Pitt baseball battles back against Blue Devils


Senior Josh Falk pitched brilliantly Sunday, giving up just one run over eight innings. Anna Bongardino | Staff Photographer

The Pitt baseball team seemed in for a long weekend after suffering a 14-0 blowout in the series opener against Duke Friday. But thanks to an extra inning comeback and an excellent performance from senior pitcher Josh Falk, the Panthers took two of three from the Blue Devils.

“I was very pleased with all aspects of the past two days,” head coach Joe Jordano said in a press release. “After taking a very tough loss, we ignored it and came back to win a hard-fought extra-inning game to even the series and came out today and played very well to take the series. Any time you can win a series on the road is a plus.”

With the weekend tilt, the Panthers (13-12, 6-6 ACC) clawed their way back above .500 and ahead of Duke (16-15, 5-7 ACC) in Coastal Division standings.

Game one

While the team eventually left Durham on a high note, the Panthers could not have gotten off to a worse start as the Duke Blue Devils trounced Pitt to the tune of 14-0 Friday.

The Panthers were unable to get anything going offensively, as the team compiled only four hits that day. The Blue Devil pitchers did a good job of scattering those knocks, as no Panther runner was able to advance past second base.

Redshirt junior pitcher Matt Pidich took the mound for the team, and fell on hard times quickly, giving up a run in the first. But Pidich subsequently settled down over the next several innings, retiring 14 straight batters between the first and the sixth.

But his smooth sailing came to an abrupt halt in the sixth. Pidich gave up a leadoff double to Duke’s Max Miller, and received no favors from his own defense in trying to pitch his way out of the jam. Pidich gave up back-to-back errors while trying to field his position, eventually giving up four runs without recording a single out. First-year Chris Gomez came on in relief, and quickly stopped the bleeding without giving up any more runs.

The Blue Devils could have stopped the scoring there and emerged victorious. But Duke didn’t let up, pouring on nine more runs in the seventh and eighth combined. No ninth inning was needed for the Blue Devils as they came away with the 14-0 shutout.

Game two

The next day, the Panthers’ bats woke up and resurrected the team’s chances of a series victory.

In a 10-inning thriller, Pitt battled back from a late three-run deficit, eventually gaining the victory over the Blue Devils by a score of 9-8.

Pitt got off to a hot start in the second inning by stringing together four hits. First-year Alex Amos opened the scoring with an RBI, but redshirt senior Jacob Wright broke the inning open with a two-run double to give the Panthers a 3-0 lead. Sophomore Yaya Chentouf added one more on a single before the inning ended to give the Panthers a four-run cushion.

Duke struck back in the bottom of the inning with a two-run home run by Kennie Taylor, but the Panther tacked on one more in the top of the third, courtesy of a sacrifice bunt by senior Manny Pazos.

The Blue Devils exploded in the bottom of the third, scoring six runs off four hits to give Duke a 8-5 lead. However, the team was unable to add any more offense in the game, opening the door for the Panthers.

The team started to claw its way back in the fifth with a solo blast by junior Nick Banman. Then, in the seventh Amos came home on a throwing error from the Duke shortstop, trimming the Blue Devil lead to one. In the bottom of the ninth, first-year Nico Popa hit a single up the middle, plating junior Kaylor Kulina and knotting the score at eight apiece.

In the top of the 10th, senior PJ DeMeo came to the plate with one out and runners on the corners. He rolled a grounder over to the shortstop, but was able to leg out the infield hit, giving the Panthers a one-run advantage.

That was all the team needed, as junior Isaac Mattson retired all three batters he faced in his second inning of work to complete the comeback and give Pitt the 9-8 win.

Game three

The Panthers couldn’t have asked for a better starting pitching performance from Falk, whose mastery from the mound figured heavily in Pitt’s win in the rubber match.

He began his outing perfectly, retiring the first 11 Blue Devils he faced before giving up a two-out walk in the fourth. He promptly struck out the next Duke batter to end the inning, then continued his no-hit bid into the fifth.

While no longer chasing the rare accomplishment of giving up no hits, Falk continued to shine, holding the Blue Devils scoreless in the sixth and seventh innings. His only blemish came in the eighth, when he gave up a pinch-hit RBI double to Peter Zyla.

In the end, Falk finished the day giving up just one run on two hits, while walking three. He helped out his own stat line, with the performance lowering his season ERA to an ultra-low 2.25 mark.

The Panthers’ offense gave Falk the run support he’s looked for all season — and then some.

After being held scoreless for four full innings, Pitt took the lead in the fifth off of a three-run bomb from Wright. The Panthers tacked on three more runs off of hits from DeMeo, Pazos and Popa, giving Pitt a 6-0 advantage.

Chentouf came on in relief to start the ninth, but struggled with his command and only managed to get one out while allowing a run. Rather than risk it, senior Sam Mersing came in to close the door. He retired two batters in a row to clinch the win — and the series — for the Panthers.

The Panthers will host rival Penn State at home this Tuesday at 6 p.m.

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