Pitt baseball swept by No. 4 Louisville to open up ACC play


The Pitt baseball team suffered a three-game sweep against the No. 4 Louisville Cardinals to open conference play. TPN File Photo

The Pitt baseball team had its first run-in of 2017 with a ranked opponent last weekend. The Panthers pitched well, but appeared completely overmatched at the plate and failed to pick up a win against the No. 4 Louisville Cardinals.

Pitt (7-7 overall, 0-3 ACC) opened up ACC play by suffering a three-game sweep against the undefeated Cardinals (15-0 overall, 3-0 ACC) in Louisville, Kentucky. The Panthers scored a total of three runs in the three games, getting shutout 3-0 Friday, before losing 8-2 Saturday and 3-1 Sunday.

“It was a very challenging weekend for us,” Pitt head coach Joe Jordano said Sunday in a press release. “Runs for us are at a premium right now and we did not convert on any of our opportunities early, especially today.”

Game one

Cardinals two-way star Brendan McKay — a pitcher and first baseman who can pitch, hit and play the field — carved up the Panthers’ bats on the mound and contributed with his own bat at the plate in Louisville’s game one win Friday night.

A junior out of Blackhawk High School about 45 minutes outside Pittsburgh, McKay is one of the best players in the NCAA. Along with being a first-team All-American in each of his first two seasons, he is also a two-time recipient of the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year Award.

McKay struck out 15 batters Friday over seven scoreless innings of work, allowing only three baserunners on a pair of hits and a walk. He also batted in the cleanup spot and delivered a sacrifice fly to help his own cause in the 3-0 win, improving his record to 3-0 on the season.

“We had six freshmen play in the game today, and when you face a future first rounder like Brendan McKay, it’s a tough task,” Jordano said Friday in a press release. “We have to continue to make adjustments and keep getting better each day.”

The Cardinals got on the board first with two runs in the bottom of the first, starting with McKay’s sacrifice fly. Louisville first baseman Drew Ellis followed with an RBI single to make it 2-0, and outfielder Colin Lyman added an RBI single in the bottom of the third to complete the scoring.

McKay didn’t allow a hit until Pitt redshirt junior Frank Maldonado singled up the middle with one out in the fourth inning. McKay then struck the next two batters out to strand Maldonado, giving him 10 strikeouts through the first four innings.

Redshirt junior left-hander Josh Mitchell was solid for the Panthers, giving up two earned runs over 4 2/3 innings. Pitt’s bullpen kept the game close with 3 1/3 shutout innings, but the Panthers couldn’t get on the board.

“In the ACC, the margin of error is even finer, and Josh [Mitchell] battled today and got out of some tough situations,” Jordano said Friday in the press release. “The bullpen did another solid job as well. Obviously we are struggling at the plate, but we did have a couple opportunities to score, but we did not convert.”

Game two

Pitt scored its first two runs of conference play in game two Saturday, but those runs came with the game already well out of reach, as the Cardinals scored in each of the first three innings.

Towering righty Kade McClure got the start for Louisville and nearly matched McKay’s output from Friday night. The 6-foot-7 hurler fired six scoreless innings, giving up four hits and two walks while striking out six.

Redshirt junior Matt Pidich got the start for the Panthers, allowing five runs on eight hits over four innings.

“Today was a tough game that didn’t go our way,” Jordano said Saturday in a press release. “Matt [Pidich] struggled a little bit with his command, especially with his off-speed pitches, which is critical to his game. The bullpen did a solid job and we had several opportunities to score.”

Cardinals second baseman Devin Mann started the scoring with an RBI single in the first inning, then center fielder Logan Taylor added a two-run double in the second. Another two-run double in the third from Louisville shortstop Devin Hairston put Pitt into a 5-0 hole.

The Cardinals added another run in the sixth, then a two-run homer by catcher Colby Fitch made it an 8-0 game in the bottom of the eighth inning. The Panthers avoided another shutout, scoring a pair in the ninth on a sacrifice fly by second baseman Alex Amos and RBI single by right fielder Nico Popa, but lost 8-2.

“We left nine baserunners on and did not get a run until the ninth,” Jordano said Saturday in the press release. “As I said to the team after the game, this is a challenge that we must accept and continue to work and get better each day.”

Game three

Louisville received another standout performance from its Sunday starter, first-year left-hander Nick Bennett.

The 6-foot-4 hurler tossed six innings of shutout ball, allowing just two hits and one walk with four strikeouts to pick up his second win of the season. Pitt senior Josh Falk dropped to 2-2 after giving up three runs on three hits over 5 2/3 innings.

Falk and Bennett cruised through the first three innings, then the Cardinals got on the board on Hairston’s fielder’s choice in the bottom of the fourth.

First-year righty R.J. Freure relieved Falk with runners on second and third in the bottom of the sixth, but couldn’t strand the runners. Louisville left fielder Josh Stowers delivered a two-run single to make it a 3-0 Cardinals lead.

Again, the Panthers couldn’t score until the ninth inning. Junior third baseman Nick Banman came through with a two-out RBI single to make it 3-1, bringing designated hitter Alex Griffith to the plate representing the tying run.

Griffith struck out swinging to end the game and clinch the series sweep for Louisville.

“Louisville is the No. 4 team in the country for a reason. They can pitch, play defense and get timely hits,” Jordano said Sunday in the press release. “I believe we matched them on the mound and defensively, but we could not generate nearly enough offense.”

Pitt will welcome Saint Peter’s to the Charles L. Cost Field for a two-game series, including the team’s home opener at 3 p.m. Tuesday, March 14.