For the 338 fans in attendance as Cincinnati battled Akron, it was clear the stars shined brightly during the duration of the picturesque night game at UC's Baseball Stadium. However, the star that shone brightest on this night was found not in the sky but instead on the field turf, as DH Jack Nelson used his multi-faceted ways to lift his team to a win over Akron, 11-9.
With the win the Bearcats improve to 19-12 on the season, and stretch their home winning steak to 11 games (12-1 overall). Akron, on the other hand, continues to struggle. The Zips fall to 7-18 on the season. The win opens a ten-game homestand for the ‘Cats.
Nelson, a senior southpaw from Wheaton, Illinois, saw career-highs come in bunches tonight, both at the plate and in the field. The 6-3 205-pound Nelson smashed two majestic blasts to both right and left field en route to a career-best tying two homeruns and new high of five RBI. Nelson also used his feet, as the not-so-speedy base runner crossed home plate three times for the ‘Cats, also a career best.
While Nelson's heroics in the left side of the batter's box were bountiful, the most impressive "first" for Nelson came on the mound. Leading by a comfortable five, 11-6, going into the ninth inning, the Bearcats saw that lead dwindle to two runs after Akron leadoff hitter Brian Kimutis hit a bases-clearing double off reeling UC hurler Jake Geglein. UC looked to Nelson for help and brought the lefty in for his first career save opportunity.
After "k-ing" his first batter on three straight caught-ya-looking pitches, the minimally used Nelson proceeded to walk the Zips third and fourth place hitters. With the bases loaded and only one out recorded, Nelson reached back (literally and figuratively) to strikeout his second batter of the game and followed by getting Chase Liggett to groundout putting the threat to rest, giving Nelson his first career save.
Nelson was on the mound due in large part to the hectic nature of this weekend. Normally, midweek games such as tonight are followed by a day off and/or a travel day, but because of Easter weekend, the ‘Cats have three games with Big East powerhouse Rutgers scheduled for the next three games. Coach Brian Cleary had the resolve to hold back his bullpen ace, A.J. Upton, for the weekend and get as many players the chance to pitch as possible, leaving as many available arms ready and fresh for the streak of sixth games in eight days, including five in the next six days.
After a valiant effort from UC starter Adam Calez, who had thrown just 4.2 innings this season before his 4.2 inning stint this evening, UC got solid contributions from hurlers Matt Heber and Sean Munninghoff, who combined for 2.1 innings of work while allowing only one run. With the game seemingly already having been decided, UC went to mop-up man extraordinaire Geglein to try to close it out without using any other arms. Geglein, who had allowed three runs in his 3.2 innings of work this season (four appearances), was shelled once again, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits in his inning-plus of work before giving way to Nelson for the eventual close.
At the plate the ‘Cats exploded! After jumping to an early 3-0 lead in the first off a Jon DeLuca RBI (25) single and a two-RBI (18) double (8) from Mark Muscenti, the Bearcats would remain silent until the middle innings. After seeing the Zips take a brief lead, 4-3, with two runs in the fifth, UC responded with three runs in the fifth and five in sixth. Most of the damage during that stint came off the bat of Nelson, who delivered a pair of bombs in consecutive innings. Nelson's two homeruns give him four on the season and make this his second multi-homerun game of the season (Cleveland State; 2).
UC will open up the weekend series with Rutgers (14-14-1, 5-4 in Big East play) tomorrow night at 6:30 pm. This will be the second-ever Big East series at UC Stadium.