For the first time in 56 days, Pitt sophomore right hander Billy Corcoran took the mound for a real game. After suffering an undisclosed injury on opening weekend vs. Indiana State, Corcoran, who led Pitt starters in ERA, WHIP and wins during the shortened 2020 season, made just his second start of 2021 on Sunday afternoon against UNC.
Despite less than ideal results, Corcoran undeterred and happy nonetheless to be back on the mound.
“It felt good to be back out there,” Corcoran said. “It’s been a long couple of weeks. It was obviously not what I wanted, but baseball is a game of failure and you have to learn to live with it or else it will eat you up. I’ll be better next time and that’s just what I’ve got to believe.”
Pitt baseball (20-11 overall, 14-10 ACC) fell behind early and fought back late, but was ultimately unable to complete a second major comeback in a 10-9 loss to North Carolina (18-15 overall, 12-12 ACC) in the finale of a three-game set hosted at Charles L. Cost Field.
North Carolina — one of the ACC’s best home run-hitting clubs — broke through offensively for the first time in this series. After totaling just four runs over 18 innings of Saturday’s double-header, the Tar Heels exploded for 10 runs and four homers on Sunday afternoon.
It was a rude welcome back for Corcoran, who was tagged for five runs, just two of them earned, in the first inning. Sophomore right fielder Caleb Roberts led off the game with a solo home run, then senior left fielder Dallas Tessar doubled home two more runs in the same frame. Junior third baseman Clemente Inclan capped the inning with a two-run homer.
But the Panthers struck right back with four runs of their own in the bottom of the first. Junior designated hitter Kyle Hess brought home one run with a sacrifice fly, then junior first baseman Bryce Hulett drove in three more with a looping home run that wrapped around the left field foul pole.
✨ @bryce_hulett TO THE MOON! 🌑
— Pitt Baseball (@Pitt_BASE) April 18, 2021
Corcoran shook off the rough first inning, rebounding to pitch a scoreless frame in the second. But because he had been out of game action for so long, head coach Mike Bell limited his innings, pulling him at the end of the second after just 37 pitches.
Pulling Corcoran early was always the plan, according to Bell. Junior right-hander Stephen Hansen, who had capably filled the vacant Sunday starter role in Corcoran’s absence, took over after Corcoran exited.
Hansen was “really good” keeping the Panthers in the game on Sunday, according to Bell. For three innings, his pitching kept the UNC lead at one, opening the door for Pitt to tie the game in the bottom of the fifth on a sacrifice fly from junior left fiedler Ron Washington Jr.
But Hansen’s strong outing was marred by its conclusion. Hansen surrendered up back-to-back hits to start the sixth and then intentionally walked Inclan to load the bases. The Tar Heels broke the short-lived, 5-5 tie with a sacrifice fly from freshman Colby Wilkerson.
Then in the seventh, Roberts and sophomore outfielder Justice Thompson launched back-to-back home runs, pushing the Tar Heel lead to 8-5. After surrendering another hit, Hansen’s day was done. UNC added one more run on an RBI single from Wilkerson in the seventh.
The Panthers attempted another spirited comeback, but their efforts fell just short. Hess drove in his seventh and eighth RBIs of the week on a two-run home run on the seventh and Brock Franks added two RBIs of his own — one on a sacrifice groundout in the seventh and another on a double in the ninth.
Hess finished the weekend 4 for 11, with a double, home run and four RBIs. Despite some recent struggles driving in runs, Bell thinks Hess has put together a consistently excellent season.
“He’s been really consistent all year,” Bell said. “Even when he’s not getting his hits, he’s hitting the ball hard. When he’s putting the ball in play, eliminating strikeouts — whether he’s driving in runs because there’s guys on base in front of him or not — he’s put together some really good at bats throughout the year and it was really good to see him drive the baseball today.”
While Sunday’s loss did take some of the air out of the Pitt dugout, ____ said that the two wins his team secured in Saturday’s double header softened the sting of defeat. Corcoran said the series win sets the Panthers up with momentum headed into a marquee series at No. 7 Louisville beginning Friday.
“Next week is a big test for us,” Corcoran said. “Two out of three from UNC is good, obviously we wanted this one, but we’re going to fight against [Louisville] and hopefully come out on top.”
First pitch vs. the Cardinals is scheduled for 3 p.m. on Friday and will be broadcast on the ACC Network.