Honesty time. When the Cincinnati Bearcats took off for a three-game set at East Carolina, I was pretty certain they were going to be in for a rough weekend. Raise your hand if you’re with me. It’s OK. Don’t be shy. There’s nothing wrong with it. This is a safe space. Following a 24-6 beatdown from Louisville last Wednesday, it seemed unlikely that the Bearcats were destined to go take a series win from the Pirates. While they ultimately did fail in that goal, there was a lot more positive to be taken out of the weekend than anticipated.
After a thrilling game one victory, the Bearcats dropped back-to-back contests, but remained competitive for the majority of the 27 innings they played over the previous three days. At 11-10 in league play, they are now tied for fifth place in the American Athletic Conference, but they are clearly a team that can hang with the best the league has to offer. Let’s take a look at how the weekend series shook out.
Game One - Cincinnati 4 East Carolina 3
Despite a solid outing from J.T. Perez and fine bullpen work from A.J. Kullman, it looked like the Bearcats would drop the series opener on Friday. Then Connor McVey and Manny Rodriguez came to the plate in the top of the ninth and launched back-to-back home runs to send the Bearcats to the win. Both batters used an aggressive approach to produce results, with McVey jumping on the second pitch of his at-bat and Rodriguez taking the first offering from ECU’s Ryan Ross yard. Jarod Yoakam then shut the door with only eight pitches to earn his fifth save of the season.
Perez only lasted five innings in this one, but after allowing a two-run home run in the first inning, settled in, as he finished with only two runs and four hits allowed, while striking out four. Kullman pitched two scoreless innings of relief and Clayton Colvin earned the win despite surrendering a go-ahead run in the bottom of the eighth.
The top of the order really did wonders for the Bearcats, with the top five batters combining to go 11-for-21 with three RBI, three runs scored and six extra-base hits. Treg Haberkorn added a solo home run in second inning, while designated hitter Cole Murphy had a particularly tough game, going 0-for-5 while leaving 10 runners on base.
Game Two - East Carolina 13 Cincinnati 6
Saturday’s game was less successful for the Bearcats but mainly in the final innings. While the Pirates’ offense jumped on the board early, UC hung right with them, with a three-run home run from Murphy in the sixth inning capping a four-run rally that cut ECU’s lead to 6-5. However, the Pirates hung up six runs in the next two innings to give themselves breathing room and take the day.
Nathan Kroger started for the Bearcats and struggled to avoid bats, allowing seven hits and six runs in five innings. Kroger’s relievers fared poorly as well, with Jalen Wade, Tristan Hammans and Isaac Olson combining for three innings and seven earned runs allowed. Murphy had a nice bounce back game, going 2-for-4 with the three-run homer. He was the only Bearcat to have a multi-hit effort.
Game Three - East Carolina 6 Cincinnati 5
This one stung. The Bearcats led 5-0 after five innings and were still holding onto a seemingly secure 5-1 lead entering the bottom of the eight. That’s when the wheel’s came off. After Garrett Schoenle walked the bases loaded, Yoakam entered the game to try to close things up. After striking out the first batter he faced, Yoakam allowed a two-run single before getting the final two outs. All told, allowing two runs after having the bases loaded with zero outs was a victory of sorts. But when the Pirates scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth, the final two coming when Colvin allowed a two-run single, the Bearcats’ bullpen finally gave out. Colvin only faced one batter, relieving Kullman, who came in after Yoakam allowed a home run and a single to start the inning and walked the two batters he faced.
Not only was the game lost due to the bullpen implosion, but so was the strong start from Cam Alldred, who allowed only one earned run on five hits in six innings while striking out six. He also walked only one batter, but the bullpen struggled with control, with seven Pirates reaching by walk in the final three innings.
Murphy once again atoned for his struggles on Friday, going 2-for-4 with a home run and two RBI, while Kyle Mottice (2-for-3, two RBI), A.J. Bumpass (2-for-5) and Mason Deanna (2-for-3) all had multi-hit games as well.
Series MVP - Connor McVey/Cole Murphy
On the one hand, McVey had one of the biggest hits of the weekend, with his solo home run in the ninth in game one giving the Bearcats a chance to win. Murphy did not play well in that game, but he was great the rest of the weekend. After going 0-for-5 on Friday, he went 4-for-8 with two home runs and five RBI the rest of the weekend.
This is the last week of the regular season. The Bearcats will kick it off on Tuesday against Ohio State before hosting USF this weekend, beginning on Thursday.