Coming off of strong months, the Pitt baseball team (21-14, 9-8) fell to West Virginia (23-12, 6-3 BIG12) in a pitching-heavy backyard brawl on Wednesday at PNC Park, the Major League Baseball home of the Pittsburgh Pirates. It was the second time the two teams have faced this season, Pitt won the first game 9-6 back on March 30. It’s also the first of two games that Pitt will play at PNC Park. They will play Penn State (14-19, 5-7 BIG10) on May 17th.
“Another great ballgame between two great universities,” said Pitt manager Mike Bell. “We love the atmosphere here at PNC Park and we’re so very thankful for what the Pirates have allowed us to do. We always talk about creating memories for our student athletes. Whether or not you win or lose this ballgame…”
Aidan Major (WVU) and Jonathan Bautista (Pitt) started on the hill. Both came out of the gate dealing and lasted three innings each. Bautista only had one strikeout in his three innings of work, but didn’t walk a single batter. He did surrender the game’s first run in the third inning off a wild pitch. Defensive errors were the catalyst for the West Virginia offense as all three of their runs were off of fundamental errors from the Pitt defense.
The Pitt offense struggled against Major, who went three innings without giving up a hit. Pitt did manage to draw four walks against Major, who was making his first-ever career start, but also struck out five times. Zach Ottinger replaced Major in the fourth inning, but also pitched well against Pitt.
It wasn’t until the fifth inning that Pitt got its’ first hit of the game when Jeffrey Wehler it a long double to center field. The clutch hit came with two-outs already in the inning, but was also followed by the team’s first run. Tatem Levins hit a single up the middle to score Wehler from second, which tied the score at 1-1.
Ben Dragani and C.J. McKennitt followed Bautista on the mound and both pitched scoreless innings with each earning a strikeout. The team then followed up with Tyler Kennedy in the sixth who got two-outs, but also allowed a man to get on first and second. With those two runners on, Kennedy stepped off the mound to catch Dayne Leonard stealing.
However the pick-off throw to third base sailed over the head of the third baseman and Leonard scored for West Virginia’s second run of the game. Dylan Lester then came in to pitch and got Pitt out of the inning, although they now trailed 2-1.
That lead didn’t last long though, as Pitt immediately tied things up in the bottom of the sixth. Chris Sleeper came in for Ottinger, who finished his day with one run surrendered in two innings of work. The bullpen continued to be somewhat of a wake-up call for the Pitt offense, as they again scored off of a West Virginia reliever. Josh Overbeek drew a walk with one out in the inning. Following the walk, Dom Popa hit a triple to left field to score Overbeek and tie the game 2-2.
“It was definitely awesome playing West Virginia at PNC Park,” said Popa on the triple. Popa is a Pittsburgh-native whose brother Nico previously hit a home run at PNC Park against West Virginia in 2019. “I went to Pitt football games growing up. I remember going to games against WVU and the hostile environment they’re in.”
In the eighth inning, things got exciting. With the scored tied 2-2, West Virginia threatened to take the lead once again. McQwire Holbrook drew a walk to start the eighth. Ben Abernathy was brought in to pinch run for Holbrook, and immediately stole second. Nathan Blasick was brought in as a pinch hitter for Leonard. Blasick drew a walk.
He and Abernathy then stole second and third to put two runners in scoring position with two outs. Vince Ippoliti was at the plate and managed to work the count to 3-2, but struck out swinging to end the inning. The two runners were stranded, making eight left on base for West Virginia at that point.
In the ninth inning, West Virginia threatened again. On a routine throw to first, Bryce Hullett dropped the ball and allowed Evan Smith to reach first base. He then made his way to third as West Virginia loaded the bases with two-outs. Brady Devereux, who also got out of the jam in the eighth inning, managed to get Abernathy to fly out to center to end the inning.
Cameron Barto drew a walk to start the bottom of the ninth for Pitt and was moved to second on a well-placed bunt by Wehler. An intentional walk to Levins put a runner on first and second with one out. Barto represented the game’s potential winning run.
A Jack Anderson strike out followed by a Hulett walk loaded the bases with two outs for Tommy Taverez. He’d strike out swinging though, and the fans at PNC Park were treated to free baseball.
With one out in the 10th inning, Blasick hit a triple to center field to put the go-ahead run for West Virginia on third base. After the one-out single, Devereux got Ippoliti to strikeout looking and Alex Khan to ground out to first to end the inning.
As has been the theme for the West Virginia offense in this game, they scored the go-ahead run off a defensive miscue by Pitt. On a ground ball to second, pitcher Quinn Konuszewski had to cover first. The toss to him from Wehler went over Konuszewksi’s head, allowing Tevin Tucker to score from second. Pitt went into the bottom of the 11th down 3-2 now.
West Virginia had a 1-2-3 bottom of the 11th to take the victory at PNC Park. The two teams combined to strand 26 runners on base. West Virginia, meanwhile, had 10 stolen bases in the game, but it was Pitt’s four errors and wild pitch that cost them the victory. Pitt will now travel to Miami for an ACC match-up. They look to continue their ACC series winning streak against the Hurricanes.