Riding the tired arm of UC freshman hurler Steve Blevins and the equally tired bat of Brian Szarmach in the clutch, the University of Cincinnati baseball team managed to hold off the late-inning charge put on by the Rutgers Scarlet Knights, picking up their second straight win, 6-5.
Cincinnati improves to 20-12 this season, and improves their record to 5-5 in Big East play (4-0 at home). The loss ends Rutgers six-game winning streak and drops their record to 14-15-1 (5-5 in the Big East).
UC did not allow a powerful Scarlet Knight lineup intimidate them, Thursday night. Nor did they allow the six game winning streak Rutgers was on let them get to them, or the fact that they managed to capture the lead going into the bottom half of the eighth inning. Instead, doing what they do best, the Bearcats managed to claw out a nail biter.
Trailing by a run after Blevins gave up the tying run in the top half of the inning, UC saw the much struggling Szarmach come through with a timely opposite field ground ball hit to drive in Mark Muscenti from third base. After a one-out double by Muscenti and an attempted push bunt to second turned sacrifice by Adam Yeager, Szarmach was left in the uncomfortable spot of having the game ride on his shoulders. Szarmach, who was hitting a lofty .196 (9-46) with runners in scoring position this season, fought off potential third strikes twice to keep the inning and the go-ahead opportunity in play. With two strikes and two outs Szarmach, who has struck out 49 times in 104 plate at-bats this season, punched a shot through the right hand side of the infield, plating Muscenti and giving the ‘Cats the lead for good.
The Bearcats had held the lead for the entirety of the game until Blevins allowed a two-out, full-count single to Tim Querns to plate the tying run. Blevins, who had showed great command for most of the night, saw his control leave him during the inning. Not just of his pitching, but his emotions seemed to get to him after RU right fielder Luis Feliz took a close pitch that could have been called strike three and then proceeded to draw a walk from the tired hurler. Regrouping but possibly not recovering, Blevins gave up a smoking hot single to center by Querns to tie the game.
Showing confidence in his developing staff ace who had just allowed Rutgers to tie the game, Blevins received the green light from skipper Brian Cleary to continue and proceeded to cut down a two-out scoring rally. Cleary then proceeded to throw his young hurler back onto the mound into the ninth but after allowing a single to Victor Cegles the 19-year-old saw his career-day come to a close, making way to closer A.J. Upton to pick up his fifth save of the season.
For the game Blevins pitched a career-high 8.1 innings, scattering 12 hits and allowing four earned runs en route to his sixth win of the season. Blevins win total ties him for second most by a first-year Bearcat hurler (Bruce Raible, 7 (1968).
UC got their scoring output started early. After being handled quite easily by Rutgers starter Steve Holt in the first frame, UC jumped on the junior in the second – actually, more like he jumped on them. The Scarlet Knight pitcher lost all control on the mound four a series of four batters. After hitting Muscenti, UC's all-time hit-by-pitch leader with 67, Holt proceeded to walk Jon DeLuca and peg Szarmach to load the bases. Looking to find the strike zone and record the third out, Holt left a fat pitch out over the heart of the plate to UC backstop Nick Maragas. Maragas put a jolt into the mid-80s fastball, launching it over the right field wall for a grand slam, his third round-tripper of the season.
On a night when the Bearcats saw the top of their lineup, batters one through five, combine to go 3-for-20 on the night, they relied on a much-needed pick-me-up from the bottom of their order. UC's eight and nine hitters combined for three hits in six plate appearances, including a double, a homerun and all six Bearcat RBI.
The Bearcats will hope to see the top half of their order match the success of this evenings unlikely heroes tomorrow night, as the Bearcats look to improve their winning streak to three games and push their home winning streak to 13 as the Scarlet Knights return for game two of the three-game series.