Cincinnati Routs UConn To Win American Conference Title

Cincinnati’s Mitch Holding is greeted after hitting a three-run home run in the third inning. (Courtesy: America Athletic Conference)

CLEARWATER – Cincinnati entered this week’s festivities at Spectrum Field never having won an American Athletic Conference tournament game.

The Bearcats were 0-for-10 in five previous trips to Clearwater and had not won a conference tournament game since 2008 when they did so at this venue as a member of the Big East.

UC had also not been to the NCAA tournament since a couple of quarters paid for a gallon of gas. That was 1974.

All that changed the past few days, and emphatically so on Sunday.

A five-run third inning set the tone for a 22-5 win over UConn in the conference championship game. The Bearcats set a conference mark for runs in a tournament game and tied (Houston vs Memphis, 2015) the record with 24 hits.

“I thought our guys did a good job of just playing in the moment,” said coach Scott Googins. “On the scorecard every day I write ‘Believe.’ Part of that was to believe in the process, but now the switch has been turned and guys are believing in themselves. They are playing fearlessly right now.”

In a complete reversal of their conference tourney fortunes, UC won all four of their games. Now they are off to the NCAA’s for the first time in 45 years.

Not bad for a team that in the preseason poll was selected to finish eighth among the conference’s nine teams. That projection and the fact no Bearcats were named to the postseason all-conference team were items of interest prior to taking the field at this tournament.

“We used some motivation in terms that we got picked eighth this year,” said Googins. “We finished second (in the regular season) and we didn’t get anybody on the first- or second-team all-conference (teams). You look at the names of those that did, those guys are very deserving. But I told our team you have to earn the respect and we could do that here at the conference tournament.”

The tournament sweep put the Bearcats over .500 at 30-29. They have not had a winning season since 2011, so that is something the program still needs to check off.

Mitch Holding’s three-run home run that landed well beyond the left field wall was the big blow in the third inning to give Cincinnati a 6-1 lead.

In the fourth, the junior catcher ripped a run-scoring single that gave the Bearcats a 9-3 lead.

Things got out of hand when the Bearcats scored nine times in the seventh to make it 19-4. Second baseman Jace Mercer doubled to open the inning and added an exclamation point with a grand slam over the right field wall that cleared the back fence. The junior second baseman went 5-for-5 and drew a walk. He finished with a tourney-high 10 hits, in 18 at-bats.

“Our coach always says to be where our feet are,” said Mercer. “We played one game at a time and made sure that after each win we looked at the next opponent and not ahead. We are excited to go wherever we end up (in the NCAA regionals). We are going to put up a good fight and play as hard as we can.”

Sophomore designated hitter Wyatt Stapp had three singles, drove in three runs and scored three times. Senior right fielder A.J. Bumpass was 2-for-5 with a home run. He completed the tournament 9-for-14 (.643) with seven RBIs and seven runs scored to take home MVP honors.

The Huskies, who defeated Wichita State on Saturday to advance to the championship, left 10 men on base through the first five innings and 15 for the game.

UConn, which is 36-23 and virtually assured of an NCAA bid, won the tournament in 2016.

Tom Layberger has been a sports writer and editor since 1990. Among the companies he has worked for are Beckett Publishing, The Topps Company and Comcast. In addition to being a contributing writer for, Tom also writes for and Tampa Bay Business & Wealth Magazine. A native of the Philadelphia suburbs and a University of South Florida grad, Tom is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and the National Football Foundation. He resides in Tampa.