Kirschman: Remembering four years of Pitt sports

By Lauren Kirschman

To say a lot has happened in Pitt sports over the last four years would be an… To say a lot has happened in Pitt sports over the last four years would be an understatement.

During that time, the football team had a coach resign, hired a coach, fired that coach within two weeks, hired another coach, had that coach leave for another job after one season and thenhired yet another coach.

That coach is still here, by the way.

The men’s basketball team went to three straight NCAA Tournaments, stretching its streak to 10 consecutive tournament seasons before struggling this past year and ending the disappointing season with a College Basketball Invitational championship.

I’ve seen two future NBA players take the floor at the Petersen Events Center. Those two players, Sam Young and DeJuan Blair, along with point guard Levance Fields, led the best Pitt team in recent memory to the Elite Eight during my freshman year.

Young might have been the best player in college basketball that season. That team might have been the best in the country.

But Scottie Reynolds and Villanova ended the national title hopes of Young and the Panthers with a last-second layup that sent the Wildcats to the Final Four. It’s a shot that will stick in the minds of Pitt fans forever — and not in a good way.

There have been a few of those disappointing moments, haven’t there?

In 2009, the football team blew a three-touchdown lead in a 45-44 loss to Cincinnati that cost Pitt a Big East Championship and a trip to a BCS game. A botched hold on an extra point ended up being the difference in a classic game that, while painful for Pitt fans to remember, is still one of the best games ever to be played at Heinz Field.

Then there was the shock dealt by the men’s basketball team when the Panthers fell to Butler in the third round of the NCAA Tournament last season. The game’s bizarre ending sent fans through emotions of heartbreak, elation and then devastation in a matter of minutes.

But to have heartbreak, there has to be hope — the teams and the players have to be good. And they have been, for the most part.

The men’s basketball team has been one of the most consistent teams in the country over the last decade, save a down year this season. I’ve witnessed plenty of games that I know I’ll never forget — the triple-overtime victory over West Virginia in 2010, the comeback win against Louisville that same year and Ashton Gibbs’ buzzer-beater to beat Providence, also that season, all come to mind.

There was Pitt jumping out to a 19-0 lead against Syracuse in a battle between top-five teams at the Pete in 2011. The Orange fought back with a 17-0 run of their own, but it was the Panthers that came out on top. The Oakland Zoo came out in full force for that game, and I can still remember the tables of the media section shaking when Syracuse called an early timeout in an attempt to stifle the Panthers’ offense.

There are very few players I enjoyed watching more than Young. I also think there are very few athletes that played harder than him. And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Blair and his performances in a pair of wins against Connecticut in 2009. I can remember watching him flip Hasheem Thabeet over his shoulder during my freshman year. He finished that game with 22 points and 23 rebounds — and he might have never stopped smiling.

The football team provided memorable moments and players as well, most notably at the running back position. Pitt fans have watched LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis and now Ray Graham bust through Big East defenses and leave their mark on Pitt athletics. Each of those players was one of the best offensive performers in the Big East — and in the country — during their time as Panthers. Defensively, fans have watched Jabaal Sheard, Greg Romeus and now Aaron Donald consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks.

In 2008, Pitt used four overtimes to defeat Notre Dame on the Irish’s home field. It’s probably the football game I’ll remember most vividly from my time at Pitt. The Panthers tied the game in regulation’s final seconds on a pass from quarterback Pat Bostick to wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin. Pitt ran the same play three times before completing the pass.

Conor Lee kicked the game-winning field goal, and McCoy ran for 169 yards and a touchdown.

While the women’s basketball team has struggled recently, the Panthers went to their second consecutive Sweet 16 during the 2008-2009 season, beating Gonzaga and Montana before falling to Oklahoma. The future looks bright for the team — which didn’t win a Big East game this season — as the Panthers brought in a nationally ranked recruiting class last year and will welcome another solid group of newcomers next year, led by 6-foot-11 Marvadene “Bubbles” Anderson.

And of course there’s the wrestling team, which won three consecutive Eastern Wrestling League titles in my four years. The baseball, softball and both soccer teams got a new home at the Petersen Sports Complex. The baseball team also set a school record in 2011 when six Panthers were taken in the Major League Baseball draft.

I don’t know where I’ll be next year, but I know that Pitt fans will enjoy watching the men’s basketball team’s top-15 incoming recruiting class take the floor at the Petersen Events Center. And maybe new head coach Paul Chryst will propel the football team back to the top of the Big East.

Whatever the case, I know I’ll be watching from somewhere. And I know that I’ll miss it.