PITTSBURGH — Under the bright lights of Charles L. Cost Field for this season’s first home night game, No. 16 Pitt baseball was beaten at their own game by a surging NC State squad.
A wild pitch in the seventh inning proved fatal to the Panthers, who after landing on the NCAA’s initial list of Regional Tournament host candidates, are still seeking to solidify their spot among the sport’s elite.
Friday’s series opener was a step back in that pursuit. Their resume took a hit, albeit a temporary one.
The Wolfpack (24-14 overall, 15-13 ACC) rode brilliant pitching from Friday-night ace Reid Johnston and strong-armed closer Evan Justice to a 3-2 win in game one of the weekend series. The Panthers (22-14 overall, 16-12 ACC) were unable to come through with necessary clutch hits in the tight loss.
After taking a one-run lead with two scores in the second, Pitt bats fell silent. The Panthers went 2-13 with runners on base on Friday night, squandering key opportunities with a man in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings.
For NC State, the game-winning run came lighting-quick. With the score tied at two-all at the top of the seventh, Pitt starter Mitch Myers was pulled. Sophomore righty C.J. McKennitt took over and was immediately roughed up.
Junior first baseman Austin Murr led off the top of the seventh with a triple and two pitches later scored on a wild pitch.
They tallied just four hits and no runs over the ensuing seven innings. They’re best chance came in the eighth, when they put two runners on with two down for senior second baseman David Yanni.
Sophomore third baseman Sky Duff led off the inning with a single to left and senior right fielder Nico Popa reached on a fielder’s choice. He then advanced to third on a pair of wild pitches. Junior left fielder Ron Washington walked and stole second to make it second and third with two away for the power-hitting Yanni.
Wolfpack catcher Luca Tresh struggled in the frame. He allowed three pitches to sneak past his glove and Pitt runners to advance into scoring position. But with Yanni facing a 3-2 count, Justice came up with an emphatic strikeout to end the threat and preserve a one-run lead.
Justice stared down the home dugout, Tresh slammed his mask down and yelled in celebration after executing in the game’s most pivotal moment.
In what was his last regular season start at home of the year, junior starter Mitch Myers was his typical, steady self on the mound for Pitt. He threw six innings of two-run ball, scattering eight hits and striking out seven, but getting worked for 112 pitches over that span by one of the ACC’s best offenses.
But Johnston stole the spotlight by dealing 7 ⅓ innings, surrendering just two runs on eight hits and a walk while fanning nine Panther hitters. Justice was similarly stellar in relief. He did not allow a run, struck out four and collected a five-out save to secure the win.
Offensive standouts for the Panthers included junior left fielder Ron Washington, who homered to left against a stiff, inward blowing wind, Duff, who went 2-4 and senior catcher Ramon Padilla, whose lone hit drove in a go-ahead run.
The Panthers and Wolfpack will continue their three-game set on Saturday afternoon. Junior righty Matt Gilbertson will start on the mound for Pitt against freshman Sam Highfill. First pitch from Cost Field is scheduled for 3 p.m.