Strong pitching leads Pitt baseball to three-game sweep of ranked Florida State

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Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer

The Panthers’ two starting pitchers rung up Florida State batters 27 times combined Friday and Saturday night, leading the team to consecutive wins by scores of 1-0 and 7-2, respectively, over Florida State.

By Ben Bobeck, Senior Staff Writer

One letter can sum up Pitt baseball’s (6-1, 3-0) opening ACC series in Tallahassee: K.

Rather, 27 copies of that same letter. The Panthers’ two starting pitchers rung up Florida State batters that many times combined Friday and Saturday night, leading the team to consecutive wins by scores of 1-0 and 7-2, respectively, over Florida State (2-4, 0-3), ranked No. 24 by D1Baseball.com and No. 9 in BaseballAmerica’s Top 25 rankings.

Pitt concluded the sweep in dramatic fashion with a gritty 9-7 decision Sunday, kept alive by a two-run home run in the top of the ninth by senior outfielder Nico Popa before sophomore outfielder Kyle Hess won it with a two-out, two-run double in extra innings.

It was the first road sweep for Pitt in ACC play, the second against a ranked team and fourth overall in conference play.

The weekend also had a personal feel to Panthers’ third-year head coach Mike Bell, a Florida State alum and longtime assistant coach in the program.

“I’d be lying if I didn’t say it felt great,” Bell said postgame Saturday.

The Panthers’ pitching staff worked 16 consecutive scoreless innings through Friday night and up until the eighth inning Saturday, with 35 combined strikeouts in those two games.

Junior right-hander Mitch Myers (1-1) led Pitt off the bump Friday, earning his first win of the season with a stellar outing. Myers held the ’Noles scoreless through his six innings of work with a career high 13 strikeouts, letting up just four baserunners on two hits and walks each.

Junior designated hitter Ron Washington Jr. tallied the only run of the night for Pitt after he hit a leadoff double in the fourth and advanced to third on a balk. He was brought around to score by junior first baseman Bryce Hulett. Senior transfer Jordan McCrum got the five out save, his first as a Panther, in his third appearance out of the bullpen. McCrum struck out four Florida State batters in his 1.2 innings of work.

Saturday, junior righty Matt Gilbertson (2-0) picked right back up where Myers had left off the night before, recording a career high 10 strikeouts through six innings as well, allowing five hits and two walks.

While the pitching was similar, the offense had come to play. The bats picked up in the second inning with the Panthers scoring their first run on a throwing error by the Seminoles following two walks to start the frame. Hess promptly cleared the bases to make it a 3-0 lead, and Pitt wouldn’t look back from there, finishing with seven runs on seven hits while drawing eight walks and leaving 10 men on.

Bell emphasized the importance of Sunday games after some lackluster performances in series finales from years prior.

“We got off to a great start last year — I think it’s 10-1,’” Bell said. “We got into the ACC schedule, faced a very competitive Miami team, lost a couple of close games and then really didn’t factor in a third game. We want to make sure we’re competitive in all three games. I want to make sure we’re competitive each and every time we step on the field.”

With third starting pitcher, sophomore righty Billy Corocoran, unavailable for an undisclosed reason, Bell had to alter his strategy with his pitchers to meet that goal in the third matchup of the series. Bell found himself making regular trips out to the mound, with nine different arms coming in for relief from the Panthers ’pen after senior righty Stephen Hansen started with two scoreless innings in his second appearance of the season.

Pitt again jumped out to an early 3-0 lead off a two-run homer from sixth-year senior shortstop David Yanni — his second of the season. Florida State finally found its offense with a five run outburst between third and fourth innings. Redshirt sophomore outfielder Elijah Cabell’s two-run moonshot in the sixth opened the ’Noles lead out to four and seemed to squash any hopes of a Panther sweep.

But Pitt kept fighting, and Bell praised the team’s spirit postgame.

“Our guys didn’t waver, we stayed confident in the dugout and the energy was there all day,” Bell said. “These guys were fighting for something. Not just another conference win, they wanted that sweep.”

A two-out two-RBI double from Yanni cut the lead back to two in the seventh, before senior outfielder Nico Popa played hero with the Panthers down to their final two outs. After younger brother Dom, a first-year outfielder, got a free base on hit-by-pitch, the elder Popa sent a 1-0 pitch to the scoreboard in left field to tie the game at seven, his second home run of the series.

The Panthers were not yet out of the woods, as Florida State would put two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth before redshirt junior Dylan Lester struck out redshirt sophomore Colton Vincent to send the game to extras.

Pitt’s bullpen continued its heroics, avoiding another jam in the 12th inning after FSU loaded the bases with one out. Junior righty Chase Smith, the third Panther pitcher of the frame, entered with one out before getting a force out and home and a fly out to end the inning and leave three runners stranded.

The bullpen was promptly rewarded at the plate in the next half inning, as sophomore third baseman Sky Duff lined a two-out double to get on base before Nico Popa took a pitch off the kneecap in the next at bat. Hess then brought both players home with what would turn out to be the game-winning double. Smith would stand as the winning pitcher while McCrum earned his second save of the series with a clean bottom of the inning, including two more strikeouts to bring the total to 47 Seminoles downed on strikes throughout the weekend — a 34.5% strikeout rate.

Postgame, Bell praised his team’s grit and mental toughness, as well as his bullpen’s ability to adapt to adversity.

“They never quit, the whole time through,” he said. “We talk about when adversity hits, how are we going to respond, how can we move on to the next pitch.”

The Panthers depart Florida for a three-game series with Duke in Durham, North Carolina, beginning next Friday, followed by two more weekends on the road at Virginia and Georgia Tech. The team returns to Charles L. Cost Field for its home opener versus Bucknell March 24. 

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