Enquirer reporter Bill Koch joins me on the podcast this week. If you haven't read Bill's five-part series on the state of UC athletics, stop and do so now. It's required reading for any Bearcats fan at this point.
Bill joins as we talk about what he discovered chatting with nearly every figure involved in creating the past, present and future of UC athletics. We also delve into the optimism, frustration and general awkwardness that comes with maneuvering through such a difficult landscape as that which evolved over the last few years.
Of course, the conversation tangents to cookies, golden quote nuggets and spurned girlfriends, but was as informative as any podcast you will hear anywhere in covering the state of the program.
Plus, a group of his buddies drove all the way to Florida to root him on, according to my Twitter mentions, there will be another group making the much more digestible drive through Ohio to soak in this round.
He hoped to be placed into the Ohio State portion of the bracket or else he could have been flying all over the country to compete. Instead, he'll have another contingent of friends and family following him in Columbus. That will also include the 1-2 video team punch of Tommy G and @VideoShane.
Keep it locked to GoBEARCATS.com for all your updates.
Let's eat ...
--- Season finale series begins today at Marge Schott Stadium. Notre Dame comes to town as the Bearcats try to carry some momentum and a few more conference victories into next season.
While football and basketball are losing some top competition with the American move, baseball will be adding southern schools where baseball is played year-round and recruiting grounds are fertile. Consider all four teams joining from the the southern states in the next two years currently own winning records with a recent history of success.
ECU (2014/15): 28-25 -- won five straight series, made NCAA tournament last two seasons
Tulane (2014/15): 27-25 -- went 38-20 last year.
Saturday will be Senior Day for the Bearcats and they'll honor Thomas Gentile, Andrew Strenge and J.P. Jackson. Nearly all of the Bearcats lineup and rotation should be returning next year depending on draft picks and other variables.
For those who want to attend game times are 6:30 p.m. today, 7 p.m. Friday and 4:30 p.m. for the season finale on Saturday.
--- Also, kudos to junior infielder Ryan Quinn who has become the ringleader of one of the best developments in college baseball interviews since I've been around.
After every victorious interview with BearcatsTV at the tail end of this season, a collection of Bearcats have performed some type of shenanigans in the background. The choreographed masterpiece from Tuesday's win against Butler was awe-inspiring.
I have to believe something like this needs to be rehearsed and drawn out in the dirt at some point during the game, right? I will only say my expectations are high for this weekend, Ryan. The bar has officially been raised.
Also, check back to this blog as I'll sit down with Bill for a podcast this week and we'll discuss the series, everything he learned and likely a slew of other UC-related topics.
--- Kelly Babcock, Suzanne Tuberville and UCATS hosted Girls Night Out Wednesday at UC, bringing some of the female supporters of UC athletics onto campus. This was the first year of the event and another great idea to round up all aspects of the fan base. Too often the female contingent is forgotten because the audiences at football and basketball games tend to be so testosterone driven.
--- Unfortunately, bad news for George Winn, who was cut by the Texans yesterday. Still believe there is a place for Winn on a training camp roster somewhere.
--- OL Sean Hooey, endured a difficult run the last few years with the Bearcats latched on with the St. Louis Rams for camp. After an injury during his junior year he never regained a starting position. It was odd and frustrating for him, but great to see Hooey gain his shot at the league.
--- Jameel Poteat, who left UC this summer, has surfaced at Stony Brook. Keep an eye on the Sea Wolves if you want to see how the former top recruit does landing on his feet.
Junior Matt Williams appears to be blossoming into the star UC coach Brian Clearly believed he recruited with the spike in his offense the second half of the season.
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- The junior campaing for Bearcats infielder/outfielder Matt Williams didn't jump off to a pretty start, but as the season has hit the home stretch it's become apparent his talent is blossoming toward a highly anticipated senior season.
After early struggles and a hamstring injury, Williams has started to heat up and entering the final series with Notre Dame, is batting .320 with 20 RBI through 43 games.
His hamstring injury, a byproduct of cold weather, benched him for six games in March. Before the injury he hit just .130.
Of course, a player never wants to have an injury during the season, but Williams acknowledged that adversity is part of the game. And maybe a part that helped pull him out of the early slump.
"I was able to rest it in the beginning, take a few games off and get right back into the season, which was nice," he said.
