THE DAILY STUDENT NEWSPAPER OF THE UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH

Baseball: Panthers keep Big East Tournament hopes alive

Dustin Gabler | May 8, 2012    

After winning two of three games in a series with Georgetown two weeks ago, the Pitt baseball… After winning two of three games in a series with Georgetown two weeks ago, the Pitt baseball team repeated the feat last weekend against Rutgers to record just the third series victory of its Big East schedule.

Only eight teams advance to the Big East Tournament in late May, and the surging Panthers have used four wins in their last six conference games to climb their way back into contention for a top-eight finish.

Following last weekend’s series at Rutgers, Pitt is in ninth place, one game behind the Villanova Wildcats.

The crucial series with the Scarlet Knights (27-20, 12-9 Big East) didn’t start the way Pitt (24-22, 8-13 Big East) would have liked.

Rutgers 3, Pitt 1

Senior pitcher Matt Iannazzo gave the Panthers a quality start in the opening game of the series, but the offense failed to provide him run support as Pitt dropped a low-scoring contest.

“I mixed my pitches well and threw quality pitches in hitters’ counts,” Iannazzo said. “Losing despite a quality start is just part of the game. I have won many games where I haven’t necessarily deserved it, and I have lost games where I have thrown very well.”

The right-hander pitched seven strong innings, allowing two earned runs and one unearned run. He struck out five batters and walked none.

In the third inning, Iannazzo encountered trouble when three Rutgers singles, coupled with a throwing error by senior first baseman Rick Devereaux, gave the Scarlet Knights a 3-0 lead.

The Panthers tried to rally in the seventh inning with three singles of their own.

Devereaux scored Pitt’s first run when freshman outfielder Boo Vazquez hit a ball through the left side of the infield, but Rutgers pitcher Tyler Gebler ended the comeback attempt and the contest by finishing off a five-hit complete game to pick up the win.

Pitt 5, Rutgers 2

Putting their offensive struggles in the series opener behind them, the Panthers didn’t waste time getting on the board in the second game of the doubleheader.

Sophomore outfielder Stephen Vranka connected on a lead-off double to start the game, and he scored when Devereaux hit a double of his own.

That one-run lead didn’t last long. The Scarlet Knights scored a run in both the first and third innings off Pitt sophomore pitcher Ethan Mildren to take a 2-1 lead, but those two runs would be all the team would score in the second game of the series.

Junior second baseman Evan Oswald tied the game in the fourth inning when outfielder Mike Douglas tripled him home.

Pitt then broke the tie in the next inning. Vranka scored an unearned run after reaching on a fielding error, and senior designated hitter Anthony DeFabio also scored unearned when junior Sam Parente singled him home to give the Panthers a 4-2 lead.

Vranka also added the fifth run, scoring on sophomore outfielder Casey Roche’s single.

After recovering from a slow start, Mildren shut down the Rutgers offense during his eight quality innings on the mound. He struck out four on his way to picking up the win.

“With my pitching, I have been having great consistency with all of my pitches,” he said. “I have felt comfortable each time out and hope to continue this for the rest of the season.”

Freshman pitcher Joe Harvey replaced Mildren in the ninth inning, recording two strikeouts and earning the save.

Pitt 4, Rutgers 3

For the third consecutive game, Rutgers took an early lead when it scored off Pitt sophomore pitcher Matt Wotherspoon in the first inning of the series-deciding rubber match.

But Pitt responded quickly and took the lead in the third inning when both Vranka and DeFabio connected on doubles and scored.

The Panthers also put together a two-run inning in the fifth. Parente’s single into left field brought home Vranka and sophomore shortstop Derik Wilson as Pitt stretched its lead 4-1.

Rutgers then narrowed the deficit to two in the sixth inning on a sacrifice fly off Wotherspoon.

Pitt manager Joe Jordano replaced Wotherspoon in the next inning, and his bullpen got out of several difficult situations — including a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning — to secure the victory.

“We made some big plays in big situations. Obviously that play at the end of the game was huge,” Jordano said of the game-ending double play Pitt used to finish Rutgers’ hopes of coming back. “You’ve got the bases loaded with one out and their best hitter, maybe the best hitter in the conference, coming up to the plate. We did a great job and made a great play.”

Pitt freshman closer Tanner Wilt provided the clutch moment when he got Rutgers slugger Patrick Kivlehan, who leads the Big East with a .392 batting average, to hit into the crucial double play.

Jordano also stressed just how important it was for Pitt to win the final game of last weekend’s series.

“We really needed to win that ball game and win the series,” he said. “As we’ve been saying, we’re in a must-win situation. There were some big plays and some big pitches. That was a heck of a team win today.”

Following the back-to-back series wins, the Panthers feel confident about the rest of the regular season and their chances of qualifying for the conference tournament.

“Taking two straight series was a must in an effort to make the tournament,” Devereaux said. “The opportunity to make the tournament has pushed this team to keep playing hard. We know if we make it, we have a chance to win.”

But the road to the Big East Tournament in Clearwater, Fla., won’t be easy for the ninth-place Panthers. They head to Seton Hall, which currently sits fifth in the conference standings, this upcoming weekend before hosting the second-place Louisville Cardinals in the final series of the season.

“These next two weekends will be huge in our effort to make the tournament,” Devereaux said. “We must play well against two very good teams.”

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