The Bearcats season came to a close Saturday, but the foundation built by a budding collection of freshmen could live on in the coming years.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
A season cut short by disappointing losses and ending with the cloud of coach Brian Cleary being relieved of his duties enjoyed too few memorable moments. Yet, in the big picture of the program, the lasting memory of the 2013 Bearcats baseball team could be the foundation laid of a freshmen class poised to led the program into it's latest incarnation.
Five of the 16 freshmen emerged as regular starters, adding two more at the top of the weekend rotation. Cleary won't be coaching in Clifton to see the 16 freshmen return next year, but you can bet he's proud of them for what they have accomplished this season and how they adjusted to the pace of collegiate baseball.
"I think we were able to attract some really good players and they were able to get a lot of time under their belt and I think they got a chance for great success in the future," Cleary said.
The freshmen and other returning upperclassmen continued improving and building momentum for next season with an 11-5 win over Notre Dame on Saturday, taking two of three in the final series of 2013.
Every player contributed with at least a hit, freshman or upperclassman. But, as it's been for most of the year, a few particular freshmen stood out.
By far the most consistent freshman on the team, infielder Ian Happ, has impressed many people his first year, including his coach.
"He's done a good job throughout the course of the season of being pretty consistent and I think he's going to wind up being a really solid player," Cleary said.
Saturday, Happ went 3 for 3 with two RBI, three runs scored and two walks, including a home run to right field that he knew was gone as the ball came off the bat. It served as an exclamation point for a mighty impressive for the freshman from Pittsburgh.
Happ finished tied with junior outfielder Justin Glass for the team lead in average at .322. He led the team in home runs with six. He collected 13 doubles, one triple and 36 RBI. He also walked a team-leading 47 times. He's most proud of this statistic, only because the biggest area of improvement in his mind was getting better with his pitch selection.
"I've gotten a lot better at narrowing down the pitch that I want to swing at and I think that's helped a lot," Happ said.
RHP Mitch Patishall took the ball for the final game, and pitched well again, giving up eight hits on two earned runs and only walking two batters through six innings. He got the win and finished the season with a 4-4 record and a team-leading 4.09 ERA.
He got better as the season went on, pitching more innings and going deeper into games. His turning point was the game against Louisville at GABP, and from there, he kept gaining more confidence. He went at least six innings in each of his final five starts, only once giving up more than three runs. That included a complete game shutout against Villanova. He attributed it to getting more comfortable on the mound and says pitching in GABP definitely helped him with that.
"That was a big stage, so it helped me get experience and just learn how to throw to college guys and, making pitches," he said.
Happ and Patishall weren't the only freshmen to contribute this season, however.
Outfielder Forrest Perron had his moments, including his first career home run at Marge Schott Stadium against Xavier on May 8. Although his average wasn't where he'd like it to be, he feels more comfortable in the box now than at the beginning of the season. Part of this might be due to the fact he's adjusted to the speed of the game and the timing of the fastball.
"It's a little bit different adjustment coming from high school and early in college," he said. "But I feel like I'm more comfortable attacking the fastball now."
In his first full season, RHP Connor Walsh also pitched fairly well, culminating in his last start against Butler May 14, in which he gave up only one earned run, with nine strikeouts, in 6.1 innings.
Cleary had to constantly remind himself it was really Walsh's freshman year because of an injury last year and therefore struggled with consistency at times.
"For him, it's not so much a matter of getting better, as it is just getting more consistent," Cleary said. "I think he takes pitches off some times and kind of loses focus, or maybe sometimes doesn't even understand what he's trying to do on some pitches and gets himself into some tough situations. But the stuff is good; I think he's got a chance to be really good."
Infielder Devin Wenzel ended up with a .286 average, good for fourth on the team, and proved his versatility by playing all over the infield. Catcher Woody Wallace finished with a .259 average, but started most of the games behind the plate and gained valuable experience in his first year.
Of course, the freshmen had the benefit of learning from upperclassmen such as Glass and junior outfielder/shortstop Matt Williams, two guys who have had success at the collegiate level.
"They've done a lot, especially in the fall and the start of the spring, just letting you know what to expect and how to handle failure, because in high school, you don't fail a lot," Happ said. "In college, it turns into more of a game of failure and how to deal with that."
Williams knows freshman year is the hardest, but thinks these players did a good job maturing throughout the season.
"I think all of them have learned a lot this year and I think they just need to build upon it," Williams said.
Senior infielder/catcher J.P. Jackson agrees he has seen the younger guys grow as the season continued and can only hope the advice and leadership he and the upperclassmen provided them paid dividends. He's confident it has though.
"I think they're going to be a really, really great team in the years to come," he said.
SENIOR DAY: The three seniors on the University of Cincinnati baseball team capped off their final game at Marge Schott Stadium in style, taking two of three from Notre Dame and doing so on national TV (CBS College Sports Network).
LHP Thomas Gentile, RHP Andrew Strenge, and INF/C J.P. Jackson all saw action in the final game of their collegiate careers and all played well.
Strenge relieved starter Mitch Patishall in the seventh and pitched 2.1 innings, allowing only one hit and one walk with two strikeouts. Gentile came into the game in the ninth to get the final two outs in the game by way of a 4-6-3 double play.
Jackson played the entire game at shortstop, going 2 for 3 with a walk and a run scored. Jackson best summed up the day when he called Saturday's game "fun."
"It's been a privilege to play here and I've met a lot of really great guys," Jackson said. "It's just a really fun way to go out."