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Pitt baseball brings down Virginia Tech on the road

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Frank Maldonado rounds third base against Georgia Tech.  Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

Frank Maldonado rounds third base against Georgia Tech. Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

Frank Maldonado rounds third base against Georgia Tech. Jeff Ahearn | Assistant Visual Editor

By Steve Rotstein / Staff Writer

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Although the Pitt baseball team maintained its reputation for dropping the series opener, it still picked up a road ACC series win in Blacksburg, Virginia, last weekend.

Virginia Tech (12-25, 3-15 ACC) took game one Friday, 5-4, the seventh consecutive time Pitt has lost a series opener. The Panthers (17-14, 8-9 ACC) rebounded to win game two Saturday, 6-5, behind standout performances from star shortstop Charles LeBlanc and ace pitcher T.J. Zeuch. They continued their Sunday success with an 8-3 victory in game three.

The Hokies took an early lead Friday night with a ground rule double followed by an RBI single to begin the bottom of the first inning.

Cleanup hitter Alex Kowalczyk led off the top of the second for Pitt with a double, then scored on an RBI groundout by sophomore Frank Maldonado to tie the game, 1-1.

Kowalczyk drove LeBlanc home with an RBI single in the top of the fourth, then Maldonado brought the senior home again, this time with an RBI triple, to give Pitt a 3-1 lead.

Virginia Tech struck back in the bottom half with the three runs on four straight singles to regain the lead.

Freshman reliever Tyler Garbee took over for starting pitcher Aaron Sandefur midway through the fourth, with a sensational performance for four-plus innings. He kept the Hokies off the board with zero after zero as the Panthers battled for the one run they needed to tie the game.

In the top of the ninth, the Panthers finally got it.

Maldonado singled to start the inning, his third hit of the game. Junior Caleb Parry bunted him over to second, then senior Aaron Schnurbusch delivered an RBI single up the middle to tie the game, 4-4.

Garbee retired the first batter he faced in the top of the ninth, but after giving up back-to-back singles, Pitt head coach Joe Jordano turned to freshman reliever and outfielder Yaya Chentouf.

Virginia Tech strung together two more singles, including the game-winner by Joe Freiday Jr., to walk off with a 5-4 victory in game one of the series.

Jordano turned to Zeuch to get the Panthers back on track in game two, but the junior right-hander fumbled early on.

Hokies center fielder Saige Jenco led off the bottom of the first with a ground rule double for the second consecutive game, then scored on a wild pitch to give Virginia Tech the early lead. Sam Fragale then led off the bottom of the second with a home run to make it 2-0.

Pitt quickly regained the lead in the third thanks to a pair of doubles from Kowalczyk and senior Ron Sherman, as well as a pair of RBI singles from Parry and freshman David Yanni. But the lead didn’t last long.

After Sherman’s throwing error tied the game in the bottom of the third and prolonged the inning, Fragale came up big again for the Hokies with a two-run single to give them a 5-3 lead.

Virginia Tech threatened to blow the game open in the bottom of the fourth, but Zeuch struck Jenco out with runners on second and third to keep things close. Maldonado led off the top of the fifth with his second triple of the series, but the Panthers failed to bring him home.

Zeuch stranded runners on second and third again in the bottom of the fifth. An RBI single from junior Nick Yarnall in the top of the sixth brought them back within a run.

Zeuch finally retired the side in the bottom of the seventh, setting the stage for Pitt’s comeback in the top of the eighth.

LeBlanc started the inning with a single, the fourth of his five hits on Saturday. Kowalczyk was hit by a pitch, then LeBlanc scored the tying run on a wild pitch after a sacrifice bunt by Yarnall. Maldonado then drove Kowalczyk home with an RBI single to give Pitt a one-run lead.

Picking up speed as the game progressed, Zeuch (4-0) shut Virginia Tech down in the eighth and ninth to finish off the 6-5 win for his first complete game of the season.

Jordano shifted his lineup around in game three on Sunday, shifting Maldonado up to the No. 2 spot and the hot-hitting LeBlanc to the No. 3 hole.

His decisionspaid off. Maldonado singled in his first at-bat, LeBlanc followed with a walk, and both scored when Kowalczyk doubled down the left field line to give the Panthers an early 2-0 lead.

Pitt added to its lead in the second when junior Jacob Wright brought Yanni home with an RBI single, then piled it on in the third.

Kowalczyk led off the inning with a double, then Yarnall followed with a two-run homer. The Panthers scored three more runs in the third to take a commanding 8-0 lead.

Starting pitcher Josh Falk cruised through the first three innings, but the Hokies finally got on the board with three runs in the bottom of the fourth. Reliever Garrett Wrambel replaced the junior and stranded a pair of runners after Falk gave up a double to start the fifth.

Wrambel matched Garbee’s performance Friday, pitching four innings of no-hit ball before finally giving up a double in the bottom of the ninth. The senior recovered with a strikeout and groundout to cap off five scoreless innings of relief in the 8-3 win.

Pitt concludes its road trip on Wednesday against the Youngstown State Penguins in Youngstown, Ohio, at 5:30 p.m.

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Pitt baseball brings down Virginia Tech on the road