March may be considered the month for upsets but with the way the Cincinnati Bearcats started April, that might need to change. After defeating Ohio State 9-5 on the road last Wednesday, the Bearcats traveled north to face the No. 22 UConn Huskies in a three-game set. It was a challenging ask for the Bearcats, but they left Connecticut on Sunday with two more wins and a new boost to their chances in the American Athletic Conference.
Game One - Cincinnati 5 UConn 4
In a season that has not always gone his way, A.J. Kullman needed the type of start he had on Friday. In facing the Huskies, Kullman could easily have struggled like he did the previous week against Tulane, but instead of allowing nine runs and not making it past three innings, the senior right-hander twirled six innings of one-run ball, striking out four and not allowing a single walk. That marked his first start of the season without a free pass and because the Bearcats held on, he earned his first win of the year. He had gone 0-5 prior.
When I say held on, I mean that sincerely. Even though they had a 5-1 lead in the ninth inning, the Bearcats nearly let the Huskies rally and set an ominous tone for the weekend. After striking out the first two batters of the final frame, Korren Thompson allowed two doubles that yielded three runs for the Huskies, but he slammed the door with a final strikeout, stranding the tying run on second base. Thompson has been given a lot of late-game responsibilities, and leads the team with four saves. His strikeout rate (23 in 16 1⁄3 innings) speaks to his ability to be a shutdown reliever, but his 6.06 ERA says otherwise. The junior did the job on Friday, but it was far from a perfect showing.
The Bearcats needed to score those five runs to win and they got most of them from a three-run home run from left fielder Joey Wiemer in the third inning. It was Wiemer’s second home run of the season. First baseman Cole Murphy and shortstop Joey Bellini also added RBI, with Bellini going 3-for-4 in the process.
Game Two - UConn 5 Cincinnati 1
The Bearcats started off Saturday with a an RBI groundout from designated hitter Wyatt Stapp in the top of the first ... and then everything fell apart. Starter Evan Shawver had trouble with his command, walking five batters in 4 1⁄3 innings while allowing three earned runs. The Huskies added two more runs off of relievers Clayton Colvin and Drake Batcho, which was more than enough to fend off the Bearcats, who had just four hits as a team.
Game Three - Cincinnati 10 UConn 4
The offensive absence on Saturday did not carry to Sunday. The Bearcats trailed 3-1 after four innings but produced nine runs in the final five frames, including four alone in the sixth. Stapp had two big hits during those rallies, as he drove in two on a double to right field in the sixth after a single in the fifth led to two runs scoring. He finished the game 4-for-5 with three RBI and two runs scored. Stapp was one of five Bearcats with multi-hit games, including first baseman Griffin Merritt, who went 2-for-5 with his first career home run. Right fielder A.J. Bumpass (2-for-5) and center fielder Jeremy Johnson (2-for-4) joined the hit parade as well.
On the pitching side, Garrett Schoenle didn’t have his best stuff and didn’t factor in the win after allowing three runs on seven hits in 3 1⁄3 innings. The bullpen really picked him up, however, with Nick Murray, Nathan Moore and Thompson combining for 5 2⁄3 innings and just one earned run allowed.
Series MVP - Wyatt Stapp
The sophomore DH really earned his place in the middle of the lineup this weekend. He had an incredible game on Sunday and also produced a 2-for-7 effort in the first two games combined. Stapp is now second on the team in batting average (.286) and tied for the lead in total hits (29). The player above or tied with him in both cases is Bellini, who is hitting .326 with 29 hits of his own. The No. 2 (Bellini) and No. 3 (Stapp) hitters in the lineup are giving the Bearcats and their second-to-worst offense in the AAC some reasons to be optimistic.
Now 13-17 overall and tied with the Huskies themselves for third in the league, the Bearcats will battle rival Xavier on Tuesday in the first of two games of the Joe Nuxhall Classic and then host the UCF Knights next weekend.