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Battling Bearcats clobber UConn 22-5 to claim AAC tourney title

Cincinnati Bearcats

Second baseman Jace Mercer belted a grand slam while going 5-for-5 in a 24-hit barrage as second-seeded Cincinnati (30-29) clobbered No. 4 seed Connecticut 22-5 in the championship game of the American Athletic Conference tournament at Spectrum Field in Clearwater, Florida, on Sunday.

Mercer, a junior from Johns Creek, Georgia, had four RBIs in the rout.

The Bearcats, who were winless at 0-10 in five years of AAC tournament play in Clearwater heading into this week’s tournament and had lost a staggering 17 straight postseason tournament games, scored 51 runs while sweeping all four of their games to capture the conference tourney crown and its automatic bid to the 64-team NCAA Tournament.

Cincinnati finished in second place in the American Athletic Conference during the regular season with a 13-11 record.

In addition to Mercer’s spectacular offensive performance, Cincy infielder Eric Santiago and designated hitter Wyatt Stapp, a .297 hitter on the season, had three hits apiece with the latter also driving in three runs. Five other Bearcats also had multiple hits.

In addition to Mercer’s grand slam, Joey Bellini, Mitch Holding and A. J. Bumpass also homered for Cincinnati.

Connecticut used seven pitchers in the contest, but nobody could stop the hot-hitting Bearcats.

Starter Jeff Kersten (5-4), who allowed six runs on ten hits in 2 and 2/3 innings, was tagged with the loss while Cincinnati left-hander Garrett Schoenle (4-1), who came on in relief in the fourth inning, was credited with the victory.

UConn, which tied with Houston for fourth-place at 12-12 in conference play during the regular season — eight games behind league-leading East Carolina — dropped to 36-23 on the season. The Huskies are hoping for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Cincinnati, which advanced to the championship game of the eight-team tournament by defeating Memphis 11-6 on Tuesday, clawing past Tulane 8-4 on Thursday and outscoring UCF 10-6 on Saturday, dropped nine of its first ten games this season.

Darcy G. Richardson is a historian and the author of more than a dozen books. His latest is Loyola's Improbable Ramblers: 55 Years in the Making, available now on Amazon.

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