Pitt baseball needs added consistency to compete in loaded ACC

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Pitt baseball needs added consistency to compete in loaded ACC

By Stephen Caruso / Contributing Editor

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Joining a new athletic conference is never easy. Pitt head baseball coach Joe Jordano is learning that firsthand.

Since Pitt hired him in 1998, Jordano led Pitt to nine Big East tournaments, including five straight from 2009-2013, and became the winningest coach in Pitt baseball history. Under Jordano, the team had a .560 winning percentage while in the Big East, including a program record 42 wins in 2013.

But then, Pitt joined the ACC.

Since then, Pitt baseball has struggled to a .404 winning percentage, including a .339 winning percentage in conference games.

The numbers don’t lie. ACC baseball has not been kind to Pitt.

This shouldn’t be much of a surprise. As of right now, the ACC has five teams in the RPI top 25 — including No. 1 Miami — tied with the SEC for most top ranked teams. The Big East doesn’t have single team in the top 50.

And things won’t get any easier down the line. According to Baseball America, the recruiting classes of four ACC schools — Virginia, North Carolina, Florida State and Miami — for the 2014 school year rank among the top 25 in the country. All four of those teams are on the list of top 25 teams this year, so it appears to be a case of the rich getting richer.

The bottom line is things will not get easier for Pitt anytime soon. But while the rest of the ACC may have the flashy recruits and high rankings, baseball is a sport that respects the fundamentals. With some growth and consistency, Pitt could find a way to compete in its third year in the ACC.

It started this season well enough in conference games, managing a 3-3 record against then-No. 1 Virginia and No. 11 North Carolina in its first two ACC series. The games included a 1-0 win against UVA, in which Pitt sophomore starter T.J. Zeuch out-dueled UVA ace and heralded MLB draft prospect Nathan Kirby, as well as a 3-2 extra inning effort against UNC.

Three consecutive series losses against ACC opponents followed the strong start, bringing the team to a 9-20 conference record by the end of the year. They also failed to beat another ranked team after the early success, losing all six games.

The saying “you can’t predict baseball” comes to mind to describe the start, but it is important to pay attention to the work Zeuch did early on.

As the No. 1 starter, Zeuch starts the first game over every weekend series. When the Panthers take the first game of a conference series, they have won all but one of the series, and gone 7-5. When the Panthers lose the first game, not only have they lost every series, but they have gone 2-16. Zeuch hasn’t simply feasted on bad teams — Virginia was the best team in the country when he dominated them. His performance hints that he has the potential to become a top-tier pitcher in the conference. He’ll look to make that jump next season.

Like Zeuch, most of Pitt’s team is young. The Panthers are losing six seniors, including slugger Boo Vazquez, as well as fielders Eric Hess and Jordan Frabasilio. However, young bats like sophomore Nick Yarnall, sophomore Jacob Wright and freshman Charles LeBlanc will take their places quickly. All can hit for average and take a walk, giving Pitt more base runners and more scoring opportunities.

With an ace in development and a team of on-base threats, there is no reason to think Pitt couldn’t find more wins in conference matchups. Jordano has shown himself to be a winner at Pitt — a change in conference should not change his attitude.

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