Even if they were separated by a number of spots in the American Athletic Conference standings, the Cincinnati Bearcats knew they had to be careful with the UCF Knights this past weekend. Playing on the road — where the Bearcats have struggled this season (now 4-10) — UC was entering a hornet’s nest of sorts in Orlando, Fla. The Bearcats certainly felt some stings, as they dropped the first two games of the series before a furious comeback in game three allowed them to leave the city most famous for Disney World with at least one victory.
Luckily for them, the rest of the AAC played competitive baseball all weekend as well, and the Bearcats are still tied for first place in the conference at 7-5. However, their 17-17 overall record pales in comparison to the marks of USF (23-13) and Houston (21-14), who are also sporting 7-5 marks in league play. Now to the recaps.
Game One - UCF 5, Cincinnati 4
With a 4-0 lead and their best pitcher on the mound in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Bearcats were poised to take the opener. Unfortunately, J.T. Perez struggled in the sixth, letting up a three-run home run to Tyler Osik. Perez still had a lead when he came out to pitch the seventh, but he was pulled with two outs after Dalton Wingo hit a solo shot to left and tied the game. The Knights then scored again in the eighth when Rylan Thomas smacked a solo job of his own and effectively won the game for UCF.
Perez ended with a line of 6 2⁄3 innings, four hits, four earned runs, four walks and five strikeouts. AJ Kullman finished out the game, letting up one run over 1 1⁄3 innings of work.
To their credit, the Bearcats got to UCF starter Joe Sheridan, scoring three runs off the Knights’ ace in just 2 1⁄3 innings. AJ Bumpass went 3-for-5 with an RBI out of the cleanup spot and Connor McVey reached base in all four of his plate appearances.
Game Two - UCF 11, Cincinnati 2
The second game of the series was much less competitive but no less frustrating. Through the first five innings, the Bearcats remained within range, trailing just 2-1 thanks to a solo home run from Cole Murphy. But the Knights pushed four runs across in the sixth, chasing starter Nathan Kroger out of the contest with six runs allowed in five-plus innings. UCF then added five more in the eight en route to an easy win.
Its a small miracle that the Bearcats scored the two runs they did, since they only had three hits and did not walk once. At least two of those three hits were for extra-bases, with Manny Rodriguez adding a double to Murphy’s homer.
Game Three - Cincinnati 9, UCF 6
Trailing 6-2 entering the eighth inning, the Bearcats appeared to be cooked and the brooms started coming out in Orlando. But that all changed when UC scored five runs in the top part of the frame, capped by a run from Jace Mercer following an infield error. Rodriguez then launched a two-run homer run in the ninth (his second of the game) to give the Bearcats some breathing room and Clayton Colvin shut the door in the bottom of the inning to earn his first save of the season. Although Colvin recorded the save, Jarod Yoakam got the win (5-1), holding the Knights to two hits and zero runs in two innings of relief following a rough start from Cam Alldred (five innings, four runs allowed).
Rodriguez was spectacular in the game, going 3-for-5 with four RBI and three runs scored. Kyle Mottice tallied two hits in four at-bats and scored three times and McVey added three knocks, including a double.
Series MVP - Manny Rodriguez
Rodriguez’s incredible campaign continued this weekend, especially on Sunday when he had his first career multi home run game. Rodriguez and McVey were the only UC players to have a hit in each game this past weekend, but obviously Rodriguez rose to the top of the leader board with those two home runs. The senior shortstop, who had two home runs in his first three years combined, has eight already this year.
Its a Crosstown Shootout (baseball version) week, as the Bearcats host Xavier on Wednesday. Then they’ll welcome in the UConn Huskies next weekend.