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No. 15 Pitt Baseball Tops Bucknell 17-9 in Home Opener

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PITTSBURGH — At long last, after 16 straight games on the road, No. 15 Pitt baseball opened the home slate of their 2021 season with a midweek contest against Bucknell on a sun-drenched but windy Wednesday afternoon.

The Panthers (12-5 overall, 8-4 ACC) piled runs on through the entirety of a 17-9 win over the Bison (4-7 overall, 4-3 Patriot League) at Charles L. Cost Field. 

Pitt head coach Mike Bell said postgame that Wednesday’s home opener was like a second opening day after spending so much time on the road. He was grateful that the Panther veterans were able to ease any nerves among the team and keep things as normal as possible.  

“It kind of had an Opening Day [of the season] feel to it.” Bell said. “Being a third of the way through your season and playing your first home game is very unique for our guys and there was a little excitement in the air. We’ve only played two games on this field in two years.” 

It was a blustery day atop Pitt’s upper campus. Winds brew strongly and squarely out from home plate, bringing plenty of baseballs with it. Bucknell struck with a sacrifice fly from senior first baseman Caleb Broughton in the top of the first to grab an early lead, but it did not last. 

A pair of walks to junior designated hitter Sky Duff and outfielder Nico Popa led off the bottom of the first inning. Junior outfielder Ron Washington singled then, two batters later, senior second baseman David Yanni launched a grand slam high over the right field wall. 

 

Yanni was spectacular in the win. He went 2-4 with a triple and home run and drove in seven runs. On Wednesday Yanni extended his hitting streak to seven games, over the course of which he’s batted an even .400, belted five home runs and drove in 14 RBIs. 

The early offensive output helped cover for the struggles of freshman right-hander Chris Pouliot, who made his first collegiate start on Wednesday against the Bison. Pouliot went just 1 ⅔ innings but surrendered five earned runs on six hits and a walk. 

Despite a rocky start to his career as a Panther, Pouliot has been an arm Bell trusts. He said postgame that Pouliot wasn’t attacking hitters enough, but that he wants to get the inexperienced freshman more comfortably integrated into college baseball over the course of the season. 

“[Pouliot’s] a guy we’ll need to work in and hope he gets better as he goes,” Bell said. “When I say he’s a COVID-freshman, he’s a really young guy and it’s a learning experience for him.” 

Senior righty Chris Gomez was a stabilizing presence on the mound. He contributed 4 ⅓ innings of relief, covering the middle innings before Bell could hand the reins over to the back end of the bullpen. Gomez scattered three hits, allowed just one run and struck out four on Wednesday.

While Gomez tied down Bucknell’s offense, Pitt’s began to break the game open. Freshman catcher Jackson Phinney, who was also making his first career start behind the plate, drew the Panthers and Bison even at five with a sacrifice fly in the third inning. Then junior outfielder Kyle Hess broke the tie in the fourth with a two-run home run to right field, making it 7-5, Pitt. 

After driving home his first career run in the third, Phinney poked a two-run single down the left field line in the fifth inning for hit number one, which brought home career RBIs two and three. The Panthers continued to pour on runs late into the game. They scored one in the sixth, four in the seventh despite the fact that only one hit in the frame left the infield, and three more in the eighth off of Yanni’s triple. Seven of nine Pitt starting hitters scored at least once.

Wednesday’s victory over Bucknell marked the start of a 16-game home stand for the Panthers. Up next the Panthers will welcome Virginia Tech for a three games beginning on Friday at Cost Field. First pitch against the Hokies is slated for 3 p.m. and will be broadcast on ACC Network Extra.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
 
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