Pitt baseball splits season-opening series with Canisius


Lucas Zheng | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt junior infielder Sky Duff (3) celebrates a grand slam during Pitt’s first home ACC series win of the 2021 season against Miami University in April 2021.

By Jack Markowski, Staff Writer

Coming off of a record-breaking 2021 campaign, head coach Mike Bell and this year’s Pitt baseball team (2-2 overall, 0-0 ACC) opened their season last weekend at the Snowbird Classic in Port Charlotte, Florida, with a four-game series against Canisius (2-2 overall, 0-0 MAAC).

Canisius jumped out to an early lead on Opening Day, scoring three runs in the third inning and tacking on one more in the fourth, where Pitt’s senior starter Matt Gilbertson’s day ended. Despite giving up eight hits, he limited the damage to only three earned runs while recording zero walks and nine strikeouts over four innings.

“I thought he pitched out of a couple jams and really kept us in there,” Bell said of Gilbertson’s performance. “They did a very good job of capitalizing with a couple of key two-out, two-strike hits early on.”

Graduate student Mike Steffan later broke the game open against the bullpen in the fifth with a three-run blast to right field, making the score 7-0.

Meanwhile, the Panthers had no answer for the Golden Griffins’ sophomore starter Matt Duffy for most of the day, blanking the offense through five innings. Junior catcher Tatem Levins broke through for the Panthers with a two-run homer to cut into the deficit.

Duffy would go on to finish with eight strikeouts over six innings while allowing only those two earned runs.

Steffan tallied his second home run of the day in the seventh inning, while fellow graduate student Gibson Krzeminski added one of his own in the top of the ninth to help Canisius secure an Opening Day victory by a score of 11-3.

The Panthers put 16 men on base in Friday’s loss, but couldn’t come up with timely hits. Bell said his team’s inability to capitalize with runners on base allowed Duffy to get too comfortable on the mound.

“When you build big innings and you’re chasing some crooked numbers, usually that happens from being patient or teams giving you some chances,” Bell said. “I felt like in a couple key situations early on when we had the bases loaded, we kind of chased out of the zone and helped their pitcher settle in.”

In the first game of a Saturday doubleheader, Pitt wasted no time turning things around. The Panthers exploded on offense en route to a 12-0 shutout victory over seven innings, featuring contributions across the entire lineup, with seven of the nine starters recording hits while all nine got on base.

Senior second baseman Jeffrey Wehler and junior designated hitter Jack Anderson got the scoring started, both going deep early on. Wehler hit a two-run home run in the first inning and Anderson followed up with a solo shot in the second to give the Panthers an immediate 3-0 lead.

Bell said the pop that Levins, Anderson and Wehler — who all transferred to Pitt last offseason — demonstrated will be key to helping replace some since-graduated veterans.

“We knew filling the void of David Yanni and Nico Popa was going to be big, and these three guys are gonna add an impact to the lineup,” Bell said of the trio. “We’re going to be counting on them to gel with our returning guys and help build the lineup for what we feel like it can be.”

A majority of the damage came in the third inning, with the Panthers scoring six runs while batting around before finishing their scoring for the game with a three-run fourth inning.

On the pitching side, junior starter Billy Corcoran tossed six innings of two-run ball, while first-year reliever Jonathan Bautista made his college debut and closed out Canisius with an inning of scoreless work to go with two strikeouts.

Neither side produced a run through the first 4 ½ innings of Saturday’s second game, as Panther sophomore Logan Evans and Golden Griffin first year Aaron Duffy, brother of Matt, allowed only four hits between them during that stretch.

Pitt took control with a three-run bottom of the fifth inning when junior third baseman Sky Duff broke the scoreless tie with an RBI single to right field before junior outfielder Kyle Hess drove him in with a two-run home run to make it 3-0.

Duffy’s day ended after finishing the fifth inning, but Evans continued through the seventh while keeping the shutout intact. He completed his Panthers debut with four strikeouts while only allowing one walk and four hits.

Senior left fielder Ron Washington Jr. scored on a wild pitch and error in the eighth inning to give Pitt some insurance and make it a 4-0 ballgame. Sophomore Hayden Summers finished a two-inning save in the ninth as part of a dominant four strikeout performance in his Pitt debut to clinch the win and at least a split of the series.

In the series’ final game on Sunday, Pitt picked up where it left off in the bottom of the first against junior starter Chris Pouliot. After Duff and Wehler reached base, Levins smacked a double to the opposite field, scoring the first run of the game. Hulett narrowly missed a grand slam a few batters later, and settled for a sacrifice fly to make it 2-0. The inning’s final run came by way of an RBI single from sophomore right fielder CJ Funk to extend the lead to 3-0.

Canisius clawed back in the game in the top of the third, with a sac fly from sophomore right fielder Carlin Dick getting them on the board. An RBI single by Steffan followed soon after to cut the Pitt lead to one, before a bases-loaded walk issued by Panthers redshirt junior Ben Dragani tied things up at 3-3. Dragani left with his team down 5-3 after pitching 3 ⅓ innings and surrendering five runs.

Pitt scored in the bottom of the fourth on a Wehler double, but left two men on base and squandered another quality opportunity. After retiring the first two batters in the top of the fifth inning, a mix of infield hits and poor defense from the Panthers allowed the Griffins to add five runs and push their lead to 10-4.

Canisius added two runs in both the sixth and seventh innings against the Panthers’ bullpen, and Pitt’s offense couldn’t muster much beyond a Jack Anderson RBI single in the sixth to make it a 14-5 game. The Panthers added two more on a two-run single from Hess, but not much else, as the Griffins won 15-7.

The Panthers will be in action next weekend at the Music City College Classic in Nashville, Tennessee. They will face Bradley and Lipscomb twice during the event, which runs Friday through Sunday.