With only five days until Xavier Baseball's Opening Day against Army, there is still plenty to cover. Obviously, it's always best to understand a game, series, or season when it's placed in context. Therefore, we'll try to place this year's Opening Day in better context by taking some time to briefly explore the 2014 season, one where the Musketeers won their first Big East championship.
After a long off-season, Xavier baseball started the year strong with a 4-game win streak over Toledo, Norfolk State, Furman, and #12 North Carolina. The Musketeers then lost some momentum in Chapel Hill and dropped the last two to UNC, losing their first true series of the season. After another loss, this time at home (to Bradley), XU baseball escaped February with a 4-3 record.
March was off to a great start with the Muskies 7-3 after their first ten games. That ten-game stretch included victories over Dayton, Georgia State, Miami (OH), Toledo, and Ohio, but it also included a tough loss, in a narrow one-run contest, to #17 Indiana. Although they also dropped games to Georgia State and Toledo, the Musketeers still managed to win both of those series. The rest of the March wasn't nearly as kind, with a tough nine-game stretch where the team went 2-7 (their lone victories came over Illinois and conference foe Butler). Despite the poor record during that portion of the schedule, "good losses" came, on the road, to #17 Kentucky and #10 Louisville (twice). After that tough stretch, Xavier was left with a .500 record (13-13) going into April.
Once again, XU started the month playing extremely well (7-1), including sweeps over Big East opponents Georgetown and Villanova. During that hot streak, XU also defeated Wright State and Miami (OH). The Muskies' first significant roadblock came in the first game of the Crosstown Classic against the University of Cincinnati. After losing that game, on the road, and two-of-three to Butler, Xavier started to lose their momentum. Determined not to be pushed back into a funk, the Muskies went streaking again and closed out the month 3-1, beating Northern Kentucky, Wright State, and the Cincinnati Bearcats at home.
Similar to April, May was chock full of conference games for the X-men to mark their place at the top of the league. Unlike the past two months, XU baseball had a rough start, losing six consecutive games, including three games to St. John's and Seton Hall each. After a minor two-game win streak (against Bowling Green and Creighton) in the middle of May, the team stumbled to the regular season finish line by dropping its last two games. With a full season of regularly scheduled games and conference opponents behind them, the Musketeers were ready to take the Big East tournament by storm with a consistent 26-26 record. Even though the record wasn't overwhelmingly impressive at first glance, their resume included a win over #12 North Carolina and reasonably close losses to top-25 programs Indiana and the University of Kentucky.
Big East Tournament (Late May 2014)
After a first-round loss to Creighton (unlike basketball, most NCAA baseball tournaments are not single-elimination), the squad went on another run. Their second game, against St. John's, was mostly one-sided with the Musketeers winning 8-2. Next, the Muskies fell behind early to Seton Hall and found themselves trailing by three runs after five innings. After making it a one-score game in the sixth inning, Xavier's offense came alive and scored four runs in the seventh inning. With a slight lead and a master relief pitching performance from junior Sean Campbell (4.2 IP, 69 pitches, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 5 K), XU baseball was ready to face Creighton for the Big East pennant. In the biggest game of the season to date, Xavier coach opted to go with their proven mid-week starter Trent Astle. Six innings into the game and it was clear Astle was the perfect choice. While the Musketeer offense posted five runs, Astle allowed only three baserunners during the first 18 outs. After a brief scare in the seventh inning (he allowed back-to-back singles), he finished strong with a complete game shutout over the heavily favored Bluejays. Once the tournament was complete, Xavier had won three consecutive games over the tournament's top three seeds, by a combined 18-5, to seize the school's first Big East Championship. Additionally, the Musketeers had placed seven men on the Big East All-Tournament team, including the aforementioned Trent Astle and Sean Campbell, as well as C Dan Rizzie, IF Joe Forney, OF Mitch Elliot (who also won the tournament's Most Outstanding Player after showing offensive prowess throughout the four-game stretch), and DH Derek Hasenbeck.
As I'm sure you already know, Xavier secured a spot in the NCAA tournament by winning the Big East tournament (just like basketball). After their victory tour ended and they returned home to Cincinnati, the squad learned that they'd be placed in the Nashville Regional of the 2014 NCAA Baseball Championship. Their first-round matchup was against hometown team Vanderbilt, who walloped the Musketeers by 11 runs. The game was close in the early goings, but Vandy produced seven runs in the sixth inning and took firm control of the game. After third-seeded Clemson lost badly to Oregon in their own first-round matchup (18-1), the Muskies faced off against the Clemson Tigers with each team hoping to continue through the Regionals. Fortunately, the X-men survived a lengthy rain/lightning delay, defeated Clemson by two runs, (6-4) and kept alive their postseason hopes of moving onward to the College World Series. Unfortunately, those dreams came to an abrupt halt in the next game when Xavier lost, in extra innings, to the Oregon Ducks (8-11). Despite the rough losses to Vanderbilt, who went on to win the NCAA championship, and Oregon, the Musketeers worked hard to accomplish their potential, outperform expectations, and establish a respectable 30-29 record.
News & Notes
Last year's edition of the Xavier Baseball team placed 26 individuals on the Big East All-Academic Team.
The largest home crowd to see the Muskies play was 514 in a game against Villanova, where Xavier won 4-0 on April 13th, 2014.
The largest away crowd the Muskies faced was 2,915 against the Vanderbilt Commodores, who won last year's College World Series and defeated the X-men 11-0 on May 30, 2014.
The longest game of the season was 6:28 and came against Seton Hall, on the road, in extra innings. Xavier lost 2-3.
The shortest game of the season was exactly two hours and came against Toledo, at home. Xavier lost 0-3.