Pitt outfielder Chris Cappas came into the ACC Tournament with two career extra-base hits. In two tournament games, with the Panthers 2-0 and into the semifinals, he’s hit three, with two of the driving in critical runs in both of Pitt’s upset victories.
In the beginning of the season, not only wasn’t he getting extra base hits, Cappas, a freshman from Lynbook, New York, wasn’t even getting much playing time.
That’s not particularly unusual for a freshman, but what’s been unusual has been the way Cappas has jumped into the opportunity presented to him when Nico Popa went down with an injure in early May.
In limited opportunities in the early part of the year, Cappas his .244, mostly against midweek opponents and as a pinch-hitter. But there was very little power behind his batting average. What the extra time spent without playing did allow him to do was make some changes to his swing to add more power.
In his first series as an ACC starter, he went 6 for 11 against Notre Dame, but he still had just two extra base hits at the close of the regular season.
That changed in a big way Tuesday against Georgia Tech, as Cappas tripled in the seventh inning against the Yellow Jackets, scoring Caleb Parry from first for what would eventually hold up as the game-winning run.
Wednesday agains top-seeded North Carolina, the freshman again came up big in the seventh inning. His one-out double scored Rod Washington, Jr. to ie the game and moved Parry to third, where he scored the game-winning run one batter later on Cole MacLaren’s squeeze bunt.
It was a couple of big moments for the freshman and big moments for the team, as the No. 12-seeded Panthers are now into the semifinal on Saturday at 1 p.m. after back-to-back upset victories.
Pitt has a veteran team, with three redshirt senior regulars, five seniors overall and seven juniors doing most of the heavy lifting. But the contributions of freshmen like Cappas and Washington have been huge to Pitt’s late run.
For Cappas, it was less about the big moment at the end of the year and more about the work put in throughout the year to put himself in a place to make a contribution to the team.
“I made a couple big adjustments late in the year that definitely helped me out, gave me a little more power and made me more comfortable at the plate,” Cappas said in a telephone interview from Durham, N.C. on Friday. “It was definitely a big adjustment going from high school pitching to college pitching, especially at the ACC level, but I worked a lot of extra time with the coaching staff and it definitely helped me prepare for this kind of pitching.”
For many of Pitt’s upperclassmen who are either in their final season of eligibility or who will be drafted into professional baseball in another week or so, the Panthers’ ACC Tournament run has been a way to leave their mark on the program as the exit.
For Cappas and those that will remain, this is hopefully the start of a new tradition of Pitt baseball in the ACC.
“I think for the next few years, we’re going to be very competitive in the ACC, so I think having this experience is something that will prepare us for the future,” he said.
Of course, Pitt isn’t settling for an appearance in the semifinals any more than they were just happy to be there during pool play. The team got a well-deserved respite with back-to-back days off, but their semifinal date with the Louisville Cardinals is now at the top of the Panthers’ minds.
“We’re having fun, but it’s also very serious,” Cappas said. “We’re looking forward to the game and we’re trying to keep our mind on that.