sunday turned the weekend sour for the Bearcats, who have lost four of their last five and fallen to 21-22 overall and 6-9 in AAC play. Here’s a breakdown of the series.
Game One - Cincinnati 5, UConn 4
Everything played out exactly as the Bearcats wanted. After luring the Huskies into a false sense of security by falling behind 4-0 through the first eight innings, UC unleashed its secret weapon: the ninth inning rally. Sparked by a grand slam from A.J., Bumpass, the Bearcats got five across in the top of the ninth and found themselves going from losers to winners after David Orndorff pitched a scoreless bottom of the frame to record his fifth save.
The rally erased what would have been the sixth loss of the season for J.T. Perez, who ground his way into the eighth inning, showing off his ability to go deep into games once again. Perez only had three strikeouts and allowed eight hits and four earned runs, but he ate up 7 2⁄3 frames and threw 103 pitches. Cal Jarrett got the last out of the eighth and the win along with it.
Bumpass went 2-for-4 with the home run and four RBI, while R.J. Thompson (3-for-4), Jace Mercer (3-for-4) and Manny Rodriguez (2-for-4) all had multi-hit games as well.
Game Two - UConn 6, Cincinnati 4
In game two, the Bearcats gave up a small lead and then had their rally come up short, as two runs in the eighth cut their deficit to two runs, but wasn’t enough to get the job done.
Mercer once again hit well, going 3-for-5 with a double while Thompson (2-for-3) and Connor McVey (2-for-4) each got on base via a hit more than once. Unfortunately the Bearcats’ timing on offense was poor, as they left 12 runners on base. Just a few more knocks and this could have been a win, but unfortunately, that was not to be.
A.J. Kullman made his first start of the season in this one and did what he could, allowing three runs over four innings. Jarod Yoakam was responsible for the other three runs across 2 1⁄3 innings, but Kullman took the loss, his fifth of the year.
Game Three - UConn 3, Cincinnati 2
Once again, UC waited until the very end to challenge the Huskies, scoring two runs in the ninth inning before succumbing to defeat. The real story of this one, though, was the return of Andrew Zellner, who actually put together a solid five innings of work. He let up two runs on three hits and a walk in that time, but got to 76 pitches and struck out four batters, accounting for all but one of the staff’s punchouts.
Speaking of strikeouts, UConn’s Wills Montgomerie, leader of the AAC in the statistic, is as nasty as advertised. He had nine Ks in six shutout innings to earn the win.
But back to Zellner. Although he didn’t go super deep and still gave up some runs, he was able to get on the mound, which is the first step, and he pitched better than his 5.44 ERA this season. That’s something as the Bearcats hit the stretch run.
Offensively, the Bearcats were horrendous, so we’ll just do this quickly. They had four total hits (two in the ninth), and Luke Turino (2-for-4) accounted for half of those.
Series MVP - A.J. Bumpass and Jace Mercer
We have co-winners this week. Bumpass obviously made the biggest dent with his four-run home run in the only victory of the weekend, but Mercer showed off some nice contact skills, going 6-for-12 during the course of the weekend. Mercer is slashing .259/.346/.293, so he hasn’t shown much pop, but he was at least able to get hot and find space. Bumpass (.304/.402/.509) has cooled a bit, but is still the most electric player on the team, even if R.J. Thompson (.309/.388/.407) has overtaken him for the team lead in batting average.
The Bearcats will get a rematch with Wright State, a team they beat 4-2 in the Joe Nuxhall Classic, on Tuesday night before a three-game road series against Memphis.