Preview | Pitt baseball set to face Duke in ACC play


Colleen Nguyen | Staff Photographer

Pitt baseball stands in a huddle before the game against Bucknell on Tuesday, Feb. 28.

By Sara Meyer, Staff Writer

Pitt baseball’s season is now in full swing, as the Panthers (11-11, 3-4 ACC) are set to face Duke (16-9, 4-5 ACC) on the road in conference play this weekend.

The Panthers need to take these conference wins early in the season to have a better chance at earning an NCAA tournament berth this year. However, Pitt is plagued by the same challenge year after year — its pitching staff. This is Pitt’s biggest challenge for its series against Duke this weekend.

Pitt is coming off of a tough 16-8 loss to Penn State last Tuesday, giving up five runs in the sixth frame and six runs in the eighth. The Panther’s offense started strong, taking the lead in the second frame, but their pitching failed to keep Penn State at bay.

Pitt’s defensive stats so far this season emulate their rocky start as well. Duke is ranked No. 4 for pitching while Pitt lies at the bottom of the ACC, ranked No. 14. Pitt is also No. 13 in the ACC for pitching strikes, while Duke is ranked No. 2. 

Meanwhile, Duke had a notable pitching performance this past Tuesday, moving on to face Pitt on a high note. Blue Devil senior pitcher Adam Boucher pitched seven innings straight with no hits against Liberty. Boucher boasts an ERA of 3.00, with 18 innings pitched. Sophomore pitcher Jonathan Santucci adds to Duke’s impressive pitching staff, owning an ERA under 4 with the most innings pitched on the team. Santucci also led the team last year in ERA, opponent batting average and strikeouts per nine innings.

Fortunately for Pitt, their batting is their saving grace and is the reason for most of their successes. Pitt’s bullpen was tested last weekend against Virginia Tech, but their batting resilience and patience at the plate are what won them the series. At just the start of their season, Pitt has racked up 30 home runs as a team. Junior outfielder CJ Funk is leading the team with eight home runs so far this season, and senior infielder Noah Martinez is close behind with six

On the flip side, Duke has put some pressure on opposing pitchers with their batting lineup as well. Sophomore infielder Alex Mooney cemented his place on the team as a vital hitter in his first year and is continuing his campaign this year with a .359 batting average and an impressive .524 slugging average. 

On the defensive side, Pitt’s pitching got off to a slow start, but they do have one pitcher they can rely on to close out a game. Graduate student right-hand pitcher Nash Bryan proved himself as a vital closer in the series against Virginia tech. He closed the game without letting in any runs, hits or walks. Bryan has an ERA of 3.31, with a total of 16.1 innings pitched in the season so far.

Bryan’s pitching against Virginia Tech was especially impressive considering the Hokies are a good offensive team, with a batting average of .313, and are currently No. 3 in the ACC. Meanwhile, Duke’s batting average is .288, and they’re No. 10 in batting average in the conference. 

Ultimately, the major problem the Panthers need to resolve for this weekend’s series is using their starting pitchers effectively. Although Bryan and other relief pitches have had impressive campaigns, Pitt is guilty of relying on those pitchers more than their starters in previous games. For instance, Pitt ran through seven different arms throughout their contest against Penn State. They have notably run through their relief pitchers at the start of this season by not giving enough innings for the starting pitchers to play and do their job. 

After a slow start to the season, winning some conference games is crucial for Pitt to have a chance at earning a bid for the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils will test the Panther’s pitching this weekend as they head to Durham, North Carolina. They will have a chance to turn their season around in ACC play and climb up the ranks. 

Pitt’s series against Duke is set to start on Friday at 6 p.m. The Panthers will then play the Blue Devils on Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at 1 p.m. Coverage for all three games will air on ACC Network Extra.Pit