Baseball drops two games against Duke, but show they can compete in ACC


Ethan Shulman | Senior Staff Photographer

Pitt baseball players stand in the dugout during a game against Virginia Tech on March 24.

By Zack Gibney, Senior Staff Writer

April is finally here, which means that the college baseball season is taking shape. Teams are beginning to find their identities and the contenders are revealing themselves.

For Pitt, a weekend series down in Durham against Duke brought some recurring themes to light — some good, some bad.

Kyle Hess is finding his form

Starting on a positive note, fifth-year outfielder Kyle Hess is getting back into the swing of things after an initially slow start coming off of an early-season injury. Hess had a span of five games where he recorded just two hits in late March — an unusually quiet span for the outfielder who hit .330 last season.

As many expected, Hess rebounded quickly and now carries a four-game hitting streak into Tuesday’s matchup with Youngstown State. Hess picked up four hits in the three-game series at Duke, including two triples.

Panthers need to play a complete series

Playing in what many consider the nation’s toughest baseball conference is a tall task week in and week out, but consistency is a nonnegotiable if teams want to contend.

For the third consecutive week, the Panthers laid an egg in one game of a weekend series.

The team’s 17-7 loss to North Carolina was far more excusable considering the Panthers were once down just 9-7 until the game became a two-day affair. Start times were scrambled and the impromptu one-game series was just weird all-around.

However, last week’s 20-12 loss should have served as a wake-up call. The Panthers did win the series thanks to two one-run victories on Friday and Sunday but lost game two in a blowout. Once a 15-2 game, even a 10-run output over the final three innings only cut the deficit to eight.

Looking at this past weekend, Duke dominated Pitt in the rubber match. In a series where things were clicking on the road for the Panthers, Sunday’s finale threw a wet blanket over an excellent performance on Friday night and a strong effort on Saturday. The Blue Devils shut out the Panthers and held to just five hits in an 8-0 loss that was over by the second inning.

The Panthers will do themselves a lot of good down the stretch if they can put together three solid performances over the weekends. 

Starting pitching is still an issue

One of the reasons why Pitt quickly fell behind the eight ball in game three were the five runs that Duke scored in the first two innings. Junior pitcher Kyle Mosley never found his footing, and the early 5-0 deficit closed the curtains pretty early on for the Panthers.

On the season, opponents have hit nearly .300 off of Pitt pitching while scoring just under seven runs per game. While the back end of the bullpen is pretty solid, the starting rotation still raises more questions than answers.

Pitt’s most consistent starting pitcher, junior Holden Phelps, hasn’t started a game against an ACC opponent. During his six appearances — mostly midweek starts — the Missouri transfer hasn’t allowed more than three runs in an outing.

The one returner from last year’s weekend rotation, junior Logan Evans, gave up five earned runs over his three innings of work over the weekend. Evans hasn’t quite found his form since transferring to Pitt prior to last season, but his progression coming off of an early-season injury is pivotal.

The pitching staff has put the team in bad positions far too often. The offense is right there with the rest of the ACC, but they can’t score 10 runs per game over the course of the entire season.

Pitt can compete in the ACC

Despite the glaring issues with the pitching staff, the lineup is good enough to contend with the top dogs of the ACC. Granted, Duke isn’t the toughest task on the schedule, but the offense has been impressive enough for the team to contend in a very challenging conference.

Pitching will likely set the ceiling for this year’s team, and while the offense struggles somewhat randomly throughout the season, their full body of work is impressive.

If the team can get a little more out of its pitchers, the Panthers’ 4-6 conference record will only get better.