Since the injury, his numbers have soared. The Louisville series served as a turning point, as he was hitting just .227 and saw his batting average rise 59 points to .286 after that series. He says the key has been his focus during the precious at-bats he has gotten.
"I didn't have as many as, say Justin [Glass], so I knew I had less at-bats to use," Williams said. "I couldn't just waste them."
The Mason native and a CHCA graduate struggled slightly during his first two years at UC. His freshman year, he hit .250 with 1 HR and 10 RBI in 184 at-bats. His sophomore year, he hit .241 with 2 HRs and 19 RBI in 199 at-bats.
This year, his at-bats have been fewer (153), but his average is much higher and he already surpassed career highs in hits, with more doubles and singles, than in previous seasons.
This requires a certain maturity, one Williams thinks he has found. Things have started to click for him.
Going into his senior year, his goal is not just to carry the focus of his at-bats over to next year, but also keep his maturity level up and assume a leadership role for incoming freshmen.
"After this year, I've really proved I've matured [the] last two years from a freshman to a sophomore [to] now," Williams said. "I've really shown that I can play."
Head coach Brian Cleary agrees something may have clicked for Williams as well.
"He is finally starting to resemble the player that we all thought he could be all along," Cleary said. "And I think one of the things he's learning is to trust his own ability and not trying to step in the batter's box and hit a five-run home run every time he's in there."
This is the maturity Williams talks about, such as taking singles when given to him.
"He's just putting good swings on the ball and some of them are singles and some of them are doubles," Cleary said. "I think he's starting to get consistent."
Cleary sees confidence building in Williams with every game. He's starting to see the player they envisioned when he was recruited.
"I think he's primed to have a really good season next year," Cleary said.
Hope everyone enjoyed a lovely Mother's Day yesterday. I know I did, but now it's Monday again. So, there's that.
For those looking for a lift on Monday morning, I did find out Community is being renewed for another season, to my surprise after their darkest timeline finale on Thursday. Found it interesting in what I thought was their least entertaining season of all and one where they were pushed back months after their anticipated premiere, NBC shows more faith in it than ever. But, what do I know, and who cares. More Troy and Abed in the morning, please.
Let's eat ...
--- Final of baseball games for this season this week, starting with a Tuesday game against Butler (6:30 p.m.), then Notre Dame comes to town for a three-game set starting on Thursday (6:30 pm.), Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (4 p.m.). That will round out a year of building the foundation around an impressive group of freshmen for UC.
If you haven't been out to MSS this year to take in a tilt, I'd highly recommend doing so this week. No, the record doesn't show it, but the next few years look bright with this group.
Freshman pitcher Mitch Pattishall proved it yet again with a quality start in UC's lone victory of the Santa Clara series this past weekend. He went seven innings with five strikeouts, allowing three runs in the 7-3 victory.
With so much talk about the development of the freshman another strong season from Justin Glass has been lost in the conversation a bit. The junior held down the middle of the order and led the team in RBI and total bases with a .306 average. In a year of ups and downs he's been a beacon of consistency.
--- Spoke with JK Schaffer for a bit this weekend at Bengals rookie mini-camp, he's there working on things and getting prepared to make a run at a roster spot for next season.
He's put on some extra muscle and appears to be far and away in the best shape of his life. Not that anyone would be surprised to hear such things from the repeated overachiever.
Did say he's spending most of his free time playing golf these days. Picked up the game about four years ago, apparently and is already firing even par rounds at Miami Whitewater. As if there was any suspense over what helps carry his game, he can bomb it off the tee.
When I asked him if he's over 300, his facial expression gave the impression he's flying it over three spins. Put in your scramble requests now.
--- Also, Cam Cheatham was invited to the Bengals rookie mini-camp. Nice for him to be working with the hometown team. He'll be a long shot to land on the team, but by all accounts showed well.
--- Some news from last week I hadn't been able to get to yet was the date being set for The Crosstown. It will be Dec. 14. Not necessarily news, although, I do like the game moving to Saturday night. If you are going to hold it downtown and have it be a celebration of the revitalization of that area along with college basketball, it needs to be on a weekend night. The weeknight deal last year didn't make much sense to me, of course, that was the last thing on people's minds before last year's game.
Man, do I love on-campus games, but for this city and this rivalry I still believe that's the top venue for this game going forward. We will see what happens after this, but I thought the atmosphere was special there last year. Nearly all who were in the house agreed.
