Kayla Harris carves up Kent State in 7-0 shutout


Cleanup hitter Giorgiana Zeremenko slugged a pair of home runs Wednesday in Pitt’s home-opening 7-0 win over Kent State. Kyleen Considine | Staff Photographer

History nearly repeated itself Wednesday afternoon at the Pitt softball team’s 2017 home opener at Vartabedian Field.

Junior pitcher Kayla Harris came five outs away from tossing her second perfect game in less than a month, but instead had to settle for a one-hit shutout in Pitt’s 7-0 win over the Kent State Golden Flashes (8-14). The Panthers (15-11 overall, 0-6 ACC) snapped a six-game losing streak with the much-needed victory.

Pitt head coach Holly Aprile admitted the possibility of coaching Harris through her second perfect game of the season crossed her mind sometime around the sixth inning.

“It did, it actually did. But I know how hard it is to do that,” Aprile said. “So somebody just getting like that bloop single, it’s so hard to achieve that. Either way, she pitched a terrific game.”

Despite narrowly missing out on another brush with perfection, Harris left the field satisfied with her dominant showing.

“I went out there and did my thing. My defense was behind me, I trusted my pitches and now I feel confident going into the weekend,” Harris said, referring to the team’s upcoming series against Boston College.

Harris took the circle for Pitt in near-freezing temperatures and calmly put up a 1-2-3 inning in the top of the first. After scoring only 11 runs over the course of their six-game skid, the Panthers then exploded out of their offensive slump with four runs in the bottom of the first.

First-year left fielder Hannah Edwards led off the inning with a drag bunt, then immediately stole second base. After sophomore third baseman Olivia Gray walked, junior shortstop McKayla Taylor brought her home with a long single off the right field wall.

Junior cleanup hitter Giorgiana Zeremenko followed with a two-run double off the center field wall, then senior first baseman Kaitlin Manuel added an RBI single to cap off the four-run inning.

Two innings later, Zeremenko — who slugged a team-record 17 home runs last season — belted her fourth homer of the year over the wall in right-center field to give Pitt a 5-0 lead.

“It definitely feels good to be back at home, being on the home field, having our fans, our whole entire support system here,” Zeremenko said.

Zeremenko continued to torment the Golden Flashes in her third plate appearance, launching her second homer of the game over the left-center field wall to make it a 6-0 Panthers lead in the bottom of the fifth. Aprile said Zeremenko has made some adjustments to her swing to help her return to form.

“Specifically [she’s been] working on striding toward the pitcher. She has a tendency to step out,” Aprile said. “That is keeping her in line, gets her more on time, gets her foot down on time.”

Meanwhile, Harris continued to cruise, making it through the first five innings without allowing a single Kent State batter to reach base. Manuel did her best to keep the perfect game intact with a defensive gem, making a diving stop at first base and flipping the ball to Harris for the first out in the top of the sixth.

But Harris’ perfect run ended in the Golden’ Flashes’ next at-bat when catcher Nicole Teefy blooped a single into right field, just past the outstretched glove of Pitt second baseman Alexis Solak.

After the game, Harris said she wasn’t even aware how close she was to another perfect game.

“Through the first five innings, I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Harris said. “Honestly, after that one hit happened, I looked at the scoreboard, I saw one hit, and I was like, ‘Oh.’ I didn’t even know what was going on. I just continued to throw my pitches and did what I did.”

Harris escaped the inning unscathed, and the Panthers tacked onto their lead in the bottom half.

Sophomore Taylor Myers pinch-ran for fellow sophomore Gabrielle Fredericks after a leadoff single in the bottom of the sixth, then Myers came home to score when Gray grounded into a double play.

Pitt took a 7-0 lead into the top of the seventh, and Harris came back to the mound looking to finish off her second shutout of the season. Taylor turned a perfect double play on a hard-hit ball to short, then Harris struck outfielder Bailey Brownfield out to end the game.

The Panthers will begin their first home ACC series 3 p.m. Friday against the Boston College Eagles at Vartabedian Field, looking for their first conference win of 2017.

Harris wasn’t shy about offering predictions for the upcoming series after her near-perfect performance.

“I think if we just take this energy going into the weekend and play exactly how we played today, we’ll sweep Boston College,” Harris said.