The Cincinnati Bearcats were eliminated from the NCAA Baseball Tournament on Sunday, falling 6-1 to the Creighton Bluejays. The loss was the final chapter of the 2019 season, which featured some of the most successful baseball the Bearcats have played in quite some time. They won their first American Athletic Conference title and made it back to the NCAA Tournament after going 45 years without an appearance. Even though yesterday’s result was a disappointment, the Bearcats are still in a great position as a program going forward. Here are some reasons why.
Returning contributors to the lineup
Although the Bearcats will certainly miss senior right fielder A.J. Bumpass after he scorched opposing pitchers during the postseason, they should still have the majority of the lineup back next season. Assuming most players do not get selected in the MLB Draft and opt to go pro, second baseman Jace Mercer (.285/.407/.397, 20 stolen bases), designated hitter Wyatt Stapp (.294/.360/.374), center fielder Jeremy Johnson (.279/.402/.328, 19 stolen bases), left fielder Joey Wiemer (.263/.360/.408, six home runs, 21 stolen bases), third baseman Eric Santiago (.256/.337/.335) and shortstop Joey Bellini (.289/.367.385) will all lend their services to the team once more. Stapp ended up leading the team in batting average after all was said and done and he will be a junior next season, as will Bellini and Wiemer, with Mercer, Santiago and Johnson all entering their senior campaigns.
Now, having the lineup in tact won’t produce improved results all by itself. The Bearcats still ended up batting a pedestrian .258 as a team and they also lacked much in terms of power, slugging .367 with 34 total home runs. Bumpass had a team-leading eight of those long balls, but Wiemer has flashed some pop in his bat and soon-to-be senior catcher Mitch Holding hit three home runs in his last eight outings. If the Bearcats can build off of the offensive showcase they put on during the AAC tourney, they could be poised to really take a step up offensively.
Young pitchers showed promise
The final results may not show it, but the Bearcats have some pitchers with a lot of potential who are just scratching the surface of their collegiate careers. Freshman left-hander Evan Shawver started against Creighton on Sunday and aside from a three-run home run he allowed in the fourth inning, was pretty solid. Shawver’s 7.15 ERA is obviously not pleasant to behold, but he struck out a team-high 69 batters in 61 2⁄3 innings and there was a stretch there where he looked like a potential ace for the staff.
Garrett Schoenle had his moments as well. The sophomore southpaw had a 3.81 ERA through his first six appearances of the season, including an absolute gem against USF when he allowed just one run on four hits while striking out 12 across 8 1⁄3 innings. Schoenle ranked second on the team with 62 punchouts in 56 innings and like Shawver, could be a Friday night starter if he can improve his control, with the two combining to walk 103 batters this season.
Aside from Shawver and Schoenle, freshman Nick Murray got important experience in high pressure situations during the last couple weeks and upperclassmen like Korren Thompson (3.71 ERA, 13 saves), Nathan Moore (3.76 ERA) and Nathan Kroger (1.86 ERA) — who missed most of the season after a promising start to the 2019 campaign — should be able to anchor the staff.
Scott Googins has a plan
The Bearcats have won just as many games as they have lost during their two seasons with Googins at the helm. That was obviously highlighted by the 31-win campaign they concluded on Sunday, which marked the first time since 2011 they have reached the 30-win plateau. In the six seasons after 2011 and before Googins took over, the Bearcats had a combined record of 133-202-1. During that stretch, the Bearcats posted a miserable 46-94-1 mark in league play, including just one season with a record of at least .500 against conference foes. Under Googins, the Bearcats have had back-to-back .500 seasons in such contest, with a high point of this spring’s 13-11 finish that earned them the No. 2 seed in the American Athletic Conference Tournament. They happened to win that event as well and played in the NCAA Tournament after sitting out since 1974. Whether or not Googins is just building on a foundation that was already in place or not, its clear that he has a vision for the program and is executing it effectively.
Experience isn’t something to ignore
For many years, the Bearcats didn’t just struggle to win in the regular season. When the postseason came around, they exited swiftly far too often, giving them very little chance to gain any type of experience. Although that is not an intangible metric that we can find on the box score, the fact that the players in the program were able to experience a run in the AAC and NCAA tourneys can only help to expand the prestige of the program and the success it finds on the field all year long.