It was around this time last year that the Saint Xavier baseball team went on a late season run. With a record of 12-18, a second year head coach, and a relatively young club, the 2016 Cougars looked to be in the middle of a transition process.
That certainly was not the case. Coach Rocco Mossuto’s team finished the regular season winning 14 of their remaining 20 games and rolled through the CCAC tournament. Ultimately, the Cougars were crowned conference tournament champions and made a trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan as an NAIA National tournament participant.
This season, the men hold a record of 13-17. With a lot of baseball left to play, Saint Xavier is writing a script that is strikingly similar to last year.
With the help of freshmen Ben Zordani and Matt Monohan, as well as returning senior and top of the order threat Alex Neufeld, Saint Xavier is riding a healthy winning streak. Winners of six-of-seven, the Cougars are staking its claim as legitimate contenders in the CCAC North division.
Saint Xavier began conference play on March 24 and currently boast an impressive 5-1 record against CCAC foes. The Cougars’ latest triumph was an extra-innings affair that capped off a sweep over division rival Saint Ambrose.
Facing a 7-4 deficit in the ninth inning, Saint Xavier scored three runs to send it to extra innings. Freshman catcher Matt Bunetta came up huge with a two-out, two run pinch-hit single to tie it.
In the top of the 11th inning, Saint Ambrose regained the lead, 8-7. With the game on the line and one last rally for the Cougars, senior Declan Dennehy ripped a ball down the right field line to drive in the tying run. Bunetta stepped to the dish with a chance to be the hero yet again and delivered with a game-winning sacrifice fly.
A big reason for the Cougars’ success, on top of their underclassmen producing offensively, relates to their pitching staff. In 33.1 innings pitched, junior ace Tyler Hebel owns a 2.70 ERA, three complete games, and batters are hitting just .208 against him.
Freshman right-hander Drew Dominik is posting very strong numbers in eight appearances (one start) this season. Dominik has allowed only four earned runs in 27.1 innings pitched.
Several freshmen have emerged this season as quality pieces in coach Massuto’s game plan. With a healthy mix of upper and under-classmen, the Saint Xavier Cougars plan to run rough shot through the CCAC as the season continues.
As April begins, the men have a full month’s worth of games on their schedule before the conference tournament starts on May 5. It is up to them to write a new script in 2017.
Senior Sports Editor