Baseball Bearcats depending on freshmen core

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As the Bearcats baseball team opens the home portion of the schedule this weekend, a large contingent of freshmen are being counted to make a splash for the home crowd. 

By Ashley Davis/Special to

CINCINNATI -- As a freshman, UC third baseman Devin Wenzel spends most days adjusting to the high level of college baseball compared to Fleetwood Area High School in Pennsylvania. Maybe that's why when he hit his first collegiate home run Feb. 17 against Florida Atlantic, he described the moment precisely.

"Surreal," he said.

The UC baseball team started the season 1-5, but considering they boast 15 true freshmen on the roster  and six of them in the starting lineup, including Wenzel, their youth just might be one cause for this slow start.

As the season opens the home portion of the schedule Friday for the first of three against New York Tech (4 p.m., Marge Schott Stadium), one of the ongoing adjustments for incoming freshmen will be the difference in pace at the college level. 

"The speed of the game is so much different than what they're used to in high school," coach Brian Clearly said. "For every player, I would say, this is the first time in their baseball career they've had to actually show up and play with skill. Most of their success to this point in their career is due to the fact they're more talented than the guys that they're playing with and against."

Despite his team's slow start, Cleary is pleased with the way the collection of newbies are contributing early in the season.

"I think they're doing a great job," Cleary said. "That adjustment doesn't happen in the first game or the second game or the first weekend. It happens over a period of time."

Cleary compared the process to growing grass. Someone can water the grass, feed it, and do whatever they want to do to make it grow, but it's still going to take time.

"You can only speed the process so much," he said.

From playing both fall baseball and six games already this season, the freshmen also understand the step up from high school.

"It's night and day, definitely," Wenzel said. "Just the speed of the game, the quality of the pitching, [and] the way the game is played is so much more business-like."

Wenzell has been taking care of business as he's tied for the team lead in hits (6) and RBI (4). Classmate Colin Hawk leads the team with two doubles, but agrees finding his footing at the next level has been a process. 

"The biggest adjustment I would have to say, for me, is just the speed of the game," Hawk said. "Everything moves so much faster, the pitchers throw harder, the runners are faster, more talented."

The Bearcats freshmen could be starting to make that adjustment to college pitchers. They beat Western Carolina 7-6 in 10 innings on Sunday for the first win of the season. The offense collected 10 hits altogether, with the freshmen collecting seven of those 10.

"I think all we have to do is just build our confidence," Hawk said. "And that confidence is key when it comes to hitting."

Cleary isn't too worried about the offense. Through six games this year they've belted four home runs, averaging .67 home runs per game. Last year, they only managed .41 home runs per game over the 18-38 season. 

"I think we've got a fair balance of speed and power and I think we've got some guys in the lineup that can hit some home runs," he said.

After six straight games on the road, the team is eager to get back to Marge Schott Stadium and continue their offensive surge. They're looking for more than just a win against New York Tech on Friday night. These freshmen are interested in a few more "surreal" moments.

"I hope not only that we get a win on the home opener, but that we get a sweep and improve our record to 4-5," Hawk said.

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