UC has been officially eliminated from the Big East tournament picture, but with a talented crop of freshmen finishing out the season they are gaining a jump on an anticipated 2014.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- While the Bearcats enjoyed a season series sweep over crosstown rival Xavier after back-to-back wins Tuesday and Wednesday, they did not share that same success against Big East conference teams this season.
With a 4-17 conference record, they currently sit in second-to-last place, ahead of only Villanova, and are three games behind St. John's for the eighth and final spot in the Big East tournament May 22-26 in Orlando.
UC plays Notre Dame in a three-game series at Marge Schott Stadium starting next Thursday during the final weekend of the season. The Fighting Irish play at St. John's this weekend. Even if ND sweeps St. John's and UC sweeps the Irish, the Bearcats would still be eliminated from tournament play by way of losing the tiebreak with the Red Storm, since they lost two out of three at St. John's earlier this season.
"I'm sick that our season will end next week, but I also feel good about the direction that the young guys are going," head coach Brian Cleary said.
Although the team won't be making the trip to Orlando, it doesn't mean the season is a lost one. The playing time the freshmen have gained this year can be invaluable as the Bearcats work at getting better for next season.
"We're playing so many guys that are going through this for the first time and the beauty of that is so many of these young players have played more than would be typical for freshmen," Cleary said. "We're going to have a more experienced group of returners than most people might."
With seven games left in the season, Cleary's preached to his players that this is their head start for next season. Obviously they want to win as much as they can, but Cleary also knows the importance of building for next year.
"We've got a ten-game jump on everybody to try and get our freshmen even more comfortable, [and] get some of the guys who haven't played playing," he said.
Cleary made his quest obvious when he shook up the lineup against Xavier on Wednesday, playing freshman catcher Russell Clark, redshirt freshman outfielder Taylor Schmidt and freshman infielder Colin Hawk. Hawk had started 24 games and Schmidt and Clark had each started 17 games before Wednesday.
According to Cleary, with Clark, it's just a matter of alternating between the two catchers, him and freshman Woody Wallace. But with Hawk and Schmidt, both young players, he's trying to determine who can step up as a potential everyday player at their respective positions next year.
Schmidt has the talent, but an injury for most of the season last year and an injury earlier this season relegated him to the bench. Now that he's healthy, Cleary wants to see if he can develop into an everyday player.
"He's got a chance to be an above-average defender in center field," Cleary said. "We just have to get his bat going somehow."
Hawk has struggled in his first year, but took a step in the right direction on Wednesday, going 1 for 2 with two walks and three runs scored.
Cleary acknowledges his team still has work to do to be a team that can compete for a conference title. But he thinks the players on this team have the capability to do it.
"This group is poised to be pretty good," Cleary said.
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