Baseball: Pitt not looking past lowly Hoyas this weekend

By Greg Trietley

Pitt has already zoomed past Georgetown in the Big East baseball standings. And this weekend,… Pitt has already zoomed past Georgetown in the Big East baseball standings. And this weekend, the Panthers hope to continue that trend.

The Panthers have used discipline at the plate and a white-hot, deep offense to surge to within one game of the conference lead. The Hoyas can’t say the same.

The two teams will meet for a three-game series this weekend in Bethesda, Md., and although the Hoyas have struggled to put runs on the board in April, Pitt senior outfielder Zach Duggan said Georgetown is better than its record suggests.

“Georgetown is a much improved team,” he said. “I know when we used to play Georgetown, it was kind of like anything less than a sweep was a disappointment. But they’re a better team this year. It’s going to be a dogfight.”

The Hoyas (18-17, 1-8 Big East) have lost eight of nine games this month and have been shut out twice in the past week. But as Pitt head coach Joe Jordano pointed out, all but one of their Big East losses have been by two runs or fewer.

“Georgetown is a well-coached and talented team,” Jordano wrote in an e-mail Wednesday. “They have lost several games by a run or two. They will be well-prepared for us, and it will be a challenging weekend.”

Jordano emphasized that Pitt (19-12, 6-3 Big East) can’t worry about Georgetown’s struggles and should focus on its own game.

“We have to play our game,” he wrote. “Regardless of who we are playing or where we are playing, we have to focus on things we control.”

Shortstop Mike Garza leads the Hoyas with a .358 batting average, but the rest of the lineup has struggled to drive in runners during the drought. No. 2 University of Virginia held them to two hits in a rain-shortened, five-inning game Tuesday, and they haven’t scored more than four runs in any Big East game.

Pitt, on the other hand, has overwhelmed opponents with its offensive production recently. The Panthers put up 31 runs in last weekend’s series against Villanova, and catcher Kevan Smith won Big East Player of the Week for his efforts against the Wildcats.

But the offense hasn’t relied on Smith, or any single player for that matter. Three different Panthers have won Big East Player of the Week this year, and Pitt has four of the conference’s top-12 hitters in terms of batting average. Each series has produced a different star.

Jordano has preached patience at the plate and aggressiveness on the base paths, and that philosophy has permeated the entire lineup during the recent offensive outburst.

“We are swinging the bats well,” Jordano wrote. “The reason is we are executing our offensive plan … Any one of our players has a chance to excel each weekend.”

The team faced a setback, though, when Pitt went on the road Wednesday night. The Panthers lost, 5-4, in an out-of-conference matchup against Penn State. Smith drove in two runs in the loss.

Pitt will send Matt Iannazzo to the mound in the series opener Friday night, Jordano said. Freshman Ethan Mildren, who hasn’t walked a batter in 41.1 innings this season, will pitch Saturday night.

Jordano wrote that Corey Baker will start in the series finale Sunday afternoon. One more victory would allow Baker to break the school record for most career wins. He is currently tied with Tedde Campbell, whose 21 career wins have remained the record since 1995.