So Much For An Undefeated Season

It's over. The University of Cincinnati baseball team's hopes at an undefeated season ended just nine innings into the 2007 campaign, falling to Florida Atlantic 4-3 in the season opener, despite outstanding offensive efforts from Brian Szarmach and Josh Harrison.

While the hopes for an undefeated season were a tad unrealistic - alright, 100 percent implausible, the Bearcats were close to starting off their season that way thanks to a two-out ninth inning surge.  After failing to do much of anything in their first two at-bats in what turned out to be the game's final inning, Cincinnati received a painful lift, as Florida Atlantic reliever Joel Schmal plunked UC pinch hitter Nick Maragas, putting the tying run on first base.  After surrendering his lone walk in his 1.1 innings of work to transfer speedster Tony Campana, the Bearcats were not only in a position to tie the game but potentially win it with a double to the gap, given the speed of Campana on first.  However, after working the count full, sophomore Adam Yeager was overwhelmed by the payoff pitch, producing a pop-up to his counterpart at shortstop and thus ending the game and securing Schmal's first save on the season. 

 

Despite the end result, Cincinnati, who falls to 0-1 on the young season and 0-4 all-time versus Florida Atlantic, showed the wherewithal of a savvy ball club, as they were able to overcome a pair of divergent starts on the mound.  UC fought through the difficulties of falling behind early after a rocky start by Bearcat staff ace Steve Blevins (0-1) and a dominating effort by Owls top arm, Mickey Storey, who picked up his second win while helping FAU remains perfect on the year (4-0).

 

Storey was most definitely the tale that Florida Atlantic fans will tell when recapping the game, as the Owls performance against Cincinnati is most certainly worth of note.  Toeing the rubber for five innings head-to-head against  Blevins, who became the first Bearcat hurler to start back-to-back Opening Days for the team since B.J. Borsa (2002-03) after establishing a new school record for wins by a freshman (9) last season, Storey won the one-on-one battle of former Freshman All-Americans. Storey, who earned the honor along with National Freshman Pitcher of the Year recognition two seasons ago after tallying 10 wins and seven saves on the strength of a 1.70 ERA (fifth nationally), dominated Cincinnati hitters for his second-consecutive five-inning stint.  Though he allowed three more hits than he did in the no-hitter he tossed during his sophomore season last year, Storey commanded the plate all game long. While he allowed five base runners (three hits, two walks) during his time on the mound, the Deer Park, Fl., he was not able to pay for his mistakes, except for the fourth-inning blast by Szarmach (18th of his career) that got Cincinnati on the scoreboard.  When faced with trouble, Storey made up for them by throwing it past UC hitters for strikeouts, something he did eight times on the evening.

 

Blevins, who was named a 2006 Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American after a record-setting first year with the Bearcats, struggled mightily during his time on the mound, particularly early on in the contest.  The Louisa, Ky., native allowed four runs, eight hits, two walks and a pair of wild pitches during his time on the mound, including three runs of his runs and six of his base runners during the first two innings of the game.  Blevins, who did not pitch in summer league play due to the wear and tear arm of a record-setting but pitch-heavy freshman campaign, got himself into trouble early and was made to pay for his mistakes by Owl hitters, who jumped on the Brooks Wallace Award nominee (Nation's top player) with two runs in the first.

After failing to do much offensively and falling behind 4-1 to the Owls after five innings of play, Cincinnati began to play opportunistic baseball, taking advantage of several FAU mistakes to get back into the game.  When Florida Atlantic manager Kevin Cooney decided to save Storey's arm and go to the bullpen, he nearly saw himself lose his team's first game of the year and the 482nd of his 23-year stint as a college skipper.  Even though the bullpen would surrender only two hits in four innings of combined work, and allowing just five total base runners (two hit batters and a walk) and recording six of the team's 14 strikeouts, the Bearcats managed to produce scores when situations presented themselves.  Immediately after Storey departed, UC mustered their second run of the contest/season in the sixth inning when Cincinnati newcomer and clean-up hitter Cameron Satterwhite used his unique mixture of power and speed to score.  The transfer from Indiana led off the inning by crushing a double into the right-center field gap and later parlayed his effort into a run after the combination of a FAU wild pitch and a Neall French sac fly.  

 

The Bearcats' third and final tally came off the bat of pintsized sophomore Harrison.  Harrison, Cincinnati's 5-foot-6 dual-threat dynamo in the three hole of the Cincinnati lineup, powered a poorly located Salberg effort over the wall, cutting the lead to a single run and improving his hitting streak to 16 games.   

 

FAU finished the night with eight hits, four of which came from Robbie Widlansky and Tyler Stevens who finished with two hits apiece. All of the eight hits came off Blevins, as UC transfer Billy Welsh pitched three innings of no-hit baseball (thee walks and a HBP), effectively stopping Florida Atlantic's scoring parade.  Wildansky also tallied two steals on three attempts during the contest, which improves his season total to six. 

 

Led by Wildansky, the Owls used their outstanding speed to keep the ‘Cats pitchers and defense on tilt all night long. Florida Atlantic was successful on five of its seven steal attempts (four off Blevins, one Welsh).  FAU's prowess on the base paths was made all the more devastating by two wild pitches that resulted in Owls moving up an extra base.  Having to pay attention to base runners and not solely the hitter at the plate seemed to bother the UC hurlers.  It will be paramount for Cincinnati to both speed up their delivery to the plate and do a better job of holding runners if they want to give either Maragas or Ryan Baker (started game one) a chance.

 

You can expect FAU to continue to put pressure on Cincinnati by attempting to take the extra base whenever they can.  While they lack a true power threat in the lineup, the Owls are wise on the base paths and have six or seven players in the lineup (if not more) that are able to steal bases at any given time.  Despite having only played four games thus far this season, FAU has already amassed 23 steals on the season.

 

Cincinnati will look to notch their first win of the season and put an end to the Owls four game winning streak Saturday at 2 p.m. UC will send sophomore lefty Dan Osterbrock to the mound, while FAU counters with senior right-handed Brandon Cooney.


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