WVU beats Pitt, 10-4, splits season series


Senior Matt Johnson (5) started his final game as a Pitt Panther on Sunday. Ian Flanagan | Contributing Editor

By Steve Rotstein / Sports Editor

Pitt and West Virginia University’s football teams haven’t faced each other in the Backyard Brawl since 2011, but the baseball rivals met on the diamond at Charles L. Cost Field Tuesday night.

The Pitt baseball team ran into the red-hot WVU Mountaineers (32-19 overall), who pulled away from the Panthers (25-24 overall, 10-16 ACC) late to win their 10th game in a row, 10-4.

Pitt head coach Joe Jordano was disappointed with his team’s effort, but commended its opponent.

“Credit goes to West Virginia,” Jordano said. “They swung the bats extremely well today, they pitched well and minimized and did everything that they had to do to win.”

Junior starting pitcher Sam Mersing took the mound for Pitt looking to replicate his performance earlier this season in Granville, West Virginia.

Mersing –– who tossed six scoreless innings in a 4-1 win against the Mountaineers on April 12 –– started strong, pitching a 1-2-3 top of the first inning. In the second inning, WVU’s bats figured him out.

First-year cleanup hitter Ivan Vera lined a triple to right-center to lead off the top of the second. Junior Jackson Cramer followed with an RBI double to left-center to give the Mountaineers an early 1-0 lead, then a single and a walk loaded the bases with nobody out.

WVU brought home two more runs on a sacrifice fly and a bunt single to take a 3-0 lead before the inning was over.

First-year starting pitcher Braden Zarbnisky cruised through the first two innings for the Mountaineers before sophomore Kyle Davis led off the top of the third with a solo home run, extending WVU’s lead to 4-0.

Pitt’s offense found a spark in the bottom of the third after Zarbnisky spotted the team three base runners.

The Mountaineers starter issued a pair of walks and a hit-by-pitch to load the bases for the Panthers. Senior Alex Kowalczyk lined a two-out, bases-clearing double down the line in left, then sophomore Frank Maldonado brought him home with an RBI single to tie the game.

Zarbnisky helped his own cause in the top of the fourth, bunting home first-year shortstop Jimmy Galusky to put WVU back on top, 5-4.

First-year reliever Tyler Garbee replaced Mersing out of the bullpen with two outs in the fourth and Kowalczyk immediately nailed Davis trying to steal second to end the inning.

First-year second baseman Kyle Gray reached base for the Mountaineers with a perfect bunt in the top of the sixth, but Kowalczyk shut down his attempt to steal as well.

“I was telling Garbee, just keep doing what you’re doing, you can’t control stuff like that,” Kowalczyk said.

Garbee kept rolling, putting up three consecutive zeroes to keep Pitt within a run.

In the bottom of the seventh, Kowalczyk again stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. This time, WVU reliever BJ Myers got him to ground into a fielder’s choice to protect the Mountaineers’ one-run lead.

WVU catcher Ray Guerrini led off the top of the eighth with a solo home run before the Mountaineers added four more runs off Garbee in the ninth to make it 10-4.

“That one home run was low and in, I don’t know how that guy got that,” Kowalczyk said. “But it’s tough. Sometimes they hit you around.”

The Panthers were unable to mount a comeback, settling for a split of the season series with WVU after the 10-4 loss. They still have a chance to make the ACC tournament, but will have no room for error in their final regular season series against the Duke Blue Devils.

“We’ve got to go one pitch at a time,” Garbee said. “We know what we have to do, but you really can’t think too much about it.”

Pitt will host Duke for the first of a three-game series to wrap up the regular season on Thursday, May 19, at 6 p.m.

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