Pitt baseball swept by defending champion Virginia

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Pitt baseball swept by defending champion Virginia

Josh Falk helped lead Pitt to a series victory at Notre Dame.  Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

Josh Falk helped lead Pitt to a series victory at Notre Dame. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

Josh Falk helped lead Pitt to a series victory at Notre Dame. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

Josh Falk helped lead Pitt to a series victory at Notre Dame. Matt Hawley | Staff Photographer

By Steve Rotstein / Sports Editor

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The Pitt baseball team had its six-game winning streak snapped against the reigning College World Series champion Virginia Cavaliers on Saturday afternoon.

The home series began with a doubleheader on Saturday. No. 20 Virginia (30-17 overall, 14-10 ACC) took game one of the series by a 5-1 score, then stunned Pitt (21-17 overall, 8-12 ACC) with a late rally to win game two, 7-6. The Cavaliers won game three on Sunday, 9-1, to complete the series sweep.

Pitt head coach Joe Jordano had nothing but good things to say about Virginia’s ballclub after the game Sunday.

“They’re great. When you win the national championship … and you put yourself in a position to win every day, their players believe it,” Jordano said. “They take the field knowing that they’re going to have an opportunity to win, and that’s a testament to Coach O’Connor and his staff.”

The first game of the Saturday doubleheader featured a battle of aces. Undefeated junior T.J. Zeuch — ranked the No. 41 prospect for the 2016 MLB Draft in MLB.com’s latest top 100 — got the call to start the series for the Panthers. Zeuch was up against Cavaliers starter Connor Jones, ranked No. 15 in the top 100.

Both justified their lofty rankings by posting zeroes over the first three innings.

Junior catcher Matt Thaiss, No. 33 in the top 100, led off the fourth with a single for Virginia.

After a walk, dual threat pitcher/outfielder Adam Haseley doubled to center to bring home the first two runs of the game. An error by first baseman Caleb Parry allowed Haseley to score before the inning was over.

Jones shut the Panthers out for the first eight innings, allowing only five baserunners in the process, then came out to finish the job in the bottom of the ninth.

Sophomore Frank Maldonado scored Pitt’s first run of the game on an RBI single, but Jones induced a double play to end the game and cap off the 5-1 victory for the Cavaliers.

Jones (9-1) finished with four hits and one run allowed in the complete game victory. Zeuch (5-1) went seven strong innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits in his first loss of the season.

Looking back on Sunday, Zeuch said he relished the opportunity to compete against another elite arm.

“I loved it … I love pitching against that caliber of competition,” Zeuch said. “In those games, it’s usually the guy who makes the first mistake that ends up losing. Unfortunately yesterday I made one bad pitch and they took advantage of it.”

Game two turned out to be a thrilling back-and-forth affair, but it looked like Virginia might blow the game open in the top of the first.

Senior right-hander Aaron Sandefur took the mound for Pitt on Saturday evening and let up five runs on five hits before catcher Manny Pazos threw out Nate Eikhoff at second base for the third out.

The Panthers began chipping away in the bottom of the second. Senior Alex Kowalczyk led off the inning with a single and advanced to third on a double by first-year second baseman David Yanni.

Maldonado brought Kowalczyk home with an RBI single and first-year pitcher/outfielder Yaya Chentouf drove Yanni home with a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to three. Meanwhile, Sandefur found a groove after the first inning and kept Pitt within striking distance.

Sophomore Charles LeBlanc blasted a two-run home run to left in the bottom of the fifth, his second homer of the season. After being down five, it was a one run game.

In the sixth, junior Nick Yarnall drew a bases-loaded walk to give the Panthers a 6-5 lead.

Sandefur tossed six consecutive scoreless innings after the five-run first. But after giving up a one-out walk and single in the top of the eighth, Jordano pulled him for reliever Josh Falk, who stranded the runners to keep the Panthers’ 6-5 lead intact.

Jordano turned to Chentouf with one out and two runners on in the top of the ninth.

A fielder’s choice put runners on first and third with two outs and Pitt clinging to a one-run lead, then junior Justin Novak delivered in the clutch for the Cavaliers, smacking a two-run double to give Virginia the lead.

Senior Ron Sherman reached second base on an error to start the bottom of the ninth. Despite having the tying run in scoring position with nobody out, the Panthers were unable to bring him home as they dropped game two of the doubleheader, 7-6.

Falk started game three for Pitt after pitching out of the bullpen in game two, while Haseley took the hill for the Cavaliers after playing center field in both games on Saturday.

Haseley, who entered the game with a team-leading 1.56 earned run average, remained in the lineup to bat sixth. He pitched eight shutout innings to improve to 7-2 on the season, and earned some respect from Pitt’s star pitcher in the process.

“Being a two-way guy, it’s a really difficult thing to do in college, so I tip my cap to him,” Zeuch said. “Being able to do that and play center field and hit as well as he does, as well as throw as many strikes as he does on the mound.”

A sacrifice fly by Thaiss gave Virginia the early lead, then Haseley stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out.

Looking to help his own cause, Haseley lifted an 0-2 pitch to foul territory in left field. But Yarnall made the catch, turned and fired a strike home to save a run with an inning-ending double play.

Reliever Isaac Mattson came out of the bullpen in the third inning with runners on first and third and nobody out and Pitt down four. The sophomore recorded a double play and groundout to end the inning, but Virginia had taken a commanding five run lead.

The Cavaliers continued to pile onto their lead. When Pitt finally got on the board in the bottom of the ninth, it was too late. The Cavaliers won game three 9-1 to sweep the series.

“I don’t want to make an excuse at all, but we had a lot of hard-hit balls yesterday in the second game, and today we did [too],” Yarnall said. “I mean, it’s just the way that baseball is.”

Pitt will host Maryland Eastern Shore at Charles L. Cost Field for the first of a two-game series on Tuesday, May 3 at 6 p.m.

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