Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer
After getting off to one of the best starts to a season in Pitt baseball history, expectations were high coming into Wednesday’s home opener against Youngstown State. Instead, the visiting Penguins utilized an offensive show of force to deliver a heartbreaking 7-5 upset.
To be fair, the conditions were far from ideal for a home opener. The game, which was originally scheduled for Tuesday, was postponed an entire 24 hours due to inclement weather. Although conditions improved enough to play ball, the sky remained overcast and the chilly weather attracted a lukewarm crowd of only 215, the majority of whom were clad in Youngstown red.
“They’re an aggressive-style team, and they want to apply pressure,” head coach Mike Bell said. “Instead of controlling them, we let them control us early on. I was proud of the way our guys fought back in the middle frames to tie it back up 5-5, but it just really felt like all phases were not there today.”
Bad vibes prevailed from the get-go, with an ominous first inning that saw Pitt junior pitcher Chris Cappas strike out four batters — due to the drop third strike rule — but also load the bases with three walks. He survived the inning, only giving up one run on a wild pitch, but was quickly replaced in the second inning by senior Chris Gomez during a game where the Pitt bullpen operated as a veritable turnstile.
The chilly weather seemed to put a damper on both teams’ offenses at first, but the Penguins managed to get two runners in scoring position in the top of the fifth. Junior Jeff Wehler scored on another dropped third strike in a play where junior catcher Riley Wash dropped the return throw just in front of home plate. Shortly after, a grounder to short scored sophomore Phillip Glasser to put YSU up 3-0.
The bleeding only continued at the top of the sixth, with Wehler ripping a line drive into left field to score one. Poor defense on a bunt allowed first-year Turner Grau to score, lifting the Penguins to a 5-0 lead.
Pitt finally answered in the bottom of the inning, loading the bases with only one out. Sophomore left fielder Kyle Hess pounded a two-run double into left, and junior third baseman Samuel Frontino continued the rally with a one-run sacrifice fly to left.
The Panthers doubled down on their comeback effort in the bottom of the eighth, with redshirt senior David Yanni reaching first on a bizarrely unfielded bunt which clung to the third base foul line. Frontino also reached, and with two outs, the Panthers had two runners in scoring position. A wild pitch brought Yanni home, and a balk scored Frontino to tie the game at five apiece.
But the Penguins simply were not to be denied. After pitching two steady innings, junior pitcher Chase Young started to see his pitches get tagged in the ninth. Junior Dominick Bucko hooked a deep line-drive double to the left-field corner, then scored the go-ahead run after redshirt sophomore Padraig O’Shaughnessy faded a line drive into the right-field corner. Junior Lucas Nasonti brought the visiting crowd to its feet with a sacrifice fly to center, and the Penguins held their 7-5 lead to the end.
The disappointing loss is certain to leave an ugly taste in Pitt’s mouth going into its ACC opener at Miami on Friday. The Panthers went through five pitchers over the course of the game, yet none seemed able to find the zone in crucial situations. They also failed to execute properly on bunts — a common but deadly mistake for young teams.
Most troubling, however, was the team’s dismal offensive showing. Pitt only managed to generate four hits — as opposed to Youngstown’s nine — and even when the Panthers scored, it felt like it was due more to their opponent’s errors rather than the team’s own ability.
In order to be successful in ACC play, Pitt will have to move on from this game. While the Panthers certainly didn’t have their best showing, almost every previous result this season has been positive. If the Panthers can perform as they did in Florida, they can improve upon last season and continue to mature as a team.
“We play the game hard, and we play it for nine innings,” Bell said. “We know we’ve got a tough challenge [coming up] in a very tough Miami team … but at the end of the day it’s baseball. It’s 27 outs in nine innings, and we have an opportunity to go down there and play good baseball. And if you play good baseball, you can play with anybody in the country.”