Pitt baseball head coach Mike Bell was nonchalant when he described the feeling of being swept for the first time this season.
He was casual not because he was unaffected, but because he thought it was a natural part of playing ACC baseball in 2021. For much of the year, Pitt had been on the right side of unexpected wins. Now it was their turn to take a shot to the chin from an opponent they expected to beat handily.
“We played some really good baseball for the first, close to the first half of the year in arguably the toughest conference in the country,” Bell said. “Just as we swept a good team earlier in the year and won some series, we lost a couple games [this weekend]. We didn’t play our best baseball. … So whether we’re home or on the road, this will continue to be a grind throughout our conference play.”
The Panthers and Hokies weathered a two hour-long rain delay before starting pitcher Stephen Hansen through the game’s first pitch. Pitt (12-7 overall, 8-7 ACC) pulled out a late rally but Virginia Tech (13-8 overall, 9-6 ACC) responded with four runs over the final two innings to secure an 8-4 win in game three and finish off a series sweep at Charles L. Cost Field on Sunday afternoon.
It started with the pitching staff, who surrendered 18 walks over three games against the Hokies — an uncharacteristically high total for this team. Head coach Mike Bell thought that his pitchers weren’t finishing off hitters for outs like they had in the past, which led to the high frequency of free passes.
“I think it was a product of not finishing off hitters,” Bell said “I thought [Virginia Tech] did a good job fighting off things. … The first part of the year, we did not beat ourselves in a lot of ways and giving that amount of free passes allows extra opportunities for them to score runs, but also puts pressure on your defense.”
The six walks Panther pitching surrendered on Sunday helped Virginia Tech extend at bats and innings, leading to long rallies and forcing Pitt to play catchup. And the Panther offense was unable to string together enough hits to power scoring outbursts of their own, due largely in part to the prevalence of strikeouts.
The home team struck out 13 times in game three and 42 times over the course of the weekend. Timely hits were few and far between for Pitt against Virginia Tech until the late innings. In game two it took until the ninth before the offense came alive but on Sunday the scoring arrived earlier.
The Hokies carried a 4-1 lead into the seventh inning. Given the struggles the Panthers have experienced at the plate this weekend, the three-run deficit loomed much larger than it was. But some tinkering with the lineup by Bell granted his squad a spark.
It had been more than two weeks since junior Jordan Anderson started a game when Bell decided to shake up Sunday’s starting lineup. For the most part, he simply tinkered with where the regulars would hit — inserting Anderson into center field was the biggest change.
He provided a much needed offensive boost from the second spot in the order, driving home two runs with a line-drive single and scoring another himself during the Panthers’ game-tying, three-run rally in the seventh inning. He finished the day 1-3 with two runs scored, two walks and two stolen bases.
Anderson has been patient while spending time on the bench and carried himself the same way whether starting or entering the game as a replacement, according to Bell. Anderson said postgame that despite spending the past couple of weeks in a reserve role, he never lost faith in his abilities.
“I kept myself motivated,” Anderson said. “I’m a very self-motivated person. I just kept my head down and believed that there’s always a rhyme and reason for everything. So I just trusted my coaches, knowing that when the time was right that they’d trust me back.”
But following the rally Anderson started, the Panthers bullpen was unable to keep Virginia Tech off of the scoreboard through the final two innings. The Hokies struck for four runs, twice in the eighth and twice again in the ninth. Freshman reliever Matt Siverling then retired six of eight Pitt hitters over the final two innings — three by way of the strikeout — to finalize the three-game sweep of Pitt.
The Panthers now shift their focus to another marquee series vs. No. 14 Notre Dame beginning on Thursday at Charles L. Cost Field. First pitch of the three-game set against the Fighting Irish is scheduled for 3 p.m. and will air on ACC Network Extra.