--- If you haven't seen Bill Koch's multi-part series on the state of UC's conference affiliations, you should be. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here, which posted today.
Great look at the reality and challenges this department is dealing with at the moment.
--- Randomness ...
--- I can't imagine bacon hot dogs being anything but delicious. Is there a food people aren't shoving bacon into these days? Feels like we are in the Golden Era for the product. Forget the Industrial Revolution or launch of Rock N'Roll, can't imagine a better era to be living.
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.
We want to hear from you! If you have any comments, questions or thoughts about UC baseball hit up Ashley Davis on Twitter @AshleyDavis32.
Senior Mackenzie Fields emerged from minimal pole vault experience in high school to the UC school record holder during a spectacular career.
By Katie Mann/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI - When Mackenzie Fields attended Mariemont High School, a pole-vault pit didn't exist. Occasionally, at a practice held at Turpin High, Fields would give the skill a shot.
It took Fields a couple years to gain a knack. Her freshman year she started jumping with her highest jump around eight feet. By her senior year she reached 11 feet, 9 inches.
Four years later, finishing up a UC senior year including two Big East Athlete of the Week awards and adding a second Big East title this past weekend, she can only laugh at those early days.
"The other day, I was looking back at some newspaper clippings that I sent to colleges trying to get recruited," she said. "These were from my junior and senior year, and I was going over the bar backwards. What was I thinking sending that horrible form to college coaches?"
Fortunately for the Bearcats, coaches ignored the form.
After sending out recruitment forms to several different colleges, Fields chose to join the UC track team because of all the great people she met on her recruit visit.
"I had been to other schools and none of them felt as welcoming, fun and friendly, and supportive as UC," she said.
Through her progression with the Bearcats, Fields experienced pitfalls such as hurting her hamstring in her second year and undergoing foot surgery in her fourth. Due to the injuries, Fields began to lose confidence in her abilities, because of this she endured frequent rehab and conditioning. But by receiving extra workouts and constant support by coach Kris Mack, Fields began to realize that she could do it.
"I have tried to teach her what it means to be a consistent vaulter and how mental strength is what determines the outcome of the bigger meets," said Mack, "I try to expose her to many different situations and scenarios in practice so that she always look back and say, 'Oh yeah, I worked through this before and know how to overcome it."
On March 30, Fields broke the school record of 14'1.25" at the Nikiloff Invitational. Fields was also named Big East Women's Field Athlete of the Week for her first place finish at the Jesse Owens Track Classic three weeks later.
Currently, Fields is planning to train for the 2016 Olympic trials and Olympics in Rio. Fields will need to vault over 15 feet in order to go to the trials and a bit more to make the Olympic team.
"She is one of the strongest girls I have ever worked with and I have enjoyed that process of teaching her to use that strength and power to vault," adds Mack.
Happy Tuesday, everyone. I'm starting to feel more and more like an old guy these days. Waking up to random pain after not doing a thing the night before. Then it goes away and you feel pain in another part of your body the next day. I think the someone has a pain remote and is laughing hysterically at my plight.
I digress, but if you see me hobbling around campus, feel free offer any ideas or some Aleve.
Let's eat ...
--- The football open house is tonight. A cool concept for fans to get an insider look at those connected with the program. Of course, Tommy Tuberville will be in the house along with AD Whit Babcock, players and Voice of the Bearcats/Bengals Dan Hoard.
As lucky media types, we get access to these guys all the time so we maybe take it for granted, but they're all great personalities to have fronting the program -- along with so many others in the administrative/coaching offices.
"I don't think they'll ever go to eight teams. I was in I-AA playoffs at Arkansas State and that's a survival contest. You got to remember, we only played through two playoff games one year we were beat up. It's not just the game. You've got to practice to get ready for the game and you've got to practice through finals. It was hard.
"If you went to eight or 16 teams you'd be jumping into that part. I've never been for paying players, but if they go to eight or 16 I'd be for paying players. Then you're going to look at buying insurance for guys. I don't want to play that game."
--- Can't contend Tuberville is thinking inside the box with regards to personnel. UC added a professional Australian rugby player to the roster and plan on trying him out at linebacker. This from Tom Groeschen.
--- UC Big East champ David Tepe found out his national tournament draw yesterday and it was good news. He had his hopes set on landing at the Ohio State regional and did just that. The other options took him all over the country, but this way there will be a much more familiar feel at the Scarlet Course.
