Baseball: Panthers avoid sweep at Connecticut

By Dustin Gabler

The Pitt baseball team’s Big East schedule might not have started as planned, but by the end… The Pitt baseball team’s Big East schedule might not have started as planned, but by the end of the weekend, the players came away from Storrs, Conn., feeling better about themselves.

The team lost the first two game of the weekend against the reigning Big East champions, but won the weekend’s third game despite playing in less than ideal playing conditions.

With temperatures in the 20s and dipping into the teens, the Panthers struggled on the first two days in most aspects of the game.

“I am not one to make any excuses. However, the weather was brutal this weekend — maybe the coldest we have ever played in,” Pitt manager Joe Jordano said. “Granted both teams played in the same conditions, it was just tough to move around.”

The Panthers were also plagued by active Connecticut baserunners in the first two games. The Huskies stole three bases in the first game and six in the second.

“UConn led the Big East in stolen bases by a wide margin last year,” Jordano said. “They are very aggressive on the base paths, and it was more of an adjustment we needed to make on the mound and with our middle infielders keeping runners closer  — several of their stolen bases were third base.”

Pitt, led by pitcher Matt Wotherspoon, looked like a dangerous team on Sunday when the Panthers held the Huskies to only four hits.

The Panthers also avoided hurting themselves on Sunday by playing solid defense, and the win will carry over for the Panthers as they prepare to come back to play at home.

“Obviously we wanted to go up there and win the series,” Baker said. “We did some good things this weekend, and coming back home for a few weeks with that win is huge for us.”

Connecticut 7, Pitt 0

On Friday, the Panthers struggled, and the score reflected their play.

Senior pitcher Corey Baker started for the Panthers and was hoping to set the tone for his team as it matched up against the defending Big East champion.

Baker felt that his pitching was not as bad as the score reflected and that UConn was just able to hit the ball into some bad spots.

Despite what the end result was, I think I had pretty good stuff,” he said. “They hit a lot of ground balls through some holes, and besides the home run [George] Springer hit, they didn’t hit many balls hard at all.”

But Baker did not receive any run support in his first Big East start of the season as they were shutout for the first time this year.

The Panthers only came through with four hits in the game and were unable to even come up with a multiple-hit inning.

Senior David Chester continued his excellent hitting by going 2 for 4 with a single and a double, the Panthers’ only extra base hit on Friday.

UConn, already holding a 1-0 lead, kept the runs coming in the third inning by scoring three runs on three hits, one of which was the home run by Springer. Springer was selected by coaches to be the 2011 Big East Preseason Player of the Year.

For insurance, the Huskies scored one more run, this time unearned, in the bottom of the eighth inning to push the score to 7-0.

Connecticut 9, Pitt 2

The Panthers returned to J.O. Christian Field the next day with intentions of getting their first conference win.

Pitt once again spotted the Huskies a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first.

Chester, who went 1 for 3 on Saturday, cracked a single through the left side to tie the ballgame at one a piece in the top of the third.

But in the bottom of the inning, the Huskies broke out for five runs off Pitt junior Matt Iannazzo.

Iannazzo also struggled in his conference opener but still showed Jordano signs of the pitcher that was selected to the preseason All-Big East team.

“Matt pitched well,” Jordano said. “We made too many mistakes defensively, which led to opportunities for UConn that it capitalized on. We are a team that needs to play clean, smart baseball. We did not do that on Saturday, and we paid for it.”

The Huskies scored a run in the sixth and then two in the bottom of the seventh after the Panthers scored their second run of the day in the top half of the seventh.

Pitt 4, Connecticut 0

The four-run victory gave Pitt its first win in conference play and kept the team from being swept to kick off the Big East schedule.

Senior Kevan Smith started off the day with an RBI single in the first inning to jumpstart the Panthers and picked up two more RBIs in the third inning to increase the gap to 3-0.

Smith finished up the scoring for Pitt in the fifth when he singled and scored on an error by UConn’s catcher. He ended the day 3-5 with a run and three RBIs and raised his season totals to .465 with 33 hits in 19 games. At .465, his average is tops in the Big East.

The Panthers, behind Smith’s huge bat, went back to the basics and played solid defensively behind pitcher Wotherspoon to get a win against an elite team.

“Getting that win on Sunday was huge,” Baker said. “Going up to UConn is probably the hardest place to go play in the Big East, so being able to avoid the sweep is good.”