When Cincinnati head coach Ty Neal stepped down at the end of the 2017 season, the UC administration didn’t have to look far to find his replacement.
Sitting right there just a few miles away was Xavier’s Scott Googins, a head coach who helped the Musketeers accomplish some incredible things in his tenure, particularly since the team’s move into the Big East prior to the 2014 season. He jumped out as the right candidate from the very beginning of the search and Cincinnati got its man.
In 12 years, Googins took Xavier to four regionals, including in three of the last four seasons. In the last two years, in fact, he guided the Musketeers to regional finals. He also leaves as the winningest head coach in program history.
There are a lot of reasons that perhaps he shouldn’t have had that level of success with the program. Xavier isn’t a historical powerhouse. The Big East (and the Atlantic 10 before that) isn’t a marquee conference. They play in modest facilities. They compete for talent not only with Ohio State and Cincinnati, but also with mid-major powers Wright State and Kent State.
And yet, he had a lot of success.
While the American Athletic Conference will step up the competition level, Googins won’t have to worry about many of those roadblocks in his new gig.
The American is a league that annually puts a handful of teams into regionals, and it’s probably the best baseball conference outside of the traditional power conferences from top to bottom. Cincinnati’s Marge Schott Stadium is a quality facility to which he can recruit, and all of that means that this program will provide Googins with ample opportunities to recruit top-flight talent within the state, even with the in-state competition.
The one thing that the two places have in common when Googins took over, however, is that neither was a power in the region. When he took over at Xavier, the program had never been to an NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats, meanwhile, haven’t been since 1974. He got things turned around at one school within the city limits. Now he’ll try to do it all over again about three miles down the road.
Neal ultimately wasn’t able to get the Bearcats over the hump and into a regional, but he improved the talent on hand during his time, and he leaves Googins with some quality veteran pieces heading into 2018, which should serve to help bridge the gap between the holdovers on the roster and the future classes he’ll bring in.
At the plate, junior A.J. Bumpass (.287/.384/.491, 15 2B, 4 3B, 7 HR, 40 RBI) has proven to be a dynamic weapon on offense, while redshirt senior Connor McVey (.280/.382/.383, 14 2B, 14 SB) and sophomore Jace Mercer (.273/.345/.358, 10 SB) are spark plugs not only in the batters box, but also on the base paths. Another player to watch from an offensive standpoint is senior outfielder Treg Haberkorn. He’s played regularly since stepping foot on campus and showed improvement from his freshman to his sophomore season, when he peaked with a .367 on-base percentage and 14 stolen bases, but he hit just .157/.254/.324 as a junior. Getting him back on track would be huge for keeping the Bearcats competitive in the league in 2018.
On the mound, minus Andrew Zellner, who had a tough 2017 after an outstanding 2016 season, everybody is back. David Orndorff (5-4, 3.41 ERA), J.T. Perez (2-7, 4.42 ERA), and A.J. Olasz (2-1, 5.35 ERA) bring back the most starting experience from last year, although none of the three were exclusively starting pitchers. Olasz appeared twice in relief to go along with ten starts, Perez had 12 starts out of 18 total appearances, and Orndorff started eight games out of his 21 total appearances. Orndorff, the program’s most effective returning pitcher overall, also collected seven saves throughout the season, giving Googins a really versatile arm around which he can build a staff.
Other experienced pitchers returning in 2018 include Jarod Yoakam (3.62 ERA, 37.1 IP), Reese Robinson (3.86 ERA, 30.1 IP), Nathan Kroger (4.38 ERA, 37 IP), Tristan Hammans (4.40 ERA, 30.2 IP), Cam Alldred (4.85 ERA, 29.2 IP), and A.J. Kullman (5.37 ERA, 60.1 IP). It’s not too much of a stretch to think that this unit could show marked improvement in 2018 just on the strength of bringing back so much experience.
In context, Cincinnati is a tough job. They’re the northernmost team in their league. Everyone else in the league has been to regionals at least relatively recently, every team in the league with the exception of Cincinnati and Memphis has been to regionals within the last two years, and none of the best teams in the league strike you as going away as top-flight programs any time soon.
But Xavier is a tougher job, and Googins succeeded in a big way there. He seemed like the perfect fit for the job ever since Neal stepped down, and starting in 2018, we’ll get to see if that is indeed the case.