Destiny, it seems, is not finished with the Cincinnati Bearcats. After a stunning run to the American Athletic Conference championship, the Bearcats kept going on Friday with a win against the hosting Oregon State Beavers in the Corvallis Regional of the NCAA Baseball Tournament. Now they will face the Michigan Wolverines in the winner’s bracket of the regional on Saturday night. Here’s what you need to know before the game.
The Story So Far
After getting out to a 5-2 lead against Oregon State on Friday, the Bearcats nearly let it all slip away, allowing four runs in the bottom of the seventh. There was nothing to fear, however, as postseason hero A.J. Bumpass came through with his fifth hit of the game in the ninth to drive in the winning run. The senior right-fielder went 5-for-5 with a home run and three RBI against Oregon State, earning UC its fifth win in a row and improving the team’s overall mark to 31-29.
Michigan was never in danger of losing on Friday, as they easily took care of business against the Creighton Bluejays with a 6-0 victory. Starter Karl Kauffmann nearly pitched a complete game shutout, but was pulled with two outs in the ninth. He struck out seven batters and allowed six hits and two walks. Three different Wolverines hit home runs in support, sending Michigan (42-18) to Saturday’s matchup with the Bearcats.
Bumpass is clearly the standout for the Bearcats this postseason, but the team also gets solid contributions elsewhere in the lineup. Jace Mercer had three hits on Friday and is now slashing .271/.398/.382 with 20 stolen bases on the season while Wyatt Stapp and Joey Bellini are both hitting .300. Still not the most fearsome of offensive teams when you look at their overall line (.259/.353/.370), the Bearcats are making it count right now. In terms of pitching, their have been highs and lows all season, exemplified by their team ERA of 5.48 and Friday night’s effort when starter Clayton Colvin allowed two runs in six innings before A.J. Kullman surrendered four runs only to have Nathan Moore and Korren Thompson hold on for the win.
Even without Big Ten Player of the Year Jordan Brewer, the Wolverines have a lot of pop in their lineup, as they proved on Friday. Jordan Nwogu (.343/.463/.606) is a big part of that and he went yard on Friday but the team also got homers from Jimmy Kerr and Christan Bullock and Jesse Franklin has hit 12 home runs this season. They have six players, not counting Brewer, with an OPS above .800 and even with all their recent offensive outbursts, the Bearcats only have one in Bumpass. Michigan should also have the advantage on the mound, with a team ERA of 3.44 compared with UC’s mark of 5.48.
Players to Watch
Cincinnati - A.J. Bumpass, RF
The AAC should retroactively name Bumpass to the all-conference team for what he’s done in the past couple weeks. The senior right-fielder is getting on base at a spectacular rate in the last five games (18-of-24 plate appearances), boosting his team-leading OPS to .896 and putting him just below the .300 mark in terms of batting average. After he demolished Oregon State’s staff on Friday, its unclear if anyone can stop him right now.
Michigan - Jordan Nwogu, DH
Nwogu went 2-for-3 with a home run and two walks on Friday. An all-conference first team selection himself, Nwogu leads the Wolverines in batting average (.343) and OPS (1.069) and has hit 11 home runs this season. Michigan’s leadoff hitter is more than capable of carrying the lineup.
The Bearcats are once again facing a foe that has the advantage on paper. Michigan has been the better team at the plate and on the mound this season. However, there is no denying that UC is playing its best baseball right now. It will take another standout effort, but the Bearcats have played well enough recently to expect another win. Cincinnati 8 Michigan 7