Our baseball team will begin its "second season" Friday at 7pm CT (available on ESPN3) when Xavier University visits the Music City for a weekend of food, fun, and tourism. Though Xavier's likely to "two and ‘que," with the unpredictable nature of baseball, and the fact that they somehow went from a team that had lost 8 of their last 10 regular season games to Big East Conference Tournament Champs in the past week, we might as well take a closer look at them.
After all, we have lost to a comparable team this year *cough, Western Kentucky, cough*.
Quick Baseball History Lesson:
This will be only the 2nd NCAA Tournament appearance in the history of this Cincinnati, Ohio based Jesuit school. Their first, in 2009 after winning the A-10 tournament crown, ended in three games. This year, they entered their conference tourney as the 4 seed in the conference, lost their first game to regular season champ Creighton, but then put on their big boy pants and burned through the rest of their competition, beating #2 seed St. John's, then #3 seed Seton Hall, and finally, avenging their lone tourney loss with a 5-0 can of whup-ass against #1 seed Creighton.
*In case you're wondering... yes, the Big East has a 4 team conference tournament. They only have 3 other teams in their conference (Butler, Georgetown, and Villanova), so... not exactly a murderer's row here.
Quick Actual History Lesson:
Xavier University is a Jesuit school named after Francis Xavier - nee Francisco de Jasso y Azpilicueta, born April 7, 1506, died December 3, 1552 - the first Jesuit Missionary. Xavier focused his missionary work mostly on the Portugese Empire in India, Borneo, and Japan (didn't take). Though he wasn't technically alive for the Goa Inquisition, he definitely did tell King Joao III to do it, and it went on for about 250 years, so let's just say there's blood on his hands, though history tends to overlook these types of things because they'd rather create a mythos around people like this. *For an example of these forced historical meta-narratives: see this comic of what we tell people about Christopher Columbus versus who he actually was by The Oatmeal.
Back to baseball...
#4 seed Xavier University 29-27 (8-10 Big East), #97 RPI (unranked in all polls) : As noted previously in this article, Xavier was considered quite the long shot to make this tourney (see their sub .500 conference record in what really isn't an actual conference, what with having only 7 teams and all, and their 2-8 brutal ending to the regular season). However, Creighton's not terrible, and Xavier did somehow manage to beat them twice this year, so we should delve a little further.
Best Win: Conference championship win against #65 RPI Creighton (derp). Aside from that, they did somehow take the opening game in a late February series against UNC 2-1. UNC's not what they have been in the recent past, but they are an actual tournament team, and they're the #42 RPI team in the nation. Not only did UNC lose the opener, they barely squeaked by with one run wins in the latter two games of that series. No one knows how either of these things happened.
Worst Loss: It's got to be that April 22nd 17-8 shellacking v. Northern Kentucky (14-37 overall, 6-21 Atlantic Sun, #262 RPI). *Honorable mention: Losing 15-5 v. Bradley (#162 RPI).
Batters to Watch: There's really no one who scans as dangerous, but we should keep our eyes on #4 Derek Hasenbeck, #3 Daniel Rizzie, and #20 Stephen Schoettmer. None are tearing the cover off the ball, but at .307/6 HR/27 RBI, .301/4 HR/33 RBI, and .281/5 HR/24 RBI respectively, they're fine players who should command our respect. They do have 2 additional players who have hit 4-5 home runs, though, so our pitchers will want to keep that ball low.
*Side note: They've had a lot of injuries, so it's tough to know exactly who's still healthy on this team. Case in point, senior OF Mitch Elliott, who had only 76 at bats all season, was the star of the conference tourney, named Most Outstanding Player after going 8 for 18 (.444) with 4 RBI.
Pitchers to Watch: Just one - #15 RHP/OF Vinny Nittoli. This is a pretty terrible pitching staff, so if coach Scott "Walton" Googins chooses to save the RS Senior two-way player for a potential elimination game, he'll be basically conceding game 1 to us. However, if we face Nittoli, here's what he's done: 6-3, 1.98 ERA, 6.91 K/9, 2.08 BB/9, and he's yet to give up a triple or home run all season. There's no scouting report available on him, but if I had to guess, he's the kind of control-forward soft-tosser who drives the Commodores nuts. Hey, at least he's not a lefty.
Key Stat: They're not exactly a comeback team, so if we jump out to an early lead, we should cruise in this one. See below:
Record when trailing after:
Inn. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
W/L 5-10 4-14 5-16 6-17 3-17 1-18 0-21 0-22