May 26, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
CINCINNATI, Ohio – The bus full of bleary-eyed Xavier Musketeers arrived back in Cincinnati from Brooklyn in the wee hours of Memorial Day morning, a groggy bunch of BIG EAST champions disembarking. But there was no time for sleep because in a matter of hours Xavier would receive the news of where it would be heading and who it would be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
Call it the spoils of winning the BIG EAST Baseball Championship presented by New York Life. Sleep? That’s for when the season is over.
So the band of X-Men, led by head coach Scott Googins, headed over to Champions Grille, a Cincinnati establishment owned by the father of Xavier assistant coach Billy O’Connor, and waited for their name to be called on ESPN’s Selection Show.
And around 12:20 p.m. Eastern Time, the Musketeers found out they are headed to the Nashville Regional and a Friday night date with Vanderbilt.
“We’re really excited about it obviously,” Googins said. “I know (Vanderbilt coach) Tim Corbin really well. We played them back in 2007 when they had David Price. We lost to them 2-1 on a Friday night when Price pitched. They also had (Pittsburgh Pirates third baseman) Pedro Alvarez and a couple of other guys on that team that were pretty good. But it’s a great ballpark, a great venue and it’ll be exciting down there.”
It will be a challenge for a Xavier team that saw its offense come to life in a big way as the Musketeers ended the seasons of St. John’s, Seton Hall and Creighton on successive days in Brooklyn. In doing so, the Musketeers became the first team to eliminate all of the other teams in the four-team field since Villanova in 1991.
“They’re known for their pitching, they have some very good arms,” Googins said. “Offensively they’re going to swing the bats and they’ll be aggressive on the bases.”
Some of those premium Vanderbilt arms belong to Walker Buehler (10-2, 2.30), Tyler Ferguson (7-3, 2.60) and Tyler Beede (7-7, 3.49, 92 strikeouts in 90.1 innings).
Daunting task? Maybe. But the Musketeers, who many thought were left for dead in the BIG EAST Tournament when they dropped their opener to Creighton, 9-2, think otherwise.
“We were always close to reaching our potential but I think now with those wins in the BIG EAST we’re getting close to our potential and what this team really can do,” said Vinny Nittoli, who will get the start for Xavier Friday night at 8 p.m. on ESPN3. “We’re definitely a different team now. It will be fun taking this team into the NCAA Tournament.”
It’s been a whirlwind week for Xavier, who endured myriad travel issues on their trip to Brooklyn (flat tire on the team bus among them) but rebounded to win the BIG EAST championship in its first season in the conference. Lots of attention is paid to these champions now – not that they’re complaining.
“Three news stations were here (Monday),” Googins said. “This whole weekend we were on TV and we’re doing all these interviews and we’re not used to this. So we’re just trying to enjoy it while trying to stay as normal as you can.”
So, have the Musketeers knocked the Reds off the back page of the Cincinnati Enquirer with their accomplishments this past week?
“I don’t think we did that,” Googins said laughing. “I think the Reds will still get the back page but I like to think we will get a little publicity. And I think it’s not only good for Xavier but for college baseball as well. I think college baseball is really growing and hopefully we can be a part of that.”
Googins, who brought Xavier to the NCAA Tournament in 2009 when in the Atlantic 10 Conference, said the second time around might indeed by better than the first.
“Yeah more so, it really is,” Googins said. “And I’ll tell you something, I’m going to enjoy it a lot more this time. The competitor in you, the first time round, you’re trying to control everything and you just do too much. We’re going to go down there and play our best, we’re here to win. But let’s have some fun, make some memories, enjoy being around each other and enjoy what we’ve earned. It’s not easy to get there, so let’s enjoy it. Have some fun with it but have our guys ready because we’re not only representing Xavier but also the BIG EAST.”
Nittoli, a senior, is looking forward to the greatest challenge of his career.
“I think it’s awesome,” Nittoli said. “There are a lot of other great teams there with Vanderbilt, Oregon and Clemson so we couldn’t ask for anything more. But it’s definitely our goal to win this thing. We’re going to give it our best shot and we’re really looking forward to playing some very good teams there.”
And Googins hopes a large contingent of Xavier Nation makes the trip to Nashville to see the Musketeers.
“The nice thing about it is that it’s about four and a half to five hours from Cincinnati so it gives our fans a chance to make it down to the regional,” Googins said.
Googins said the Musketeers will have a light practice Monday with regular practices on Tuesday and Wednesday before heading to Nashville. And yes, they are going by bus again.
“Hopefully no flats,” Googins laughed.