Just a monster weekend for the Bearcats baseball team. If you want to watch quality baseball with high stakes, this will be the time to head out to Marge Schott Stadium.
UC enters the final regular season weekend fourth in the Big East standings at 13-11. Due to a bunch up at the middle, they are only two games ahead of USF and Seton Hall, who are both tied for eighth. The top eight teams in the league advance to the Big East tournament in Clearwater.
Depending on the results of the weekend, the Cats could end up as high as third and as low as ninth.
Now, that wouldn't seem so bad until you consider Connecticut enters as the far and away best team in the Big East at 20-4 in conference play. UC needs to find a win to assure they head to Clearwater and every win after that will be critical for their placement in the tournament.
"I don't ever remember it being this tight," Brian Cleary said. "You'd like to think fourth place this late you don't have to worry about getting into the championship, but we do."
By Cleary's estimation, if UC can make it to Clearwater, Fla., the site of the tournament, it will enjoy as good a chance as almost anyone to come out on top. UConn and St. John's have pulled away from the pack slightly of late, but outside of those two, everyone else will be about the same. Whoever gets hot will likely be playing for a title.
For UC, getting hot means finding quality innings out of the bullpen. The relievers have struggled to finish off games. Cleary knew that would be an issue entering the season due to last year's departures, but nobody has ascended into a consistent shutdown role.
"Our starting pitching for the most part has kept us in the games. Offensively, we've done a good job. Our defense has been pretty good. I like where we are, I wish I could point to a bullpen like we did a year ago. It's been a mix and match try to trick (the opponents) a little bit."
The weekend opens with a bang tonight, as UC will face the certain Big East Pitcher of the Year in UConn's Matt Barnes. He's expected to be a first-round draft pick. He's 10-3 with a 1.18 ERA this season and 91 K's to just 24 walks. Barnes already owns three complete game shutouts. Yikes.
They play at 6:30 p.m. tonight, 6:30 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. on Saturday. Come show your support for the Bearcats.
--- Of course, Cleary recently set the career wins mark at UC, as we mentioned earlier this week. Ryan Koslen advanced the story with this feature.
--- Jake Saylor and Sam Vandenheuvel have known each other since first grade and are playing baseball together for the Bearcats. Cool story from Shawn Sell at GoBearcats.
--- I wrote about Alum Tony Campana here yesterday. Here's the story. His Game 2 went much like his MLB debut -- with an instant impact. He stole a base and scored a run pinch running for Alfonso Soriano in a 7-5 win against the Marlins.
--- The Big East/SEC Challenge opponents are supposed to be announced today. The first matchup to leak out was St. John's playing Kentucky, according to the NY Post. So, Bearcats fans can let out the collective groan, they won't be able to talk trash with their neighbors for the next six five months.
I handicapped the possible opponents last week, if you are interested in rehashing that today. Or you could just patiently wait for the news. I'll take a closer look at the matchups in tomorrow's Breakfast.
--- Meant to mention this yesterday, but on Tuesday Butch Jones and a few other UC folks headed over to Children's Hospital to deliver a check for $10,000 in the name of Mitch's Mission. Great cause and admirable work by the UC folks here. They have been pounding the pavement on this since Mitch's case first came to light and with his cancer in remission it's fantastic that the beat still goes on.
--- ESPN's Bruce Feldman put out his annual list of the Top 10 Physical Freaks in college football and a Bearcat rolled in at No. 10.
The acceleration of Walter Stewart? No.
The power of Derek Wolfe? Nope.
Must be the speed of Isaiah Pead then? Uh-uh.
It was punter Patrick O'Donnell. Yep, a punter. But as Feldman rightly points out, O'Donnell is no ordinary punter.
Here's his synopsis:
"Yes, a punter. Don't roll your eyes, though. This guy is one of the more imposing punters since the Pittsburgh Panthers' MMA fighter Dave Brytus. The 6-foot-5, 217-pound O'Donnell has a 355-pound bench, broad jumps 9'2" and his 10-yard split of 1.53 seconds is actually faster than the time Jeff Demps clocks."
Moral of the story: Don't mess with the punter.
--- Ponies get tired, too. Sometimes, they would rather take the train.
--- Reviews and stories from the new ESPN book are starting to surface as selected reviewers received their copies yesterday. I'm interested in reading it, but have a feeling all the interesting stuff will fill up my Twitter timeline before I even have the chance to purchase it. Though, whatever Charley Steiner says makes me happy.
--- The 2011 Ben-Gals team was selected. Here is the only time you will look at them without binoculars.
--- Whatever Joe Maddon says, I usually agree with. I just assume he knows more than I do. He thinks Interleague play needs to go. That's fine, as long as I get my trip to Tampa in first.
--- Help defense and bounce passes hit the streets.
--- In honor of this blog being a little late today and the Reds playing a business day special, this only seems appropriate.