Tradition is a big part of sports and no sport loves its traditions as much as baseball. While the Joe Nuxhall Classic is only entering its 10th year in existence, the four-team tournament is slowly gathering steam. The two-day tourney kicks off today in Oxford, Ohio as the Cincinnati Bearcats face off against the Wright State Raiders. That will be followed by a matchup between event host Miami-Ohio and Xavier, with the winners of each contest squaring off in the title game on Wednesday. A consolation game will also be played.
Meet the Contenders
After sweeping Memphis this past weekend, the Bearcats have pushed themselves back above .500, as they are now 15-14 overall and tied for first place in the American Athletic Conference. UC has won three of these tournaments, but hasn’t been to the title game since 2015. They’ll try to change that this year behind the bat of Manny Rodriguez (.300/.368/.564), who leads the team with 17 extra-base hits and 21 RBI. Even with Rodriguez, the Bearcats have batted just .248 as a team, relying more heavily on strong pitching to get their wins.
Wright State Raiders
The Raiders are the first team to stand in UC’s way this week. They did that and more just last Tuesday when they claimed a 5-1 win over the Bearcats in a game that was cut to seven innings. Wright State has won back-to-back games entering this event and are now 18-11 overall. In last week’s bout, the Raiders smacked three home runs, including a two-run job from Peyton Burdick (.359/.455/.547). Gabe Snyder (.322/.391/.661) also homered and he has nine dingers on the season. Burdick and Snyder are two of four .300 hitters for the Raiders, who are batting .290 as a team. With such a strong offense, Wright State has a good chance to earn its fifth classic title.
Despite being a frequent host of the classic, the RedHawks have only won it once. Perhaps they can change that this year as they enter play at 17-10 overall with wins in three of their last four games. Ross Haffey (.343/.492/.616) is getting on base nearly 50 percent of the time he goes to the plate and he has 16 extra-base hits. He is the key for the Miami offense, which relies on making a lot of contact and aggressive base running (53 steals) since the RedHawks only have nine home runs.
Current UC head coach Scott Googins was in the same role for Xavier last season, but now the Musketeers have a new skipper in Billy O’Conner. In his first year, the Musketeers are 11-19 overall, which makes them the lone team with a losing record in this tournament. They have just one hitter batting above .300 in Conor Grammes (.317/.359/.496) but there is plenty of power in the lineup, with Matt Warkentin leading the way with six home runs.
Assuming Googins does not send JT Perez out to the mound on Tuesday, the Bearcats will not have their best pitching foot forward against Wright State’s strong lineup. That will be a problem that will be too much to overcome. Wright State takes game one 6-3.
In the other part of the first round, expect Miami to get plenty of runners on base and push the issue while Xavier has some renewed offensive success, just not enough to take down the RedHawks. Miami 7 Xavier 6.
In the title game, Wright State will prove that it is the most complete team and claim its fifth Joe Nuxhall Classic with an 8-4 win over Miami. Meanwhile, UC will at least have the consolation of taking down Xavier 5-4.