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Pitt Baseball

Pitt Baseball Ready to Build on Strong 2021 Season

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Pitt baseball barely missed the NCAA Tournament in 2021,  Named one of the First Four Out of the bracket and extending their streak of missing the playoff to 27 years.

This happened, in part, because the Panthers faltered down the stretch, losing eight of their last nine games. A year removed from the streak, head coach Mike Bell looks at the positive side: three of those games were close losses to NC State, who eventually reached the Final Four before forfeiting due to COVID-19 protocols.

“It was definitely a learning experience for our guys,” Bell said. “There was a lot of positive momentum… I felt like we made some great strides, and put ourselves in a great position.”

Bell isn’t making excuses for himself, or giving them to his players.

“When you have the opportunity, the moment to handle things yourself, you don’t want to put things into somebody else’s hands, especially [selection] committees,” Bell said.

The Panthers want to build on a historic season that fell just short — they set a program record for ACC series wins — and Bell looks to a pair of players to step up in 2022.

“Sky Duff does a great job of being a table setter at the front end of the lineup. He grinds out at bats, he’s a tough out, plays very solid defense at third and really sets the tone for our lineup,” Bell said. “Ron Washington Jr. is somebody you have to be really careful to pitch to if you’re in the opposing dugout, because any mistake you make, he can punish it a hard way.”

Bell looks forward to what that tandem can do for the Panthers this season.

“That combination of on base percentage and driving in runs from those two guys add a lot to our program… we’re lucky to have them in our uniform,” Bell said. “We need them to just be themselves, we don’t need them to do anything more than what they’ve done the past couple years.”

Pitching Perspective

Bell, a former pitcher himself, plans to use veterans Matt Gilbertson and Billy Corcoran to head the rotation. Transfers Logan Evans and Ben Dragani will take the three and four spots.

In the bullpen, Bell looks to veterans Dylan Lester, C.J. McKennitt and Brady Devereaux to provide the majority of relief innings, but he highlighted a trio of freshmen that will see time early on as well: Jonathan Bautista, Tyler Kennedy and Quin Konuszewski.

Bell said that Konuszewski’s stuff plays against left handed batters particularly well, a matchup to keep an eye on as the season progresses.

Having a pitching staff packed with talent is crucial during the grind of a long baseball season. Coaching college baseball in the northeast adds difficulties with travel and weather. The Panthers’ first home game isn’t until March 15, nearly a month after the season begins. Alternating between practicing in frigid Pittsburgh and playing weekend games in sunny Florida places an extra emphasis on conditioning.

“Travel every week can wear on you,” Bell said. “We have to be very mindful of our student athletes … make sure we’re training in all areas the correct way.”

It makes the eventual homecoming sweeter as well.

“We’re here to be a part of what this beautiful place is and this beautiful city is, and the opportunities it provides,” Bell said.

Sandy Schall, Coldwell Banker
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