Pitt baseball prevails over Penn State, 3-2


Pitt senior catcher Manny Pazos heads back to an excited dugout after scoring the go-ahead run during Pitt's 3-2 win over rival Penn State on April 4. Anna Bongardino | Staff Photographer

By Ryan Zimba | Staff Writer

In front of a crowd nearly double the usual turnout, the Pitt Panthers struck out 13 Nittany Lion batters over nine innings to beat its in-state rival.

The Panthers (14-12 overall, 6-6 ACC) came from behind to secure their win over Pennsylvania State University (10-17 overall, 0-3 Big Ten) in front of a crowd of 717 people at the Charles L. Cost Field Tuesday night. First-year pitcher RJ Freure led the group, pitching two and a third shutout innings.

“[Freure] did a great job,” head coach Joe Jordano said. “He had five strikeouts, he was throwing hard, he was throwing his breaking pitch for a strike and when he does that, he’s very effective.”

First-year pitcher Dan Hammer got the start for the Panthers and enjoyed an uneventful first inning, striking out the side in order. Penn State’s pitching mowed down the top of Pitt’s batting order in the bottom of the inning, and at the end of one frame, the game was scoreless.

Hammer struck out the first batter of the second, but Penn State got its first hit of the game with one out as senior Nick Riotto smacked a ball into center field. Riotto attempted to steal second a few pitches later, but senior catcher Manny Pazos gunned him down for the second out of the inning. After a walk issued by Hammer, the Panthers got out of the inning with a groundout by first baseman Ryan Sloniger.

The Panthers fell into in another hole in the third, as the Nittany Lions had runners on first and second after a one-out single by leadoff hitter Jordan Bowersox. Penn State senior Christian Helsel grounded into a fielder’s choice, putting the Nittany Lions’ runners on the corners.

With two outs, infielder Conlin Hughes hit a shallow fly ball into left-center field. Panther senior left fielder Jacob Wright sprinted after the ball, laying out to make a diving catch just before the ball hit the ground to keep Penn State off the board.

The Panthers threatened a score in the third as infielder Alex Amos led off with a single before first-year Nico Popa reached first on a bunt. Two batters later, the team opened the scoring as Amos crossed home on a bunt by sophomore designated hitter Yaya Chentouf. After three innings, the Panthers had a 1-0 lead.

After a scoreless fourth inning, Penn State took a one-run lead in the fifth on a pair of solo home runs from Bowersox and Helsel. Both solo shots flew over the right field fence, aided by a steady outward breeze.

“With the wind blowing like it was, both of those balls were hit hard, but on a normal day, I think they stay in the ballpark,” Jordano said. “Dan [Hammer] got behind on a couple of those hitters and hung the one-two pitch to Helsel, and he put a good swing on it, and it got out of the park.”

The Panthers went down in order in the bottom of the inning, and Penn State went scoreless in the sixth against first-year relief pitcher Chris Gomez. In the bottom of the sixth, Pitt had an opportunity to tie the game after Chentouf got to second base on a throwing error by Hughes. But the team couldn’t convert, as back-to-back groundouts ended the inning.

After coming into the game in the top of the seventh, Freure recorded two strikeouts in a one-two-three inning.

The Panthers got their chance to come back in the bottom of the frame, putting runners on second and third after a double by Pazos. Amos hit a grounder to the shortstop, who threw it to first to record the second out, but junior Nick Banman crossed the plate, tying the game.

Pazos broke for third after the throw, and Sloniger — thinking he could catch Pazos — threw the ball across the diamond. The throw sailed over the third baseman’s head, and Pazos came in to score, giving the Panthers a 3-2 lead.

“As soon as I saw the shortstop throw it [to first] kind of off-balance, I took my shot to go to third,” Pazos said. “The first baseman gave us a high throw … thank God for the high throw, and I scored.”

The Nittany Lions failed to score in the top of the eighth, as Freure had no problem with Penn State’s lineup. Pitt also went scoreless in the eighth taking their one-run lead into the ninth.

Freure recorded the first out of the ninth before Jordano decided to put in junior Isaac Mattson to finish the game. Freure’s two innings of relief were crucial for the Panthers, as the first-year struck out four and allowed only one hit, keeping the Nittany Lions from coming back. Freure attributed much of his success tonight to throwing strikes early in the count.

“Getting ahead of these guys [was important],” Freure said. “Our defense has been phenomenal all year. [I] just do my best to put the ball in play [and] let my defense play behind me.”

Mattson came through in the clutch, collecting the final out on a fly out by Bowersox as the Panthers beat their in-state rivals by a score of 3-2.

“It feels fantastic [to beat Penn State],” Freure said. “I know the rivalry through football, basketball and everything [else]. It’s just phenomenal to be able to beat them, especially tonight in front of all the fans.”

Pitt returns to ACC play this weekend as they travel to Charlottesville, Virginia, for a series against No. 25 Virginia. The Cavaliers will pose a big challenge for the Panthers’ pitchers, as the team boasts a combined .314 batting average, but Jordano said the Cavaliers’ offense is nothing out of the ordinary in the ACC.

“Duke had a batting average of over .300 as well,” Jordano said. “These teams can hit in our league … but we focus on what we do. We’re going to go in, we’re going to prepare accordingly and we’ll see how it goes.”

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