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Pitt baseball drops series against Wake Forest

Senior+catcher+Manny+Pazos+scored+the+winning+run+in+Pitt%27s+5-4+win+over+Wake+Forest+Friday.+Anna+Bongardino+%7C+Visual+Editor
Senior catcher Manny Pazos scored the winning run in Pitt's 5-4 win over Wake Forest Friday. Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor

Senior catcher Manny Pazos scored the winning run in Pitt's 5-4 win over Wake Forest Friday. Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor

Senior catcher Manny Pazos scored the winning run in Pitt's 5-4 win over Wake Forest Friday. Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor

By Kevin Bertha | Staff Writer

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Heading into its weekend series against the No. 20 Wake Forest Demon Deacons, the Pitt baseball team was right on the bubble of the ACC Tournament. But the Panthers were only able to come away with one win, failing to make the cut for the fourth consecutive year.

Pitt (23-30, 9-21 ACC) got off to a strong start in each of the weekend’s games but lost the early leads in all three. A late Wake Forest (38-17, 19-11 ACC) collapse gave Pitt the win Friday, but it wasn’t the case Thursday and Saturday, with the Demon Deacons winning the series two games to one.

Game one

The Panthers were competitive in the first game of the weekend, but a four-run second inning from the Demon Deacons proved to be too much for them to overcome, losing 7-4.

Pitt got off to a fast start, scoring two runs in the first inning. Redshirt senior outfielder Jacob Wright led off with a triple, and first-year infielder Alex Amos smacked a single to bring him home one batter later. After a pop-up by redshirt junior Caleb Parry, Amos scored on a double by redshirt junior Frank Maldonado to put the Panthers up 2-0.

The Demon Deacons answered in the second with a four-run inning to take two-run lead of their own. Redshirt junior starter Josh Mitchell struggled with control in the inning, giving up two walks and a single to load the bases with one out.

Jordano immediately replaced Mitchell with first-year right-hander Dan Hammer, but he struggled as well, hitting two batters and throwing a wild pitch. He got out of the inning on a groundout by junior Stuart Fairchild, but not before Wake Forest took a 4-2 advantage.

Pitt battled back in the top of the third with a two-run home run from junior Nick Banman, tying the game at four. The Demon Deacons quickly retook the lead in the bottom of the inning, going up one on a solo shot by senior catcher Ben Breazeale.

Over the next three innings, the Panthers pitchers put out nine straight batters, but Pitt’s offence was unable to get much of anything going, and the score remained 5-4 at the end of the sixth.

In the seventh, Wake Forest extended its lead to 6-4 on an RBI single by Fairchild off first-year pitcher RJ Freure. The lead grew to three in the eighth on a single by senior Jonathan Pryor, and the Panthers were unable to mount a comeback in the ninth and the Demon Deacons took the opening game 7-4.

Game two

Pitt trailed for most the the game Friday, but a Demon Deacons collapse in the ninth inning allowed the Panthers to steal a 5-4 win and even the series at a game apiece.

The Panthers scored first, going up 2-0 in the first inning on one-out a home run by Parry, scoring Amos. Wake Forest cut the lead in half one inning later, with sophomore Johnny Aiello hitting a home run off Pitt senior Josh Falk.

In the bottom of the fourth, a Wake Forest leadoff home run by junior Gavin Sheets tied the game at two. With runners on first and third, Falk gave up a run on a balk and allowed another before junior Isaac Mattson came on in relief and escaped the inning. Going into the fifth inning, Wake Forest had grabbed a 4-2 lead.

After a scoreless fifth, the Panthers cut the deficit to one in the top of the sixth when Parry singled to left, bringing home Wright. Each team came up empty in the seventh and eighth, and the Demon Deacons had a 4-3 lead with the Panthers down to their final three outs.

Maldonado was hit by a pitch to start the inning, and senior catcher Manny Pazos followed with a single to put runners at first and second with no outs. The runners each advanced one batter later on a throwing error by sophomore catcher Logan Harvey.

Banman brought Maldonado home with a groundout, tying the game at four before Pazos scored the go-ahead run on another throwing error to give Pitt a 5-4 lead. The inning came to an end shortly later, and senior pitcher Sam Mersing had a dominant ninth inning, striking out the side to seal the victory for Pitt.

Game three

The Panthers started strong again on Saturday but couldn’t come up with the win due to a fifth-inning explosion by the Demon Deacons’ offense.

Wright led off the game for the Panthers and immediately put them in the lead with a solo home run down the right field line. Amos followed with a single of his own, and Maldonado brought him in two batters later with a triple to right center. Pazos laid down a sacrifice bunt to score Maldonado, and Pitt was up 3-0 after the first.

Hammer also started the game well, pitching two clean innings, but Wake Forest answered in the third. They scored three unearned runs in the frame, capitalizing on an error by freshman right fielder Nico Popa to tie the game.

Pitt threatened to retake the lead in the top of the fourth, but Parry and Maldonado struck out with the bases loaded to keep the game knotted at three.

Redshirt junior pitcher Matt Pidich came on in relief for the Panthers in the bottom of the fourth, but after a strong first inning, things fell apart in the fifth.

He gave up three consecutive singles to start the frame, but it was only the beginning of the Demon Deacons nine-run onslaught. The inning was highlighted by a grand slam from junior Keegan Maronpot with one out. Jordano had to use four pitchers to get out of the inning, and by that point, the game was practically over with Wake Forest up 12-3.

Each team scored one in the sixth, with the Panthers scoring on a home run by Parry and the Demon Deacons answering with another home run from Maronpot.

Pitt made some noise in the top of the eighth as Chentouf started the inning with a double off of the top of the left field wall. Following a groundout by Popa, Wright and Amos drew consecutive walks to load the bases with one out. Parry was unable to drive them in, grounding into a double play to strand each of the runners.

Wake Forest added one more in the bottom of the inning on two hits and a walk, going up 14-4. Pitt loaded the bases in the top of the ninth following two singles and a walk but stranded all three baserunners, losing the game and the series and missing out on the ACC Tournament.

Still, it had to be somewhat encouraging for head coach Joe Jordano to see his team get a top-25 win, as the team came in with a six-game conference losing streak. The team was also young this season, and plenty of underclassmen got experience which will be valuable next season.

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Pitt baseball drops series against Wake Forest