Three keys to Pitt baseball’s upcoming games

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Three keys to Pitt baseball’s upcoming games

By Chris Puzia / Sports Editor

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Impending rain on Tuesday ensured that Pitt’s baseball homestand will extend unimpeded through the weekend.

The Panthers (11-19, 4-11 ACC) would have traveled to Akron for the teams’ second matchup of the year, but instead will play their next game at home on Wednesday against Youngstown State.

The last time Pitt and Akron played was March 18 in Pittsburgh, when the Panthers won 13-7. There is no plan to reschedule Tuesday’s game, according to a release. If the teams do not reschedule the game, it would mark the first time since 2008 that the teams do not play twice in a season.

With Pitt baseball continuing its homestand on Wednesday before a weekend series hosting Wake Forest, here are some storylines to look for over the Panthers’ next few games.

1. Start the game strong

Pitt has recently attempted to stage comeback efforts in its last few games, which reflects struggles from both the offense and the pitching. The Panthers only managed five runs in their last weekend series against Notre Dame, and most of those came late in the game, when the result was locked in.

For Pitt to succeed against Youngstown State and Wake Forest, the offense will have to wake up in the first few innings. On Saturday’s first game against Notre Dame, Pitt scored its lone run when senior second baseman Jordan Frabasilio hit a home run in the ninth inning, when the Panthers already trailed 8-0.

No pitcher on Youngstown State (7-17, 3-9 Horizon) has an ERA below 4.00, so Pitt will have to take advantage and score early. Penguins’ sophomore Jeremy Quinlan has made the most starts for the team with six, but he has posted only a 5.17 ERA with a 2-4 record.

2. Contain the big hitters

With several Penguins batting better than .300 this season, Pitt’s starters will have to shut them down to prevent big innings, unlike the Notre Dame series. The Fighting Irish scored four runs in the second inning of Saturday’s 7-1 win. An accumulation of hits — capped by a home run from junior infielder Lane Richards — put the Panthers in an early deficit.

Youngstown State’s biggest home run threat is sophomore Alex Larivee, who has hit three long balls this season. He also boasts a .306 batting average and nine runs batted in.

But junior outfielder Frank Califano might prove a bigger threat than Larivee. Califano bats .330 and leads the team with 32 hits.

Many of Pitt’s weekend struggles materialized when it allowed its opponents to create big scoring innings. The pitching staff must be prepared to work around Larivee and Califano to prevent the same problem on Wednesday.

3. Clean defense

Three errors do not allow seven runs on their own. But they do not help, either.

In Notre Dame’s four-run second inning in the back end of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Panthers committed two errors. Freshman shortstop Charles LeBlanc made a poor throw to second base while trying to start a double play, allowing the inning to continue and the Irish to build their lead.

Freshman pitcher Aaron Sandefur committed two errors in the game as well.

With another error in Sunday’s game, totaling four for the weekend against Notre Dame’s zero, the Panthers will need to take care of their defense, and limit scoring opportunities. By not giving Youngstown State extra outs on offense, Pitt can help its pitchers stay composed and in control of the game.

If the Panthers can strike first on offense, limit big innings and play clean defense, they could snap their current seven-game losing streak.

First pitch of Wednesday’s game is scheduled for 3 p.m. at Charles L. Cost Field.

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