As the Hokies climbed from the dugout they cheered and jumped before assembling into one of baseball’s iconic formations: a post-win handshake line. The Pitt Panthers could only watch as Virginia Tech celebrated a second consecutive, convincing win on Pitt’s own home diamond.
Virginia Tech baseball entered the weekend having lost six of their last nine and in desperate need of wins to help reverse their recent struggles. The Panthers, on the other hand, were riding high after entering the top-15 of two major national polls for the first time in program history.
But a dominant win in game two of this weekend’s three-game set vs. No. 15 Pitt secured a series victory for the Hokies and further shook the already confusing ACC baseball landscape. Pitt (12-7 overall, 8-6 ACC) came up with too little, too late in an 8-4 loss to Virginia Tech (12-8 overall, 8-6 ACC) on Saturday afternoon at Charles L. Cost Field.
It was a delicate game that hinged upon the nerves of either pitching staff and in the end it was the ability of Hokie pitchers to work out of Pitt scoring threats that won out. Right-handed junior Anthony Simonelli shut down the Panthers over five innings of work, tallying nine strikeouts and surrendering just one run.
The power of Simonelli’s fastball paired well with a devastating changeup, the latter of which he relied on heavily to put away hitters with two-strike counts.
The game was a pitchers’ duel, knotted at one through the end of the fifth, but in the top of the sixth Virginia Tech put together a decisive three-run rally. Tyler Schobel led off the inning with a double to right-center field, then freshman Gavin Cross singled. With runners on first and second, the Hokie four-hitter T.J. Rumfield singled to score a run.
Virginia Tech scored twice more — once off a single from Kevin Madden and again by way of a sacrifice fly from freshman Carson Jones.
Junior right-hander Matt Gilbertson started on the mound for Pitt and cruised through his six of his seven innings, but the sixth inning marred what would have been a superb performance. Gilbertson exited after seven innings responsible for four runs and said he could feel Virginia Tech’s rally deflate the home dugout.
“We seemed to have some momentum.” Gilbertson said. “Had a couple of quick innings and started coming alive a little bit. But you give up a three-spot in the sixth and with the way [Virginia Tech] is pitching over there, it kind of seemed to take the air out of the dugout. We’ve got to be better about not letting them do that.”
Pitt skipper Mike Bell had a much different feel for that sixth inning. He said he felt that his team was still in the game despite a three-run deficit. He believed in his offense’s ability to make up the difference.
It wasn’t until the Panthers bullpen entered the game and surrendered four more runs over the final seven innings of the game that Bell felt the game fall firmly out of reach.
“Even when they scored those runs and it was a 4-1 ballgame, we have enough offense to power back and get back in it,” Bell said postgame. “For me, it was in the eighth and the ninth when we bled runs out of the back of the game. We’ve got to do a better job as a staff and as a bullpen attacking strike zones later in the game.”
The offense eventually broke through but it wasn’t until the ninth inning. Junior outfielders Nico Popa and Kyle Hess opened the frame with base hits, then Ron Washington Jr. drove them home with a line-drive home run over the wall in left-center field. But junior Shane Connolly relieved Jaison Heard, who had been responsible for those three runs, and proceeded to shut the door.
The past two losses have plunged the Panthers from sole possession of first place in the ACC Coastal while these wins have lifted the Hokies back up into contention. Because North Carolina’s game vs. NC State was suspended due to inclement weather, the Tar Heels hold a half-game lead on second place in the division.
The Panthers will try to salvage a win in Sunday’s series finale welcoming fellow top-15 opponent Notre Dame to Cost Field next weekend. First pitch of game three against the Hokies is scheduled for 1 p.m. and will be broadcast on ACC Network.