Panthers fail to earn bid to national baseball tournament


Lucas Zheng | Staff Photographer

Despite an impressive resumé, Pitt was left out of the National College Baseball Tournament. The Panthers will be forced to watch the tournament from home as several teams they have beaten themselves compete for a national title.

By Dalton Coppola, Sports Editor

Pitt baseball hasn’t participated in the NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament in over two decades and it seemed this abysmal trend would be put to bed this year after the Panthers were projected by many to make the tournament.

But after the College World Series Selection show on Monday, the Panthers received the news that their season was over after the selection committee did not extend them a tournament bid. Despite receiving the heartbreaking news, head coach Mike Bell displayed a great deal of pride in his team and all they had accomplished throughout the entire season.

“I want [the team] to be able to go back and look at the things they were able to accomplish this year,” Bell said. “They set program records in league wins and series wins — they did things this program has never done before.”

Pitt was named as one of the 20 finalists to host regional-round games for the national tournament less than three weeks ago. But after a 3-9 finish to their slate and failing to make it out of the pool play round of the ACC Tournament, the Panthers find themselves as members of the College Baseball World Series selection committee’s “First Four Out”.

Bell cited a tough streak of losses down the stretch as one the reasons he believed his squad was held out of the tournament.

“In years past … one thing that they like to look at is teams and how they’re finishing, whether you look at their last 10 or 15 [games],” Bell said. “And if you look at our body of work that’s probably the one thing in this that you can hold against us.”

The Panthers may have had a tough go of things in their last 12, but four of those contests were against a red-hot NC State team and another three against Wake Forest, who boasts a very talented roster itself. Their late season skid came on the heels of a two week break due to COVID-19 protocols. It took the Panthers some time to return to their previous selves, but a win over UNC and a close loss to NC State in the ACC Tournament seemed to indicate the Panthers had returned to their early-season “Gritsburgh” selves.

Before struggling at the end of their season, the squad racked up 17 Quad 1 wins, wins against top 50 teams which was good for fourth-most in the country, and had the No. 25 strongest strength of schedule, finishing 23-20 overall. The program reached new heights this season, breaking program records and exceeding expectations of many. Pitt won six ACC series, good for a program single-season best, and won a game in the ACC tournament. But it wasn’t good enough for a spot in the tournament, according to the selection committee. Bell seemingly disagreed with the committee and its process of how the teams were selected, referencing his team’s record against teams who made the tournament.

“I look at what we did against the teams that are going to be competing,” Bell said. “Are we trying to put the best 64 teams in the field or are we trying to reward somebody because they had a good season? Because if we’re trying to put the best teams possible, I think [our] 18-12 [record] against the field is a lot better than a team in our league that was 12-18 vs. the field.”

Bell further expressed his frustration at the lack of consistency in the committee’s selections for the tournament as some were rewarded for their Rating Percentage Index, such as UNC who was ranked ahead of Pitt in RPI, while others were awarded for better overall records despite not having a strong strength of schedule, such as UC Santa Barbara and Michigan.

“When you look at the way they awarded the hosts, when you look at the way they awarded the bids after some of the mid-majors stole bids … they started to go RPI-heavy,” Bell said. “With that being said … there are two teams outside of our RPI, in UC Santa Barbara and Michigan, who did get in the field. They don’t have the Quality one wins, their RPI isn’t as high, but yet they’re in the field.”

The committee justified not extending an invitation to Pitt just as Bell had expected them to — citing their poor stretch of performances at the end of their season. Meanwhile, Alabama lost nine of their last 12 and still received a bid, raising some eyebrows. 

Pitt seemed to check every box the committee was looking for to garner a bid. But clearly the losing streak outweighed what the team had done before their two week COVID pause in the eyes of those who had the ultimate say in their fate. Having their season come to an end as well as having to say goodbye to several key seniors certainly stings, but according to Bell, the goal for next season remains the same.

“The expectation is to compete for championships, to prepare for Omaha,” Bell said. “We’re all hurt, we’re all crushed, we all wanted to be in the postseason. We felt like we did enough and that would have allowed us to take that next step as we’re growing and building together as a program. But the expectations will always be the same, we just gotta keep building … brick by brick to get there.”

Pitt will have to watch from home while many teams who they have taken down participate in the national tournament. The regional-round of the National Tournament will start on June 4 and conclude with the College World Series Finals on June 28.