Baseball: Pitt takes two of three from Irish

By Roger Sepich

It was far from easy for the Pitt men’s baseball team this weekend against the Notre Dame… It was far from easy for the Pitt men’s baseball team this weekend against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.

But after a four-run comeback on Friday and an extra-inning walk-off win on Saturday, the Panthers found a way to pull out two exciting games in the first Big East weekend series at the new Petersen Sports Complex on upper campus.

Pitt 6, Notre Dame 5

It didn’t look good early for Pitt in Friday’s game.

Notre Dame (11-14-1, 3-3 Big East) jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and, heading into the Panther’s half of the eighth inning, the Irish had made it 5-1.

But Pitt (15-10, 3-3 Big East) came roaring back. The Panthers used four consecutive singles followed by an error to cut the lead to 5-3 and loaded the bases for senior outfielder Zach Duggan.

Duggan responded with a single of his own that drove in two runs and tied the game. Then John Schultz, another senior outfielder, gave the Panthers their first lead of the game at 6-5 with their sixth single of the inning.

In the ninth, Notre Dame loaded the bases, but Pitt sophomore closing pitcher Ray Black killed the Irish’s attempt at a comeback. Pitt held on to win the first game of the series.

“We were swinging the bats really well that game, although we had nothing to show for it,” senior infielder Philip Konieczny said in an e-mail. “It was great to see the hard work pay off and have us come through to win a big game.”

Pitt 3, Notre Dame 2

Saturday’s game was just as, if not more, exciting than Friday’s.

A pitcher’s duel between the Irish’s Cole Johnson and Pitt’s Matt Iannazzo left the game scoreless for much of the early innings.

But it was Pitt who broke the deadlock in the sixth inning. One senior drove in another when David Chester’s double drove in Kevan Smith to give Pitt a 1-0 lead. Then Pitt doubled its lead in the very next inning when Konieczny scored off of a Casey Roche double.

But this time, it was Notre Dame that fought back. It scored one in the eighth and took advantage of a Pitt error in the ninth to tie the game, sending it into extra innings with the score at 2-2.

For the second straight day, the Panthers found a way to win.

In the bottom of the 11th, junior Anthony Defabio led off with a single and was bunted to second base by Konieczny. For the second time in the game, Roche came up with a big hit as he singled up the middle, bringing home Defabio for the winning run.

Roche’s walk-off hit resulted in massive celebrations from the Pitt players.

“It felt great when Defabio slid in safely,” Roche said in an e-mail. “But when I got bumrushed by the team, it turned out to be the most painful hit of my career.”

“[Walk-offs] are the best by far,” Chester said in an interview. “It’s so fun to be a part of.”.”

Notre Dame 8, Pitt 6

Having clinched the series win, Pitt looked set for a three-game sweep over the Irish early in Sunday’s game.

The Panthers scored three in the first inning, and after Chester hit his sixth home run of the season in the third and Pitt scored two more in the fifth, they held a 6-2 lead heading into the sixth.

But things fell apart from there. Notre Dame scored one in the sixth and had a five-run inning of its own in the seventh, led by a three-run home run by Trey Mancini.

Pitt wasn’t able to force any late drama this time, and it fell 8-6.

After Sunday’s loss, Chester and Smith both said there were a lot of positives to take from the weekend.

“It’s hard to sweep in the Big East,” Chester said. “We felt really good about how we played, and our energy was what we really got excited about. We had some great team chemistry and we’re almost there. We just can’t wait to get back out there again and play.”

“This weekend really showed what kind of team we do have, and I feel it has proven we can be the best team in the Big East,” Smith said in an e-mail. “This team is capable of great things. We just have to believe it.”

The Panthers travel to Ohio for two mid-week nonconference games this week against Cleveland State and Kent State before returning home for another Big East weekend series versus in-state rival Villanova that starts on Friday.