With Luke Fickell taking the football program to new heights, Michelle Clark-Heard leading the women’s basketball team to within shouting distance of the NCAA Tournament and a new era beginning for the men’s basketball squad under John Brannen, the debate surrounding the University of Cincinnati is whether it is a football school or a basketball school.
But what if I told you that UC was once a baseball school as well? Before you dismiss this notion and move on to the next phase of your internet journey (may I suggest figuring out which WNBA team to root for), let me take you all the way back to 2008. During that season the Bearcats went 39-20, including a 19-8 mark in the Big East and, if you can believe it, they actually won three games in the league tournament before falling short against the Louisville Cardinals in the championship round. Until Tuesday, that was the last time they managed to record a win in the postseason, but thanks to an 11-6 victory over the Memphis Tigers, that drought ended.
However, before we move on to UC’s second round matchup with the Tulane Green Wave, let’s take a look back at that 2008 team and what led to a level of success that has still yet to be matched in more than a decade.
The star of the whole season was Josh Harrison. A prominent member of the Bearcats in the Big Leagues cast, Harrison had the best season of his career in 2008. He batted .378 with 30 extra-base hits, and 32 stolen bases. He also showed an exceptional eye at the platel striking out only 20 times all season. His play him earned some impressive hardware, including the Big East’s Co-Player of the Year award and a second-team All-American nod from Collegiate Baseball. His play was particularly impressive in the postseason when he scorched the ball to the tune of a .467 batting average. Harrison would use this exceptional season as a launching pad for a career at the MLB level, where he has played since 2011.
Harrison didn’t do it all by himself, however. The 2008 season was also a spectacular one for outfielder Tony Campana, who found his way onto the All-Big East first team with a career-high .338 batting average to go with 44 stolen bases and 89 hits, including eight triples. This was Campana’s senior season and he went on to play parts of four seasons in the big leagues.
The rest of the lineup featured plenty of other productive hitters. Infielder Mike Spina produced a .377 batting average and was an exceptional power threat, launching 21 home runs and slugging .731, which are both among the best marks in school history. Outfielder Cameron Satterwhite flashed great power of his own with 21 doubles, 14 home runs and a .364 batting average. Catcher Ryan Baker got it done in the batter’s box and behind the plate. According to GoBearcats.com, he caught 45 percent of base runners who attempted to steal and that went with a .288 batting average and 21 extra-base hits. Second baseman Jamel Scott (.311 batting average, 35 stolen bases), shortstop Chris Peters (.252 batting average), designated hitter Tyler Goodro (.352 batting average) and outfielder Justin Riddell (.272 batting average) were other consistent members of the lineup.
The Bearcats’ powerful bats were the key to their 2008 success, but they still had to have some effective pitchers and Dan Osterbrock was the best of the bunch. The junior left-hander and Cincinnati native logged nearly 100 innings, including three complete games, with a 3.55 ERA and 74 strikeouts. Osterbrock followed Harrison and Campana to professional baseball after the 2008 season, but he was never able to make the jump to the Show.
If Osterbrock was the team’s ace, then Michael Hill was the No. 2 starter. The right-hander produced a 3.46 ERA across 80 2⁄3 innings, striking out 65 batters and walking only 16 in 15 appearances, including 12 starts. Other pitchers who played major roles for the 2008 team included Nick Johnson (4.05 ERA), Tyler Smith (4.27 ERA), Brian Garman (started nine games), Jake Geglein (2.30 ERA), Billy Welsh (2.08 ERA), Matt Heber (4.40 ERA) and Brian Sand.
Since the 2008 season ended, the Bearcats have floundered a bit when it comes to baseball, especially in conference tournaments where they had gone winless in their last 17 tries before Tuesday. The 2019 team, which has 27 wins and counting, is still far from the powerhouse that the 2008 team was, but the fact that they have done anything to put them in the same company shows that the program is making progress.