Softball team secures first ACC championship in program history


The Panthers earned their first ACC softball championship with a victory Friday against Louisville. (Photo via Pitt Athletics)

The Pitt softball team earned a crucial 9-8 victory over Louisville Friday afternoon to clinch first place in the ACC Coastal Division — marking the team’s first division championship in its 20-year history. The Panthers then took a victory lap on Saturday with a 10-2 win in their second game against Louisville.

“Going in, it’s just projections. What you show up and do is what counts,” head coach Holly Aprile said after Friday’s game. “These guys have a lot of heart, a lot of focus, a lot of desire and they just throw it all out there on the field.”

The Panthers (30-17-1 overall, 15-6 ACC) came into their final three ACC games at Louisville with the division title in reach. Before Friday, North Carolina sat at the top of the conference with 15 ACC wins — but while the Tarheels already finished their ACC season, Pitt had three games left.

The Panthers needed just one win this weekend to tie North Carolina, which would secure the division championship — the ACC uses head-to-head tiebreakers, and Pitt beat North Carolina in two out of three games this year.

After a scoreless first inning, Louisville senior catcher Jenna Jordan earned the first point of the game on a Pitt throwing error in the second inning.

Then the Panther offense started clicking, retaliating with four runs in the bottom of the second inning. Junior second baseman Alexis Solak led off with a solo home run, followed by an RBI double from junior infielder Gabrielle Fredericks. Senior shortstop McKayla Taylor capped off the offensive explosion with a two-run homer of her own.

Junior pitcher Sarah Dawson kept the Cardinals scoreless again in the third inning while the Panthers built an imposing 7-1 lead after a three-run blast from first-year Hunter Levesque.

But Louisville refused to quit, and chipped away at the deficit with three runs in the fourth inning.

The offenses quieted down during a scoreless fifth inning, but picked up again in the sixth. Louisville sophomore Caitlin Ferguson hit a solo shot to make the score 7-5, prompting Pitt head coach Holly Aprile to replace Dawson with senior pitcher Kayla Harris. But Harris didn’t fare much better, letting in two runs as Louisville tied the game at 7-7 in the sixth inning with the Panthers at bat.

Junior third baseman Olivia Gray stepped up to the plate during this decisive moment for the Panthers. She drilled a triple into deep right field, scoring senior catcher Giorgina Zeremenko for the go-ahead run. Then, with sophomore outfielder Kaitlyn Kruger at bat, Louisville first-year pitcher Danielle Watson threw a wild pitch, giving Gray the time she need to steal home.

Louisville’s Jenna Jordan put the Panthers back on edge by leading off with her second home run of the game, cutting the deficit back to one. Aprile once again switched pitchers, this time back to Dawson. Dawson held firm, forcing a three outs over the next three batters as Pitt held on for the win — and its first division title.

“We knew what was at stake and we just wanted it so bad, and we got the job done,” Pitt senior catcher Girogina Zeremenko said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s pretty or not, a win’s a win.”

The second game of the series wasn’t nearly as close, with the Panthers blowing out the Cardinals 10-2 on Saturday afternoon to further improve their ACC record to 16-6. Senior pitcher Kayla Harris was fittingly dominant on Senior Day, recording her team-high 15th win while allowing just two runs over five innings.

Most of the Panthers’ success came during the third inning, when the Pitt offense racked up seven of its 10 runs. Taylor led the attack with a solo home run to start the inning, ending it with three runs on a double. She led the team with four RBIs for the day.

The Panthers will play one more game against Louisville on Sunday before traveling to Atlanta on Wednesday, May 9, for the four-day ACC Tournament.