We may even see a return of the strong four fraternity brothers that made the trek to Orlando. If you haven't read that cool story, you can follow the link here.
--- Remember if you have any UC comments, questions or just want to recap the stories Tommy T told you, shoot me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
--- Meanwhile, here's the lineup forthe Austin City Limits music festival. It is predictably ridiculous. I'm a Kings of Leon fan myself, among many of the others there, so I'll leave you with them. Have a great day everyone.
David Tepe's journey to UC's first Big East golf title was spectacular as much for what occurred outside the ropes as what occurred inside them.
Walking toward the Reunion Resort clubhouse in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday for the first round of the Big East championship golf tournament, UC senior David Tepe turned the corner near the putting green.
Suddenly, he spotted a sprawling group of familiar faces. His mother and father were there, as he expected them to be. As was his grandmother and grandfather, who snowbird in Florida this time of year. As much as their presence brought out open arms, further inspection provided a dropped jaw as well.
Along with them were four brothers from his Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity. They secretly hopped in the car and drove 898 miles to surprise him for what could be Tepe's final golf tournament as a Cincinnati Bearcat. Little could any of them have known then their presence provided a major reason it wouldn't be the end.
The crew of eight would be with Tepe every shot of the incredible three-day, 54-hole ride to his crowning career achievement capturing UC's first-ever Big East title in golf and spot in the NCAA Regionals.
"I just couldn't believe they'd made the drive down," Tepe said of David Clark, Jonas Butler, Pat Dryer and Brian Kapcar. "That was something special."
From that moment forward, this tournament felt different than any other Tepe experienced with UC. Remarkably, it concluded with his first major tournament victory since his junior days at Lakota East High School. He'd taken part in dozens of tournaments during his four-year career at UC and even come close to winning, but never held on. Then, here, on his final shot, he couldn't miss.
And with every drive splitting the fairway, every pinpoint approach to the green and every long putt the reaction didn't sound like the standard soft claps and chirping birds associated with college golf tournaments.
"They brought a lot of energy to the golf course, I would say," Tepe said with a laugh suggesting understatement. "A lot more than I would be used to."
He supplied more reasons for excitement then he'd be used to as well. In ripping off three consecutive rounds under par for the first time in his career (69-69-70) he went wire-to-wire to stave off closest competitor Chase Koepka (USF) by one stroke.
The critical moment came on his second-to-last hole of the tournament, when he stood over a 25-foot birdie putt. He'd decided to stay free of tracking the leaderboard all day, but finally broke down before this putt asking his coach Doug Martin if a birdie would help.
Boy, would it.
We'll get back to that in a moment. Next comes the other interesting beyond-the-glory aspect of this story. Tepe found that in recent tournaments where he couldn't quite push over the hump into the top five or even victorious positions the problems fell far more on the mental side than physical.
To counter that he picked up two books the week before the Big East tournament, Putting Out Of Your Mind by renowned putting guru Bob Rotella, as well as Fearless Golf: Conquering the Mental Game by Dr. Gio Valiante.
Fearless Golf preached the importance of patience in attacking the golf course. He gives that patience direct credit for the difference between his past showing and this incredible run.
"That really helped the third day," Tepe said. "Started on 10 and 11 and 14 are birdie holes. I didn't birdie those. But then I birdied 15 and 16. I put myself in similar situations last summer where I tasted the success, but didn't quite finish it off. I think that all comes down to just being patient on the course."
And it eventually came down to his putt on hole 53. As he looked over his putt, Rotella's putting book flashed into his head.
"I read it; I liked the way it looked," Tepe said. "One of the things (the book) talks about is picking a line and sticking with it, don't second guess. Don't try to reread the putt. Just read it once, pick a line and stay committed to it. I picked a line and when I went to address the putt just said, 'All right, head down and get it to the hole.'"
Bottom of the cup.
He felt at that moment the putt might have won the tournament. He was right.
Though, there was no Adam Scott at The Masters moment with primal screams and dog-pile of family and fraternity brothers on the final green.
A first pump followed both his birdie and final putt for par, then he patiently waited 15 minutes in the clubhouse for Koepka to finish. When the win became official a calm celebration with the gathering proceeded. It didn't need to be wild to be meaningful.
"I just kind of gave it a little fist pump and looked at the guys and my family that came down and thanked them all for being there," he said.
