PITTSBURGH — Midweek college baseball games can often be forgettable. They usually feature lopsided, non-conference matchups in which coaches shelter their best pitchers and roll out a string of bullpen arms that bridge the gap between more the consequential series against league opponents that take place every weekend.
But Pitt head coach Mike Bell was adamant, following Tuesday afternoon’s win over Lipscomb, that he doesn’t want to let who the opponent is determine how his team plays that day.
“The game of baseball will humble you in a heartbeat,” Bell said. “If you try to worry about what’s in that other dugout, as opposed to playing the game of baseball and what we can control, it’ll hurt you and humble you quickly.”
The Panthers heeded Bell’s message. No. 19 Pitt (18-10) started fast and pulled away late, cruising to a 9-6 victory over Lipscomb (11-17) on Wednesday afternoon. Strong middle-inning relief pitching from the bullpen and a 3-for-5, three-RBI day from junior left fielder Kyle Hess powered the offense.
The Pitt offense hammered Bison starter Patrick Williams, tagging him with four earned runs in the first inning. Sophomore third baseman Sky Duff led off the inning with a single, then junior right fielder Nico Popa walked. The next batter, Hess, doubled to drive in Duff for the game’s first score.
Designated hitter Ron Washington Jr. followed Hess’ hit with a sacrifice fly. Hess advanced to third on the play, then scored on a wild pitch the next at bat. Hullett capped the inning with a run-scoring double to make it 4-0 Panthers before a second out had been recorded in the bottom of the first.
But the Bison refused to go quietly. They responded with one run — a solo home run from redshirt junior designated hitter Chris Bashlor — in the top of the second. Lipscomb added two more runs off of a single from freshman third baseman Trey Ham and a sacrifice fly from senior second baseman Brian Moore.
The Bison had cut Pitt’s lead to just one by the middle of the fourth and now held all of the momentum. But the Panthers weren’t on their heels for long.
In the bottom half of the inning, a two-run triple from Hess put Pitt back in the lead at 6-3 and re-established control over a game that threatened to get away from them.
— Pitt Baseball (@Pitt_BASE) April 13, 2021
“Anytime you can answer, anytime we score, that shut down zero the next inning is important,” Bell said. “Anytime you can score back, it just takes a lot out of their dugout.”
Panthers starter Chris Gomez was pulled after just four innings of work, and the bullpen pitched admirably in relief. Junior righty CJ McKennit was the bridge that linked Pitt from a shaky fourth to a comfortable win. He threw 2 ⅔ innings and surrendered no runs while striking out three.
“I thought Gomez was good,” Bell said. “He filled up the strike zone for four innings. I thought CJ McKenitt was phenomenal. We’re really going to need to CJ down the stretch as we try to build that bullpen.”
Other offensive contributors for the Panthers include Duff and Popa, who combined to go 5 for 9 at the plate and score five runs. Junior center fielder Jordan Anderson once again provided a spark from the bottom of the order, as well. He collected two hits and scored twice on Tuesday.
Pitt had been originally scheduled to play two games vs. the Bison, but the second game — originally scheduled for Wednesday afternoon — was cancelled due to travel conflicts with the Lipscomb program. Instead, the Panthers await another three-game ACC set within the friendly confines of Charles L. Cost. They will face Coastal Division rival North Carolina beginning Friday at 6 p.m.