PITTSBURGH — North Carolina baseball, The reigning ACC Champions, came to Pittsburgh this weekend in an unfamiliar position. For as long as Pitt has been in the ACC, UNC has been a dominant force in the conference hierarchy, but in an odd year the status quo has been flipped on its head.
But when the Tar Heels arrived at Charles L. Cost Field on Saturday afternoon for a double-header against the Pitt Panthers, they were the underdogs, and they will leave the Steel City having lost their winning record in conference play and fallen further in the ACC standings.
No. 19 Pitt (20-10 overall, 14-9 ACC) captured it’s second consecutive series victory by sweeping a double-header vs. unranked UNC (17-15 overall, 11-12 ACC) by scores of 6-2 in game one and 3-2 in game two on Saturday. Lights-out pitching from all levels of the Panther staff drove both wins.
Pitt once again got two great starts from its top two starters, Mitch Myers and Matt Gilbertson.
In game one, Myers was knocked around early. After being gifted a three-run lead by his offense in the first, Myers did not command his fastball with the kind of precision he’s accustomed to. He gave up one run each in the second and third before posting scoreless frames in the fourth, fifth and sixth.
“It was a tough day for my fastball command,” Myers said. “But luckily for me, the hitters gave me a nice cushion. We were never down, so it was nice to pitch with a lead all day.”
But it speaks volumes about Myers’ body of work this season that the most notable thing about his start — a six-inning, two-run, six-strikeout performance in which he earned the win — was that he surrendered an uncharacteristically-high amount of walks and hard contact as well. Despite the struggles, Myers not only survived but thrived on the mound against UNC, earning his third consecutive win.
His game two counterpart, Matt Gilbertson was outstanding as well. The fiery right-hander delivered a performance nearly identical to Myers’. Gilbertson went seven innings and surrendered two runs on six hits and no walks, while striking out eight.
T8: Pitt 3, UNC 2
— Pitt Baseball (@Pitt_BASE) April 17, 2021
With 18 innings of pitching to fill on Saturday, Pitt head coach Mike Bell was counting on long, quality starts from his two aces, and they delivered. He said the starts either delivered have become the standard — Bell expects them to pitch like that every time they take the mound.
That’s why he wasn’t concerned about having to string together 18 innings of pitching. He knew that Myers and Gilbertson would handle business and make things easier on the bullpen.
“We know we have to get better in a lot of areas,” Bell said. “But there is no doubt that the ability of our starters to take us deep into a game every Friday and Saturday … It allows your bullpen to have small chunks to chew on so they don’t have too much pressure to put on themselves.”
But while the starters should get much of the praise, the work of Pitt’s bullpen can’t be overlooked. Panther relievers threw five innings on Saturday, and did not give up a run. Bullpen arms struck out three and walked none, as well.
Juniors righties Chase Smith and CJ McKennitt, who Bell said was “outstanding” on Saturday, were capable set up men. They both pitched scoreless eighth innings, previewing similar performances by senior closer Jordan McCrum, who pitched both ninth innings and earned two saves.
The Panthers got lifts from their offensive stars as well. The first five hitters in the Pitt order — sophomore Sky Duff, juniors Nico Popa, Klye Hess, and Ron Washington Jr., as well as sixth-year senior David Yanni — combined for 13 of Pitt’s 14 hits, seven of the team’s eight RBIs and hit two home runs over the course of Saturday’s games.
— Pitt Baseball (@Pitt_BASE) April 17, 2021
Junior outfielder Jordan Anderson also put together a fine offensive day. He went 3-for-7 with a triple in game one and a double in game two.
The Panthers’ pitching staff will be bolstered by the long-anticipated return of sophomore starter Billy Corocoran. The 6-foot-8 right hander will return to the mond for the first time since February 21, when he threw four innings of shutout ball against Indiana State.
Mike Bell revealed postgame that Corcoran — who led Pitt starters in ERA and WHIP during the shortened 2020 season — will be back on the mound Sunday for what he called a “modified start” in game three.
First pitch of the series finale between Pitt and UNC is scheduled for 1 p.m. from Charles L. Cost Filed.