I want to hear from you! Share your comments, questions or thoughts about anything UC or Tepe's incredible Big East championship run by emailing me at email@example.com or hit me up on Twitter @pauldehnerjr.
Ian Happ's season at the plate would be considered rare for any player, the fact he's become the force at the No. 3 spot in the Bearcats order as a freshman leaves him in elite company.
[UC vs. Seton Hall at Marge Schott Stadium: Friday 6:30 p.m., Saturday 4 p.m., Sunday noon ]
By Ashley Davis/Special to GoBearcats.com
CINCINNATI -- Only 44 games into his collegiate career and freshman infielder Ian Happ already owns several plays worthy of highlight reels, including one where he caught a foul ball falling backward into the seats at Great American Ball Park.
But that spectacular catch is not the favorite moment of his young career. That moment comes at the plate, in a game against Toledo on April 3, in which he hit a walk-off home run.
"I'd never hit a walk-off home run before," he said. "And that was pretty sweet."
Not only did that home run provide him with a special moment he'll always remember, it was also the point he began an offensive surge. Since the Toledo game, his batting average has fluctuated between .304 and .325 and now settled at a team-leading .317, with five home runs and 30 RBI.
Happ's great offensive month has helped produce an impressive season for any player and rare numbers for a freshman.
He leads the team in seven of 11 offensive categories, including batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, doubles, home runs, total bases and walks. He also leads the team in stolen bases and stolen base attempts with 17 out of 21.
He is tied with junior outfielder Justin Glass in runs scored and RBI, and is second only to Glass in hits. He and Glass are the only players to start all 44 games.
A dominant April culminated in a return to his hometown when the Bearcats played a three-game series at Pittsburgh last weekend. Twenty members of his family and friends gathered to watch him play, and he gave them a show, hitting .462, with two home runs, four RBI and two steals, despite the team being swept.
But Happ downplayed the idea he played well because he performed in front of his family and friends.
"It was good to be home, for sure," he said. "But, it was just seeing good pitches and making good swings; you know, just another series."
This attitude contributed to Happ's special freshman season, not just one series in his hometown.
Head coach Brian Cleary sees a centered, smart player who understands how to make adjustments at the plate.
"I think he's got good ability to focus," Cleary said. "He pays attention to his game. He can figure some stuff out on his own. He's got baseball ability, but he's also got some baseball skills up top."
Much of his success can be attributed to his versatility, especially at the plate. Happ bats as a switch hitter, he's been doing it since he was a kid.
"I was about eight years old when I started working on it," he said. "My first year in high school was the first year that I hit full time switch-hitting in games."
Most switch-hitters still prefer one side of the plate to another. So which side does Happ prefer?
"It depends on the day really," Happ said. "Sometimes I feel more comfortable left-handed, sometimes more right-handed."
His versatility not only helps him at the plate, but in the field too. He plays multiple infield positions and moves around the infield from game to game, playing mostly first, second and shortstop.
Cleary thinks Happ has yet to find his best position, however.
"I think he's really capable at a number of different places and he's got pretty good baseball savvy, so he kind of knows his way around the field," Cleary said.
Finding the best position for him will come with defensive improvement, it's the one area he's still showing residue adjusting as freshman. This season, he's committed 22 errors and while he does get more chances than any of his other teammates, it still averages out to one error every second game. And he knows, it.
Cleary knows it too. But he remains confident Happ will get better defensively with time. He explained that the ball plays faster off the bat in college than it does in high school and the angles infielders take are much different. Even the way a player moves his feet can be different.
"Playing in the infield for a first-year guy is a major change because of the speed of the game," Cleary said. "It takes some getting used to. He'll get better at that the more he does it."
It's not just Cleary who sees Happ developing into a great player. Glass, one of the resident veterans on the team, knows he has only just begun to tap into his potential. Glass says he can see the adjustments Happ has made from fall to the beginning of the season and he's catching on and learning faster every day as the season has progressed.
"The sky's the limit," Glass said. "As long as he keeps working hard and focusing in, he'll do fine."
A return to the New Media Suite with Tom Gelehrter, the Bearcats director of new media and broadcasting for our first offseason podcast of the year.
We discuss Andy Reid's Bearcats farm system, Travis Kelce, Jermaine Lawrence, Gunner Kiel, Bennie Coney, Mitch Pattishall and leave plenty of time to go tangential talking about Kansas City stories, Tommy G dissing my cornhole tournament plus the potential Skippycast.