We’re about halfway through UC’s baseball season and Ty Neal’s inaugurial year as the Bearcats’ new skipper has been a rocky one. He of course took over for the longstanding, and quite frankly marginal, head coach Brian Cleary last season. Neal walked into a baseball program that was operating under the maximum scholarship limit and struggled to achieve consistent success. As such, he was walking into a rebuilding project from day one.
So it’s not too surprising that Cincinnati is just 10-16 this year with just a single win in AAC play. But by all indications the team is playing with more focus, emphasizing fundamentals, and overall not goofing off as much as last season. Neal is laying the groundwork in his first season at the helm to develop championship teams down the road. So while 2014 might be rough for UC baseball, this program is clearly trajecting upward.
As we evaluate this team through the midpoint of the season, we can turn to a few bright spots on the roster who have shined this year and indicate a baseball program on the rise.
MVP: Ian Happ (sophomore)
The 5’11″ 192 lbs was coming off a freshman season in which he lead the team in batting average (.322), runs scored (41), doubles (13), home runs (6), and walks (47) among several other categories. It earned Happ freshman All-American honors by the NCBWA and Perfect Game. Now in his second year at UC, he continues to absolutely scorch the ball for the Bearcats. Happ has boosted his batting average to .344 while compiling an OPS of .988 and leading the team in RBI’s, runs scored, doubles, and home runs. It’s scary to think where this team would be without this sophomore’s bat.
Rotation Star: Ryan Atkinson (junior)
Atkinson made most of his money out of the bullpen during his first two years at Cincinnati but Coach Neal opted to move him to the starting rotation this season. The junior leads all regular starters with a 2.28 ERA and 3 wins to his name this year. Atkinson also has a solid 21/16 strikeout-to-walk ratio while allowing opposing batters to hit just .221 on him with just a single home run. It’s clear he’s done a nice job solidifying the Bearcats’ rotation.
Bullpen Star: Bryan Chenoweth (sophomore)
The second year ‘Cat earned his stripes in the bullpen last season, boasting a 2.87 ERA, and Ty Neal decided to keep a good thing going in 2014. Chenoweth has become Cincinnati’s number one option at closer this year. It’s an understatement to say he’s thrived there. Chenoweth has paced the team with a 1.75 ERA and opposing batting average of .209 in 2014. It has to give Coach Neal some piece of mind knowing that he has a hammer at the end of his bullpen in this sophomore.
Defensive Star: Colin Hawk (sophomore)
Cincinnati’s second baseman has done a nice job this season on the field. While his bat still has yet to come around, he’s batting just .191 this year, Hawk has boasted an impressive .975 fielding percentage in 2014. Out of 72 attempts, the sophomore has booted the ball just three times. Honestly, this was a toss up with freshman Connor McVey who has a .984 fielding percentage this season. But the former Mason Comet also has only had just 42 attempts this season, 30 less than Colin Hawk. So by way of sheer volume, the sophomore wins my defensive star award.