Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer
Pitt baseball continued its red-hot start to the season over the weekend, sweeping its quartet of matchups against Lehigh and Central Connecticut State in the RussMatt Central Florida Invitational in Sanford, Florida. With the wins, Pitt improved its record to 10-1, good for its best start since 2002 and first-place in the ACC Coastal division.
Game 1 vs. Lehigh
Prior to the weekend, Pitt’s offense had averaged seven runs per game, led by four double-digit outbursts, en route to the team’s best start since 2017. That trend of offensive prowess continued and then some in Sanford, beginning on Friday against the Mountain Hawks. A six-run seventh inning headlined yet another offensive explosion for Pitt, which bested Lehigh by a final of 15-4.
Both offenses got off to a slow start before Pitt broke the scoreless tie in the fourth inning. Sophomore Sky Duff followed a run-plating balk by Lehigh pitcher Cam Van Hoorebeke with a two-run home run, stretching Pitt’s lead to 3-0.
That advantage was all Pitt starter junior Chris Cappas would need. Cappas threw five scoreless innings, giving up one hit and striking out a career-high nine batters to earn his first victory of 2020.
A sixth-inning solo home run by junior Samuel Frontino built on Pitt’s lead before Lehigh responded with two runs of its own in the seventh. Pitt’s six-run rally put the game out of reach in the bottom half, capped off by a two-run double by junior catcher Riley Wash. Pitt continued to pile it on during its next inning on offense, slowly scoring five insurance runs on a double by sophomore Kyle Hess and four consecutive walks.
Lehigh could only muster a pair of scores in the final frame and Pitt secured the win.
Game 2 vs. Central Connecticut State
Pitt played its only close game of the weekend on Friday night, edging out Central Connecticut State 7-5. A two-run fourth-inning homer by junior Bryce Hulett gave the Panthers an early lead before a subsequent three spot by the Blue Devils thrust Pitt into its first deficit of the weekend. Hulett continued to produce later on, highlighted by a run-scoring single in the sixth to re-tie the game.
Central Connecticut State scored two runs to reclaim the lead in the seventh, but Pitt made sure their advantage was short-lived. A bases-loaded balk allowed Duff to score and cut the lead to one, before junior Ron Washington, Jr. crushed a go-ahead three-run home run.
Redshirt junior reliever Grant Powell was able to preserve the lead, throwing 2.2 innings of shutout ball to lock down the win. He was preceded by sophomore Billy Corcoran, who pitched the first 6.1 innings and allowed four earned runs, five hits and three walks with nine strikeouts.
Game 3 vs. Lehigh
Pitt blew out the Mountain Hawks in their second meeting of the weekend, so much so that both teams decided to end the contest after seven innings. Saturday’s drubbing ended with a lopsided 10-0 score.
Pitt’s pitching staff limited Lehigh to one hit, led by starter Mitch Myers who threw six innings with a season-high 10 strikeouts. No Pitt pitcher had struck out double-digit batters in 2020 prior to Saturday’s game.
Hess stole the show on offense, falling just a single shy of the cycle. Hess gave Pitt a 1-0 lead by smashing a home run in the second inning, and recorded a two-run double in the next inning to push the lead to three. Hulett followed with a two RBI double of his own just minutes later.
Hess was not done there. He plated three runs for the third straight inning on a bases-clearing triple in the fourth and doubled in the fifth before being driven in by first-year Nick Vera.
Sophomore Mason Ronan relieved Myers in the seventh, striking out the side to cement Pitt’s forfeited victory.
Game 4 vs. Central Connecticut State
Pitt wrapped up the weekend with another blowout win, its eighth straight triumph, this time topping Central Connecticut State 14-2.
Junior starting pitcher Matt Gilbertson turned in his third consecutive dominant start, scattering three hits over five scoreless innings while striking out seven. Gilbertson, a junior college transfer, is yet to allow an earned run as a Panther. First-year Adam Bloebaum struggled in relief, giving up two runs while recording only one out in the sixth, before being relieved by sophomore C.J. McKennitt. McKennit and junior Chase Smith combined to record the game’s final five outs before Central Connecticut State, like Lehigh, forfeited in the seventh.
Pitt’s offense put the game out of reach by scoring 13 runs over the fourth and fifth innings. Wash burst open the floodgates with a two-run home run in the fourth, followed by run-scoring knocks by Duff, Popa and Hess. In the fifth, three consecutive walks all lead to runs, and the rally was punctuated by a three-run double from Washington, Jr.
Pitt’s next game is set for Tuesday, when it’ll host Youngstown State in the home opener. First pitch is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.