Extra inning win highlights series victory over No. 11 North Carolina

By Mark Powell / Staff Writer

Pitt’s baseball team re-entered conference play to take two out of three games against perennial ACC contender No. 11 North Carolina over the weekend.

The Panthers entered the series after sweeping a two-game set against Niagara in their first home games of the year on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The series opener featured a juicy pitching matchup, with sophomore and ACC Pitcher of the Week T.J. Zeuch facing off against North Carolina’s sophomore Zac Gallen. Zeuch was coming off of an outstanding start against Virginia, in which he pitched eight innings of shut-out ball and recorded his second win of the season.

The Tar Heels scored three runs in the third inning and Pitt head coach Joe Jordano pulled Zeuch after four innings of work. Gallen fared even worse against the Panther lineup, giving up eight runs, ­all earned in just under four innings.

Pitt broke the game open in the fourth inning thanks to good base-running and plate discipline. Senior second baseman Jordan Frabasilio hit a solo home run in the inning, his fifth of the year.

Freshman shortstop Charles LeBlanc led the Panthers offensively with five runs batted in. Three of those RBIs came on a three-run single in the seventh inning, giving Pitt some much-needed insurance runs.

Sophomore Matt Pidich came on in relief to pick up his second save of the year and secure Pitt’s second win against a ranked team this season.

Unfortunately for Pitt, the offensive explosion didn’t carry over to Saturday’s game. The Panthers could only scratch across one run in the second game of the series against the Tar Heels, falling 3-1.

Both pitchers matched each other frame for frame, with junior Aaron Sandefur allowing only two runs in just over five innings of work. His Tar Heel counterpart, J.B. Bukauskas, earned his third win of the season, throwing six strong innings and allowing only one run. Sandefur’s effort led to his second loss of the year.

Redshirt freshman outfielder Frank Maldonado carried Pitt offensively, as he extended his hitting streak to nine games with a single in the second inning, plating the team’s only run.

The teams were tied at one in a close game until the sixth inning, when junior outfielder Skye Bolt hit a sacrifice fly,giving the Tar Heels a 2-1 lead. Bolt also hit a home run in the ninth to extend the North Carolina lead before senior reliever Trevor Kelley picked up his first save of the season.

Sunday’s rubber match of the series was even closer than Saturday’s affair, as the teams went to extra innings to decide the game ­— and series — winner.

The Panthers got an impressive start from junior pitcher Marc Berube, who went seven strong and gave up only one run in his last inning of work. North Carolina pitcher Trent Thornton matched Berube through five innings, giving up only one run.

After giving up the lead in the top of the seventh, Pitt regained the advantage in the bottom of the frame when junior Ron Sherman hit a sacrifice fly, plating Maldonado.

But the Panthers couldn’t hold the lead in the ninth as Pidich and senior Nick Parnell struggled with their pitch control, allowing base runners to advance without putting the ball in play.

Similarly, Pitt took advantage of North Carolina’s inaccuracy to win the game in the 10th. After singling up the middle, Sherman advanced to second on a passed ball and eventually scored on a two-out hit by LeBlanc.

“I thought it was a very gutsy performance by our entire squad,” Jordano said in a release. “We knew we were going to have to play good, hard, solid baseball this weekend.”

The win improves Pitt to 8-9 on the year and evens its record in conference play. Perhaps more importantly, the Panthers protected their home-field advantage, as they are 4-1 at Cost Field so far this season.

They’ll try to improve that record against Penn State on Tuesday at 6 p.m.