Pitt baseball has narrowly missed the 2021 NCAA Tournament. The Panthers were named one of the committee’s “First Four Out” during the selection show on Monday, extending a more than two-decades long absence from the national tournament for that program.
— NCAA Baseball (@NCAACWS) May 31, 2021
In a difficult year underscored by a pandemic, the 2021 Panthers (23-20) turned in one of the best seasons in program history, but came up just short of their ultimate goal.
“I hurt for them,” head coach Mike Bell said. “I still hurt for them. I feel for them. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do, whether it’s … COVID this, COVID that. More importantly, I want them to be able to go back and look at all of the things they were able to accomplish this year and those memories that they could cherish. They set program records in league wins, series wins. They did things that this program’s never done before.”
The Panthers set multiple program records this season in ACC series wins, total ACC victories, and achieved the highest ranking in program history.
But an untimely two-week COVID pause in early April, plus a pair of consecutive three-game sweeps late in the season at the hands of NC State and Wake Forest, appear to have sunk Pitt’s hopes before they even knew it. Head coach Mike Bell said following the selection show that he believes the 2-8 finish is what held his squad out.
“I think when you look at the committee and the response during the selection selection show — and in years past, from my experience with this — one thing they do like to look at is teams and how they’re finishing,” Bell said. “Whether it’s the last 10 or the last 15. And I think if you look at our body of work, that’s the one thing in this that you could really hold against us.”
Committee chairman Jeff Altier concurred.
Committee chairman Jeff Altier cites Pitt’s record in its last 10 games as the main reason it did not get a bid. Alabama, by the way, lost nine of its last 12 games. And got an at-large.
— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) May 31, 2021
Not even a strong showing in the ACC Tournament — which included a win over North Carolina and tight loss to NC State — could keep their heads above water. Ultimately, he felt that had his team beaten the Wolfpack and advanced to the semifinal round, Pitt would be comfortably in the field.
“I thought we were one game away,” Bell said.
The Pitt skipper did take issue with some of the criteria for selection. He thought that Pitt’s 18-12 record against the Tournament field should have overshadowed concerns about their relatively low positioning in RPI (the Panthers finished 50th nationally).
“If there was ever a year to look at the RPI, but not sell out for the RPI, this is the year because you had some conferences who played conference only [schedules],” Bell said. “Our conference did something really different. We added an extra weekend and took away six other opportunities for out-of-conference play to pad your win-loss total. When you look at the way … that they awarded the bids after the mid-majors stole bids … they started to go RPI heavy.”
Kind of hard to get over the fact that the UNC team #Pitt beat 3 out of 4 times they played made it in over them. Tar Heels were one of the last 4 in, Panthers were one of the first 4 out. Brutal.
— stephen thompson (@stephenethom) May 31, 2021
Michigan and UC Stanta Barbra were two teams that trailed Pitt in RPI and Quad 1 wins that did make the field.
But Bell said he wanted to focus on what his team did well and the reasons that they should have earned a spot in the field.
The Panthers’ early season run through conference play in March, during which they stacked impressive wins over fellow tournament teams like Duke, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia and Indiana State, were evidently overshadowed by the late slide.
Pitt closed the season with impressive metrics. They recorded their best final RPI ranking since joining the ACC in 2014, and tallied 17 wins vs. RPI Quad 1 opponents, the fourth highest total of any team in the country.
“To come up that short probably makes things worse,” Bell said. ”but I think when things calm down, they’ll have the opportunity to reflect upon the special type of year they did have.”