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Cincinnati Bearcats baseball makes 'last 4 out' but misses NCAA tournament

Despite their best record in 16 years and impressive showing in their first year of the Big 12, the University of Cincinnati Bearcats baseball team was denied a spot in the upcoming NCAA tournament. They did finish higher than the projections of DI Baseball and Baseball America, making the "last four out" category along with California, Charleston and Big 12 member TCU, a team that played in the College World Series a year ago.

UC at 32-25 (17-13 Big 12) finished fifth in their new league despite being projected to be in the cellar with BYU. A dramatic win on Senior Night over Big 12 champion and No. 12 in the country Oklahoma sent them to the league tournament in Arlington with hopes of securing a bid

However, they lost their opener to No. 8 seed UCF in 11 innings, before knocking No. 25 Texas, the 3-seed, out of their last Big 12 tournament 8-7. By night three, pitching was running low and No. 10 seed Texas Tech scored eight runs early and held on to eliminate the Bearcats 10-5.

"For a long stretch of the season, starting in mid-March, we really played NCAA caliber baseball," UC head coach Jordan Bischel said. "Ultimately, the committee has a lot of hard decisions to make. RPI is one of the big metrics and ours was behind. What stinks about it is the reason we struggled early was a ton of transition. This should be a great motivator to get better. We got to the doorstep, now we'll keep working to see if we can build off of it."

UC was eliminated in the Big 12 tournament at Globe Life Field when the Bearcats lost 10-5 to No. 10 seed Texas Tech.
UC was eliminated in the Big 12 tournament at Globe Life Field when the Bearcats lost 10-5 to No. 10 seed Texas Tech.

Bischel brings role players to Big 12 press conference

Bischel admitted that if UC knew they would be in the NCAA conversation on Memorial Day, they all would have signed up for the possibility. He brought in new pieces to a new team and some familiar pieces lost playing time. However, he appreciated all players, so much that he brought three 2024 role players to his final Big 12 tournament press conference: Cole Harting, Sean Springer and Kameron Guidry.

"I've always tried to make sure that our guys understand that their value is not tied to playing time or all-conference accolades," Bischel said. "Throughout the year, the guys that don't play often invest as much time and effort as the guys that do. I knew we had some guys that I really cared about and loved that hadn't been recognized. I thought it was a great chance for people to see what they mean to our program and to me."

Bearcats coach Jordan Bischel, celebrating UC's win over No. 24 Texas in the Big 12 tournament, understood the lack of an NCAA  bid.  "Ultimately, the committee has a lot of hard decisions to make. RPI is one of the big metrics and ours was behind," he said.
Bearcats coach Jordan Bischel, celebrating UC's win over No. 24 Texas in the Big 12 tournament, understood the lack of an NCAA bid. "Ultimately, the committee has a lot of hard decisions to make. RPI is one of the big metrics and ours was behind," he said.

NKU makes it

At 35-22, the Norse make their first appearance playing in the Knoxville Regional Friday against top-seed Tennessee. UC beat the Norse on Feb. 20, 10-2.

6 Big 12 teams advance

Kansas State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, UCF and West Virginia all were invited to the diamond dance.

Bischel's Bearcats were 1-2 against Kansas State, 1-2 vs. Oklahoma, 0-3 vs. Oklahoma State, 1-0 vs. Texas, 2-2 against UCF and 2-1 vs. West Virginia. The Bearcats swept TCU which turned out to be a bubble team, 3-0. The Horned Frogs had a No. 39 RPI and were bypassed.

"We won about 10 games this year against NCAA tournament-type teams," Bischel said. "It's a good league. Good teams are going to get left home. Again, how do we just keep building off of it?"

Cincinnati Bearcats head baseman coach Jordan Bischel takes questions ahead of his first season at UC during a press conference at the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.
Cincinnati Bearcats head baseman coach Jordan Bischel takes questions ahead of his first season at UC during a press conference at the University of Cincinnati’s Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati on Tuesday, Feb. 13, 2024.

30-plus wins

UC got to 30 wins or more for the 10th time this season and Bischel now has done it seven straight springs (not counting the shortened COVID-19 season of 2020) at UC, Central Michigan and Northwood.

It was their best record since 2019's 31-31 which was also UC's first NCAA tournament bid in 45 years. The Bearcats' other bids came under Ed Jucker and Glenn Sample in 1956, 1958, 1961, 1967, 1971 and 1974. UC made the 2019 tournament by winning the American Athletic Conference tourney.

In terms of winning percentage, it's UC's best showing since 2008 when Brian Cleary's Bearcats were 39-20.

UC senior Josh Hegemann made his first career home run a big one as his 9th-inning grand slam helped the Bearcats to a 10-6 win over 12th-ranked Oklahoma. UC finishes with 31 wins heading into the Big 12 tournament.
UC senior Josh Hegemann made his first career home run a big one as his 9th-inning grand slam helped the Bearcats to a 10-6 win over 12th-ranked Oklahoma. UC finishes with 31 wins heading into the Big 12 tournament.

Departures/arrivals

Among seniors leaving are outfielders Dalton Pearson, Hunter Jessee, Josh Hegemann, Cole Harting, infielders Sean Springer, Kameron Guidry, Max Palmieri, catchers Alec Jones and Marc Carney, pitchers Seth Logue, Ryan Insco, Alex Shea and Joey Hurth.

Junior slugger Josh Kross could be gone after hitting .317 with 19 homers and 65 runs batted in after transferring from Eastern Michigan.

"Josh Kross is highly likely to be drafted, but that's not a done deal yet," Bischel said. "It's a pretty big group of kids, so we have a lot to replace."

Hunter Jessee rounds the bases for the UC Bearcats. Jessee transferred from Indiana and played high school ball at Kings. He is one of 13 seniors that will have to be replaced.
Hunter Jessee rounds the bases for the UC Bearcats. Jessee transferred from Indiana and played high school ball at Kings. He is one of 13 seniors that will have to be replaced.

Just as Scott Satterfield has done in football and Wes Miller in basketball, Bischell will focus on his own squad first before looking toward the ever-popular transfer portal.

"You cannot ever enter an offseason assuming everyone wants to be back," he said. "That process has already started with exit meetings and having those conversations. We have put a really strong culture in place which leads to a vast majority of our guys to want to be back. Retaining your talent is big."

Bischel also expects a big group of freshmen coming in along with a handful of spots that will be filled by impact transfers who fit the style fans saw on the field this season.

Future of Bearcat baseball

"I would think this would be a really attractive place to play if you value winning if you value having fun," Bischel said. "You're competing with the best teams in the country. Those are a lot of boxes to check. Living in a great city, a great location, I can't see why this wouldn't be an incredibly attractive place for a lot of kids."

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: UC Bearcats baseball denied an NCAA tournament bid on Memorial Day