Kaycee Orwig | Senior Staff Photographer
No. 19 Pitt baseball (20-11, 14-10 ACC) took two of three games over the weekend against the North Carolina Tar Heels (19-15, 13-12) in a series that saw a little bit of everything. From a rain-induced postponement, to a pitchers duel on Saturday and a slugfest on Sunday, there was no shortage of action in the pivotal ACC matchup.
The series got off to a turbulent start, when game one was moved from its original Friday night timeslot to a Saturday afternoon first pitch. It would also be the first game of a double-header in which game two would begin 45 minutes after the final out of game one.
When game one finally got underway, Pitt offense was ready. After a leadoff single by sophomore outfielder Kyle Hess, senior outfielder Nico Popa tacked on the first two runs of the game with a blast that sailed over the right-center field wall. This would not be the only damage the Panthers inflicted in the opening inning, as senior infielder David Yanni doubled to score junior outfielder Ron Washington Jr. and give Pitt an early 3-0 lead.
Junior Mitch Myers took the mound for the Panthers in game one, but the righty didn’t know Friday’s game was pushed back until only a few hours before the scheduled first pitch.
“I was getting ready to leave my house and walk up here,” Myers said.
Regardless of the confusion, Myers hurled six solid frames yielding two earned runs and striking out six on 104 pitches. While the high pitch count jumps off the page, Myers said it was no issue for him, as it was his fourth time passing the century mark this season.
“I feel comfortable going that deep,” Myers said. “I don’t feel like I’m a max-effort pitcher so I can hold my [velocity] up pretty well.”
While UNC got within one run after Pitt mounted the 3-0 lead, a monstrous home run off Washington’s bat spurred Pitt to pull away in the later innings. A dramatic bat flip capped off the emphatic blast as Washington put the Panthers up 4-2.
— Pitt Baseball (@Pitt_BASE) April 17, 2021
Pitt knocked off UNC by a score of 6-2 in game one of the double-header with Myers picking up his third win of the season, while North Carolina sophomore Connor Ollio was tagged with the loss.
Game two featured a prime pitching matchup between Pitt junior Matt Gilbertson and North Carolina redshirt sophomore Austin Love. The two pitchers had similar outings as both lasted into the seventh inning while throwing more than 100 pitches apiece.
Pitt’s first opportunity to score came when Yanni stepped into the box with runners on the corners and two out in the first, but Yanni was robbed of an RBI thanks to a diving play by UNC first-year infielder Colby Wilkerson.
Both offenses found their footing in the third inning, as UNC junior infielder Clemente Inclan broke the scoreless tie with a solo home run to right field in the top half of the inning. The Tar Heels added another run in the third when sophomore infielder Danny Serretti doubled down the right-field line to score senior outfielder Dallas Tessar after Pitt first-year catcher Jackson Phinney had trouble applying the tag. The call was upheld after a lengthy review and UNC took a 2-0 lead.
However, Pitt countered in the home half of the third with an offensive outburst of its own. Junior outfielder Jordan Anderson led off with a single and came around to score after Hess doubled. Yanni then singled to bring home Anderson and sophomore infielder Sky Duff.
After the third inning, the game turned into a pitcher’s duel.
The Panthers’ three-run third inning was enough to hold on. They won the second game 3-2. Gilbertson earned his fifth win of the year, and Jordan McCrum, who pitched both games of the day, picked up his fourth save of the year. Gilbertson stuck out eight and walked none in the victory.
Pitt sophomore Billy Corcoran toed the rubber for the first time since late February in the series finale on Sunday as UNC sent out sophomore lefty Will Sandy.
Neither pitcher would make it out of the second inning, as the offensive floodgates opened early. UNC sophomore outfielder Caleb Roberts sent the first pitch of the game from Corcoran over the right-center field wall. This spurred a five-run outburst in the first inning for North Carolina and gave Corcoran a not-so-warm welcome back to the mound.
Corcoran said that while his first start back didn’t go as planned, it was valuable to take the mound in a game situation once again.
“I could definitely get the nerves out of the way,” Corcoran said after the game. “[I can] get back out to it next weekend and give my team a better chance to win.”
While UNC’s 5-0 lead heading into the bottom of the first seemed daunting, Pitt countered with a big inning of its own. Both Duff and Popa reached to start the bottom of the first as Hess brought in the former on a sacrifice fly to left field. Later in the inning, junior infielder Bryce Hulett stepped into the box and hit a two-out, three-run home run over the left-field wall.
Even after the Panthers’ impressive inning with the bats, the Tar Heels still led 5-4.
Corcoran would pitch a clean second inning before his removal, but both teams were forced to lean on their relievers early. The battle of the bullpens primarily featured senior pitchers Stephen Hansen for Pitt and Gage Gillian for North Carolina.
Pitt eventually knotted the game up at five after a sacrifice fly from Washington, but the Panthers couldn’t scratch across anything else after Hulett struck out with two outs, leaving the bases loaded.
After taking a 6-5 lead in the sixth, North Carolina had another offensive explosion in the seventh. For the second time in the game, Roberts hit the first pitch of the inning out of the ballpark and sophomore outfielder Justice Thompson followed with a solo shot of his own. Wilkerson added a two-run single to give UNC a 10-5 lead.
But much like the first inning, Pitt battled back in the bottom half of the seventh. A monstrous shot from Hess cut the deficit to two, and sophomore infielder Brock Franks also added an RBI groundout to make it a 10-8 game.
Franks doubled in the bottom of the ninth to bring Pitt within one, but Ramon Padilla grounded out to end the game as UNC won the chaotic series finale by a score of 10-9. Even with the loss, Pitt still remains in second place in the ACC Coastal division.
Coach Mike Bell said that while the loss was disappointing, he was proud of the team’s performance on the weekend.
“Nothing that happened today is going to make us change anything we have been doing overall,” Bell said. “Winning a weekend series is a pretty good thing.”
The Panthers will look to do the same next weekend as they battle the No. 7 Louisville Cardinals on the road beginning Friday at 3 p.m.