Scoring runs has not always been a strength for the Cincinnati Bearcats this season. They produced enough on offense to win the second-most games in American Athletic Conference play during the regular season but still ranked at the bottom of the league in many offensive categories, including batting average, runs and RBI. So when the conference tournament started on Tuesday, a major question facing them as they attempted to wash away a litany of recent postseason disappointments was how they would produce enough on the scoreboard to win games.
We have certainly gotten that answer in the first two outings, which have both ended in victory and have the Bearcats on the precipice of the AAC championship game. They tallied 11 runs in a first round win against Memphis and last night, against the conference’s top scoring team, they wound up being the more effective offensive force, scoring eight runs on nine hits while Tulane left 13 runners on base. As a team, the Bearcats have slashed .324/ .405/.456 in this tournament, which may be from a minuscule sample, but is an impressive mark nonetheless, especially considering the weight of the moment.
Among UC batters, right fielder A.J. Bumpass has thrived in the pressure-packed spotlight the most. After helping propel the Bearcats with an uptick in his performance down the stretch of the regular season, Bumpass reached base on his first eight plate appearances in this tournament. He was a perfect 4-for-4 with a walk in the first round against Memphis and then singled in his first two at-bats against Tulane before walking in the bottom of the fifth inning. His streak would end in the eighth when he grounded out to second base, but that one out can’t erase all the production Bumpass has provided in this tournament, as he has driven in or scored seven runs on his own. The senior has lifted his overall slash line to .275/.352/.460 for the season, recording multi-hit games in four of his last five outings, and he is the only current Bearcat with an OPS above .800.
A lineup cannot hope to sustain itself on the exploits of just one batter, however, and the Bearcats have gotten contributions from the rest of their batters as well. One of the more surprising sources of those contributions is catcher Mitch Holding. The junior catcher is still batting below .200 this season and he only has seven extra-base hits, but he did this on Thursday against Tulane.
SEE YA!— American Baseball (@American_BSB) May 24, 2019
Mitch Holding sends this two-run shot OVER Frenchy's and @GoBearcatsBASE takes a 4-1 advantage into the fourth inning against Tulane.
Tune in live on the ADN https://t.co/tT0OkoAB4E pic.twitter.com/eX32dRQ44H
Although that was his only hit of the game, he still ended up driving in three runs and just last weekend went 3-for-5 with a double, a home run and four RBI in a game against Xavier. This sudden resurgence has made the fact that he is hitting fifth in the lineup seem like a shrewd move.
Some more regular offensive contributors have done their part as well. Shortstop Joey Bellini, the team’s leader in batting average, has only two hits in the AAC tourney, but he has made the most of them, driving in four runs total. Second baseman Jace Mercer had a three-hit game against Memphis in which he scored three runs. During that same game, center fielder Jeremy Johnson went 2-for-3 with two RBI. Both Mercer and Johnson didn’t have as much success on Thursday, but designated hitter Wyatt Stapp tallied three hits in four at-bats with two RBI, bringing his total to 30 for the year, which trails only Bumpass for the team lead.
Obviously these numbers are all from just two games, which would mean very little if these were just random contests in February and March. However, they were played at the most important time of the season and the Bearcats, from the top of the order to its bottom, have been up to the challenge at the plate. As they attempt to move further into the postseason, they’ll need to keep that going.