The Oregon State Beavers begin NCAA Tournament play on Friday in the Corvallis regional against the Cincinnati Bearcats at 7 PM PT. With this being UC’s first time in the NCAA Tournament in several decades, they’ve been out of the college baseball zeitgeist for quite a while. As such, most west coast folks don’t know all that much about the program.
Phil Neuffer is the site manager for SB Nation’s Cincinnati site DownTheDrive.com. Phil was nice enough to have a chat with us about the state of UC’s program, what to expect from them this weekend, and some other things. His answers to our questions are below in italics.
1. This marks the team’s first tournament berth in 45 years. What was the biggest factor in this team getting over that hump?
A drastic change in production at the plate during the American Athletic Conference Tournament. The Bearcats were the worst hitting team in the American Athletic Conference this season. Even after erupting for 51 runs across four games last week, they are still just seventh of nine teams in the league in scoring. It may not be sustainable, but they slashed .390/.479/.597 in those games and obviously if they can get even close to that type of production again, they will be difficult to defeat.
2. The Bearcats are just one game above .500. Did it come as a complete shock to see them make the run they did in the AAC tournament?
As I mentioned, this was a team that really struggled to hit before last week so the fact that they won four-straight games and did so in such convincing fashion to claim a league title was surprising. However, it was not all that unexpected that they would at least be a contender. They may not have had the best overall mark in the AAC, but they did finish second in the league standings at 13-11 against conference foes, including five series wins.
3. What can you tell us about the starting pitcher that Oregon State will face on Friday?
I don’t believe a starter has been announced yet but I would guess that the Bearcats will go with David Orndorff. A redshirt senior right-hander, he has been the ace for the team, although he did struggle in the AAC title game last Sunday. For the season, he tied for the second-most innings on the roster (56 ⅓) and the Bearcats are 9-2 in games he has started. He has solid control with 41 strikeouts compared with 15 walks this season and although his season-long ERA is nothing special (4.79), he has a 3.83 mark in his last seven starts.
4. When UC’s offense clicks, it really clicks. Who is their biggest threat offensively?
The answer is senior right fielder A.J. Bumpass. He is the team-leader in OPS (.847), total bases (101) and home runs (seven). He was the Most Outstanding Player during the AAC tourney as he reached base in 13 of 19 plate appearances, had a .643 batting average and either scored or drove in a combined 14 runs.
5. How has UC performed on the road this season?
The have only gone 9-16 away from Marge Schott Stadium but did take two out of three from Memphis in their last true road series of the regular season.
6. Compare this Cincinnati baseball team to an ice cream flavor. Go.
Chocolate chip cookie dough. The base ice cream is fine and there are times when you get a fantastic spoonful of cookie dough or, in UC’s case, an AAC title, but there are also a number of times when you are let down with no cookie dough, much in the same way the Bearcats lost nearly as many games (29) as they won (30).
7. What’s your prediction for Friday’s game?
I could spend this section writing a treatise on destiny and momentum, but the harsh reality is that this is going to be a really difficult game. The Bearcats are new to this postseason baseball environment and the Beavers just won the whole thing last season. I think it my be closer than other prognosticators, but the Bearcats will ultimately fall short.
BONUS QUESTION: If you could go back in time, how would you have killed a Friday night in 1974 (the last time UC was in the tournament)?
If I can pick the month, I’d head to December 1974 for a double feature of “The Godfather Part II” and “Young Frankenstein.”
Thanks to Phil for his answers and his delightful taste in 70’s movies. You should be checking out DownTheDrive.com regularly just in general, but if you want to read our answers to the questions that they had for us, check with them sometime on Thursday.