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No. 17 Pitt Baseball Secures Program-Record Sixth ACC Series Win

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On Monday, the NCAA will reveal a short list of about 20 schools who are in the running to host an NCAA Regional Tournament. Before taking a two-week pause due to COVID-19 protocols, No. 17 Pitt baseball appeared to be in prime position to host one of those tournaments on their home turf, but the long layoff put hosting hopes in doubt. 

Still, Panthers head coach Mike Bell is confident that his squad has built a resume worthy of serious consideration

“I think they’re gonna see that we play in one of the best conferences in the country,” Bell said. “I think they’re gonna see a team that has, I think it’s seven series wins. … But if you look up and down the wins, that’s what they’ll see. … I think we’ve put ourselves in a pretty good position.”

Pitt (22-13 overall, 16-11 ACC) improved aits resume ever so slightly by taking a series vs. Boston College (20-25 overall, 9-21 ACC) this weekend in Pittsburgh. Two wins over the Eagles marks Pitt’s sixth ACC series victory of the season, a new program record. The Panthers secured the series win with a 3-4, come-from-behind win in game one before falling in game two by a final of 6-2. 

Game one was a vintage 2021 Pitt performance. The Panthers leaned on their solid starting pitching. They kept the game tight through seven innings and pounced in the eighth. Junior righty Matt Gilbertson started on the mound and delivered an exceptionally efficient performance. 

Over eight innings and 107 pitches — 73 of which he threw for strikes — Gilbertson surrendered just three runs on eight hits and three walks. When he exited, the Panthers trailed by one but outs with which to work were running thin. 

But in the bottom half of the eighth, Pitt wasted no time starting a rally. Junior first baseman Bryce Hulett led off the frame by poking a double the opposite way, down the left-field line. Sophomore shortstop Brock Franks then moved him to third with a sacrifice groundout and junior centerfielder Jordan Anderson brought him home with a beautifully executed squeeze play to tie the game. 

The lineup then turned over and brought up the recently scorching sophomore third baseman Sky Duff. He doubled to left field, bringing home freshman Dom Popa, who had pinch ran for classmate Matt Tarabek after he was hit by a pitch, to give Pitt the late 4-3 lead. 

Duff is riding a recent 14-game hot streak during which he’s recorded 26 hits in 55 at bats — good for a .472 average — and has driven in 11 runs while scoring 13 himself. On Saturday, Duff’s key hit was made possible by contributions from the six-through-nine spots of the order.

Duff said the bottom of the order’s ability to set the table for him at the top was key on Saturday and will continue to be important down the stretch run of the regular season. 

“It’s huge,” Duff said. “One through nine, we know we’re all going to fight and we have a lot of faith in all of our guys. The bottom of the order really picked it up for us today.”

Senior reliever Chase Smith made quick work of the Eagles in the top of the ninth, retiring the bottom third of the Boston College lineup in order to earn his first save of the season and the win. 

Game two followed a similar script. After a back-and-forth opening, Boston College entered the latter innings clinging to a 1-run lead. Pitt’s game three starter, sophomore righty Billy Corcoran, pitched capably in just his second start since returning from an early season injury. Head coach Mike Bell said postgame that the plan was to keep acclimating Corcoran back into game action. In his last start, Corcoran went just two innings and surrendered five runs, but on Saturday he stretched his pitch count to 68 over four innings and scattered five hits while allowing just two runs. Bell thought the most impressive part of Corcoran’s outing was his ability to limit damage and keep Pitt close on the scoreboard. 

“I saw Billy competing and really doing a good job of minimizing damage,” Bell said. “The thing is, we had a hard time getting the first hitter each inning. … It seemed like we were battling uphill trying to work out of jams. But I told him, he did a good job. … He kept his team in the ball game.”

But the evening quickly fell apart. Bell said he didn’t think his team played well in the second game of the doubleheader. He pointed to their four errors, untimely walks from the pitching staff and most importantly, the three-run seventh-inning rally Boston College put together which put the game away. 

A bases loaded walk surrendered by senior righty Chris Gomez and a two-RBI single off the bat of junior second baseman Brian Dempsey deflated the home dugout. The Panthers mustered just two hits over the final three innings. The 6-2 advantage BC built lasted through the ninth and earned them a much-needed victory. 

Pitt enters the final weeks of the regular season with a spot in the ACC Tournament already in hand, but Bell still wants to see his ball club improve over the final seven games of the regular season. 

“[I want us to] stay the course of what we’ve talked about from day one,” Bell said. “Each and every day we have an opportunity, when we step on the field, to win the day. We want to make sure we are playing our best baseball by the end of the year.”

The Panthers are back in action this coming Friday, when they host NC State for a three-game set at home. First pitch of game one is scheduled for 6 p.m. from Charles L. Cost Field.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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