Were you channel surfing on a lazy holiday weekend only to be caught by surprise when Xavier's name came up in another NCAA tournament selection show? Did your Twitter app inform you that everybody and his mom was tweeting with the hashtag #XUBase? Or are you just so starved for good baseball in Cincinnati that you decided to see what the Muskies are doing?
Regardless of how you found out, you probably know that Xavier won the Big East baseball tournament and an automatic bid to the NCAA regionals, where they will face off with three other teams in Nashville, TN with one bid to the
national finals in Omaha super regional on the line.
If you haven't been watching all year, you've probably got some questions. Don't worry, we've got answers.
How did we get here?
Gradually, then all of the sudden. Xavier's season started with high hopes, but the Muskies were eight games into the schedule before picking up their first win. A quarter of the way into the season, Xavier sat at 3-12. Heading into conference play, Xavier was 11-23 and their hopes for an at large big were tarnished (to say the least).
Then things started clicking. From that point forward, Xavier went 19-5, including a 14-4 mark in conference play. Xavier never lost in the double-elimination conference tournament, taking a dramatic championship game win over Creighton on the way to an automatic bid and then the Nashville regional.
Who do I need to know?
Let's start with the unanimous Big East Player of the Year, senior SS Andre Jernigan. Jernigan posted a slash line of .262/.366/.573 and had 34 extra-base hits, including 13 HR. That HR mark tied Jernigan with junior OF Joe Gellenbeck, who just can't stop getting walk-off hits. Gellenbeck slashed .287/.350/.517 and threw in 11 stolen bases on 11 attempts for good measure.
The team's leader in batting average behind a .312/.373/.472 line is senior catcher Dan Rizzie. Rizzie is on the watch list for the Johnny Bench (perhaps you've heard of him) Award for the nation's best catcher; he has gunned down 21 of 35 attempted base stealers this season. Also keep an eye on Rylan Bannon, a sophomore infielder who .266/.385/.436 and earned all-conference honors.
The team's leader in starts, innings pitched, strikeouts, and wins is sophomore lefty Zac Lowther. He posted an ERA of 3.22 and a WHIP of 1.24 on the year. Xavier's closer is righty Garrett Schilling. He picked up 4 wins and 13 saves in 41 innings out of the bullpen. He put up an ERA of 1.98 and a WHIP of 1.31. He excelled in forcing teams to grind for runs, allowing only 10 extra-base hits all year.
Who is running the show?
Just the conference coaching staff of the year. Head Coach Scott Googins and assistants Nick Otte, Billy O'Conner, and Kyle Sprague won the honor by turning a team that was 14-26 and 1-3 in conference play at one point into the conference tournament's one seed and eventual champion. How did you feel about the basketball team's coaching staff during The Run? That's how you should feel about these guys and the work they're doing right now.
When does the action begin?
Regional play begins Friday, with Xavier's game against regional host Vanderbilt scheduled for an 8pm ET first pitch. All games will be broadcast on ESPN3 and through the WatchESPN app, so tune in and support your Muskies. Play will continue all weekend until three teams have lost twice; the last team standing is headed to
Omaha the super regional to play for a chance to go to Omaha.