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Nico Popa Continues Hot Start, Propels Pitt to 7-2 Win over Jacksonville



Pitt baseball’s offense continued to roll on Tuesday night. After posting double-digit run totals in the final two games of the Snowbird Classic vs. Indiana State last weekend, Pitt returned to the diamond against Jacksonville with scoring on the brain. 

Pitt (3-1) jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead and did not look back in a 7-2 win over Jacksonville University (0-4) on Tuesday night. It was the first mid-week game of the season for Pitt, who has now won three in a row since dropping the season opener

Pitt separated itself early on by capitalizing off of Dolphin mistakes. The Panthers struck three times in the game’s first three innings, first off of a double from senior outfielder Nico Popa. It was Popa’s first extra base hit of the young season and it scored sophomore third baseman Sky Duff in the first inning.

Junior outfielder Ron Washington Jr. drove in Popa two batters later with a single to make it 2-0 Pitt in the opening frame.

Popa was the star of the evening. In addition to his RBI single in the first, Popa launched the second Panther home run of the season in the seventh inning. He entered Tuesday’s contest as Pitt’s leader in batting average and a 5-3 night at the plate will only extend his lead over Duff, the Panthers’ second-leading batter. 

Junior outfielder Kyle Hess and Washington also contributed RBIs in the fourth inning to extend the Pitt lead to 5-0.

Redshirt junior Austin Temple — the Jacksonville starting pitcher — looked like a dolphin out of water on Tuesday night. The tall, lanky right-hander struggled with his control through just 1 ⅔ innings on the mound. He surrendered three earned runs off of three hits and two walks over the short start.

Dylan Lester, on the other hand, was dominantly efficient. The Panthers’ starter on the mound on Tuesday only went two innings, but struck out three and gave up just one hit  while throwing only 24 pitches in his first career start.

The Dolphins were unable to mount much of a comeback, even as Pitt began to reach deep into the bullpen. The Panthers called upon five different pitchers on Tuesday and none of them lasted more than 2 ⅓ innings. 

Junior Chase Smith threw the longest for Pitt. Smith, making his second appearance in 2021, gave up his first two runs of the season and the only two Jacksonville would score on the night.    

Freshman David Ferguson made his first career appearance in the third inning and was a capable bridge to the middle innings. While he did have some issues with location, Smith turned in a scoreless 1 ⅓ innings of relief. 

For the Dolphins, redshirt freshman infielder Elias Flowers was one of the few bright spots. He went 2-3 at the plate and drove in a run in the loss. Redshirt senior lead-off hitter Ruben Someilian was a good tablesetter for the Jacksonville offense, even if no one was able to drive him home. Someilian went 2-5 out of the top spot in the lineup.

The Panthers are riding high with an offense that already looks to be in midseason form. But Pitt will face their biggest challenge of the still fresh season this weekend, when they travel west to Florida’s panhandle. 

Pitt will open ACC play this weekend vs. Florida State. First pitch of the series against the perennial power Seminoles will come this Friday at 6 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the ACC Network Extra.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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