CHARLOTTE – Georgia Tech coach Danny Hall didn’t have any complaints regarding what his pitchers were throwing at Ron Washington Jr.
And going into the sixth inning, he thought Yellow Jackets’ starter John Medich was pitching well, with command of his fastball and influence over his off-speed repertoire.
“I don’t think Medich ran out of gas. I thought he was pretty much in control,” Hall said. “I’ll give Washington credit; we threw the ball right we wanted to on him.”
Where Hall and Medich saw a good pitch, Washington saw an opportunity. With Sky Duff standing on first base, the 6-foot-1 outfielder made contact with a high breaking ball on an 0-1 pitch and powered it over the left field wall at Truist Field for a two-run homer.
“Just got the breaker up early in the count,” Washington said. “Just did my swing, swung through the ball, and it worked out.”
Before Washington walked to the plate for that at-bat, Pitt trailed in the ACC Tournament opener against the No. 7-seeded Yellow Jackets by four runs on Tuesday. Washington’s dinger sparked what turned out to be a game-changing eight-run sixth inning for the 11th-seeded Panthers, powering them to a 12-6 victory.
“That was big. It was big for us,” Pitt coach Mike Bell said of Washington’s homer.
Bell continued: “Gutsy performance by our guys. Obviously, things have not gone our way the last couple of weeks… I thought our guys showed a lot of grit today, a lot of fight.”
The victory marked the second straight season that Pitt has won an ACC Tournament game under Bell. It also snapped a three-game losing streak against Georgia Tech. And moreover, it means that Pitt has a legitimate shot to make the tournament’s semifinals. Pitt faces second-seeded Louisville next, on Wednesday. The Panthers took two-of-three off the Cardinals in a series in April.
“If you’re playing this week, you did something to earn it,” Bell said. “This league is as deep as it’s ever been. It’s more talented he’s ever been. And I think you’re seeing the commitment through the programs throughout the league.”
Before Pitt fell behind Georgia Tech by four runs – and then went ahead by six – it scored first by building a quick 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning.
The Panthers had just lost three straight home games to the Yellow Jackets and didn’t want to come out looking sluggish on the big stage. After Jeffrey Wehler struck out on six pitchers, Tatem Levins singled to centerfield, and then Duff doubled to left center. Then Washington picked up his first of four RBI on the day, launching a sacrifice fly into centerfield to bring home Wehler. Duff then scored on a single from Bryce Hulett.
“Scoring early, I thought, was big. Because that’s kind of what they did to us at our place this past weekend. Playing a team four games in a row can be tough, can be mentally challenging on individuals, but I thought our guys showed a lot of poise, a lot of fight by coming out and scoring two there.”
Big Game Bautista
Matt Gilbertson started the game for Pitt on just four days’ worth of rest. And while six Georgia Tech runs came in on the All-ACC righty’s watch, Bell was still impressed with his performance.
“That’s probably one of the gutsiest things I’ve seen in a long time. He’s been our rock, our go-to. For him to put up some zero’s early on and let our guys settle in,” Bell said. “We knew we were going to have to score runs.”
Gilbertson allowed just one hit in the first two innings. Georgia Tech got after him a bit in the third, scoring three runs, but he never let things get out of hand. In five innings of work, Gilbertson walked one batter, struck one out and gave up four earned runs on nine hits.
After Pitt scored eight runs in the sixth, Gilbertson was relieved by Jonathan Bautista, who threw four innings of shutout ball in relief, giving up just two hits while striking out two. It was the first save of the season for the freshman from Philadelphia.
Bell thought that Bautista pitching well in a handful of times at PNC Park, in the Panthers’ games against rivals Penn State and West Virginia, helped Bautista prepare for the big stage.
“He continues to get a little better each and every time out. He showed a lot of toughness for a freshman there,” Bell said. “I really think his opportunity to pitch at PNC Park… allowed him to not be overwhelmed with the moment here. Once he settled in, he did a great job against one of the best lineups in the country.”