Shortly before midnight on Thursday night, the Pitt baseball’s ACC Tournament came to a close.
The Panthers (23-20) fell for the fourth time this season to NC State (29-15), by a final of 3-2 in the final game of ACC pool play at Truist Field in Charlotte, North Carolina. A three-run second inning rally by the Wolfpack proved fatal for Pitt, which was carried by the tremendous starting pitching of junior righty Matt Giilbertson.
The Panthers were aggressive early. Lead-off hitter Sky Duff opened the bottom of the first for with a single. Then he stole second with two outs to set up his clean-up hitter Ron Washington for a run-scoring double — laced to left field off of an 0-2 offering from Wolfpack starter Reid Johnston — that drew first blood and gave Pitt a 1-0 advantage.
But the lead would not last long. In the top of the second, NC State struck back with a two-out rally of their own. After Gilbertson got the first two outs of the frame easily, he surrendered a pair of walks to the seventh and eighth hitters of the opposing order.
Then right fielder JT Jarrett, who bats out of the ninth spot, drove both runners in with a triple. Soon after, he scored himself on a wild pitch to give his team a 3-1 lead. Pitt chipped away with an RBI fielder’s choice from Washington in the third to make it 3-2.
After that, both starters locked in and looked to become stronger with every pitch thrown. Gilbertson shut down the potent Pack offense for seven straight innings, posting zeroes from the third through the eighth and retiring the final 22 batters he faced. Johnston did the same to the Panther offense from the fourth through the eighth.
Gilbertson pitched all nine for Pitt. He entered the final frame having already thrown a career-high 119 pitches but showed no signs of exhaustion. In fact, Gilbertson looked more and more energized the longer he stayed in the game. Gilbertson struck out the side in the ninth, yelling celebrations of all kinds in a triumphant return to the dugout.
But the offense was unable to match his dominance on the mound. Johnston cruised through the middle innings and, after eight innings of two-run ball during which he struck out 10, he handed the game over to closer Evan Justice. Justice surrendered a leadoff walk in the ninth but that was all. He struck out Pitt’s Brock Franks to close the game and Pitt’s tournament run.
The Panthers will now await their NCAA Tournament fate on Selection Monday.