Pitt baseball splits first two games of series vs. Notre Dame

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Alanna Reid | Staff Photographer

Pitt baseball returned to Charles L. Cost Field and split the first two of three games against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this weekend. The series was moved back two days from its initial start date due to inclimate weather on Thursday.

By Alexander Ganias, Staff Writer

Pitt baseball returned to Charles L. Cost Field and split the first two of three games against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish this weekend. The series was moved back two days from its initial start date due to inclimate weather on Thursday. The Panthers came in looking for a home ACC series win after they were swept by Virginia Tech in their first conference series of the year last week.

Head Coach Mike Bell understood the importance of putting that series behind them.

“I think last week was last week,” he said. “We look towards tomorrow, and a new day.”

Unfortunately for the Panthers, they left their offense behind as well. In the first inning of the first game, sophomore outfielder Kyle Hess reached base on a hit-by-pitch, then tried to score from first on a double from junior outfielder Ron Washington Jr. Hess was thrown out at the plate and the Panthers didn’t get another scoring chance like that for another four innings.

With runners on first and second in the fifth, junior catcher Riley Wash bunted into a double play. Afterward, the runner on second could not come around to score, even after a wild pitch sent him to third. The Panthers still had that goose egg up on the scoreboard.

This didn’t help junior starting pitcher Mitch Myers, who pitched eight innings of near-flawless baseball, allowing only two runs on five hits. Those two runs, however, came off the bats of Notre Dame’s junior infielder Carter Putz and senior infielder Niko Kavadas. Myers understood that the lack of offensive support while behind left no room for mistakes.

“Pitching with a lead gives you some wiggle room,” he said. “But pitching behind or pitching in a tie ballgame is tougher, since you can’t let them extend the lead.”

The two home runs in the fourth inning were all the Irish needed, but they added two more in the top of the ninth. Putz scored on a ground out, then Kavadas scored on a base hit.

Bell knew that giving up runs late in the game makes it much harder to win. Bell said he and the pitching staff have gone over how to avoid letting up scores in later innings.

“We’ve talked about this as a group. A majority of the time there are some free passes — the hit-by-pitch puts another guy on base, a wild pitch moves the guy up 90 feet into scoring position. We just need to play clean baseball.”

Pitt scored the final run of the game, when senior outfielder Nico Popa came home from third on a wild pitch by Irish graduate pitcher Joe Sheridan. But the very next pitch resulted in a strikeout that ended the game. Notre Dame took the opener 4-1.

The Panthers flipped the script in the second game. The first three innings saw more scoreless baseball, but the Pitt defense showed out to keep the game that way. After allowing two baserunners on an error and a hit, junior pitcher Matt Gilbertson saved at least one run when he snagged a screaming line drive coming right at his face. The next batter came up and grounded into a double play, ending the inning and keeping the Irish off the board.

Gilbertson’s defense was solid throughout the game, and he expressed his satisfaction with how he and the rest of his teammates fielded.

“It’s huge,” he said. “We had a jam and they turned a double play. And the outfielders are fighting through the wind, it wasn’t an easy day to play defense, but everyone stepped up today.”

After a couple of 1-2-3 innings, Washington Jr. came up to the plate with two outs and no one on base in the fifth. The outfielder sent the 2-1 pitch over the left field wall and gave the Panthers a 1-0 lead. Bell spoke highly of the power-hitting Washington.

“I think Washington has had great at-bats all year,” Bell said. “Quietly, he’s having a phenomenal year.”

The score would remain that way until the seventh inning. In the top half of the seventh, senior outfielder Spencer Myers got the inning going with an infield hit and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. Then, fellow senior outfielder Ryan Cole singled into right-center, scoring Spencer Myers and tying the game.

The Panthers found a way to come back and retake the lead in the bottom of the eighth. Junior outfielder Jordan Anderson poked a weak ground ball to the second baseman, who picked up the ball and threw it away. The ball also got behind the catcher who was backing up the play, and by the time he got to it, Anderson was cruising into third base. Popa went up to the plate next and drilled the third pitch he saw over the fence in right field to give Pitt a 3-1 lead.

Notre Dame would tack on one more run in the ninth off a sacrifice fly, but that essentially killed its rally, and the Panthers won the second game of the series 3-2

Pill will finish its series with Notre Dame with the rubber match on Monday at 1 p.m., then turn around quickly for a midweek contest against rival West Virginia on Tuesday. Both games will air on ACC Network Extra.

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