Pitt baseball demonstrates ability to win in ACC play following series against No. 7 Virginia


Colleen Nguyen | Staff Photographer

Graduate student infielder Sky Duff (3) hits the ball during a Pitt baseball game against Notre Dame on April 8.

By Ari Meyer, Staff Writer

Pitt baseball traveled to Disharoon Park in Charlottesville this weekend for a three-game series against No. 7 Virginia. After tough losses to Youngstown State and Kent State earlier in the week, the Panthers bounced back triumphantly against their highly ranked opponent.

Pitt opened up the series with a statement — a 7-5 win in which Virginia outhit the Panthers but couldn’t capitalize. The Cavaliers tallied 16 hits in game one, but also stranded 13 runners on base. Pitt had the more efficient offensive performance.

Junior pitcher Jack Sokol finally gave the Panthers a dominant performance on the mound in game one. Despite his 7.11 earned run average this season, Sokol only allowed seven hits and two runs as well as notching six strikeouts. Sokol’s performance was his second best of the year, following a March 31 faceoff with Duke where he gave up three hits and just one earned run.

The Panthers followed their impressive game one win with another two run victory in game two, this time winning 6-4. Senior infielder Noah Martinez was the offensive difference maker for Pitt. Virginia got out to a three-run lead early in the game on a home run by junior infielder Jake Gelof, but Martinez quickly answered with a two run single in the third inning.

Overall, the Panthers won the game due to their pitching. Junior pitcher Logan Evans put on a show, allowing just three runs on four hits and nine strikeouts.

Following this game, Panthers fans were treated to a less satisfying result — an 8-5 loss to close out the series. After going up early on a solo home run by junior outfielder CJ Funk, the Panthers couldn’t get anything going on offense. Virginia tied the game in the fourth inning and Pitt’s pitching regressed from there. 

In the sixth inning, Virginia loaded the bases off of two line-drive singles and a walk. Sophomore reliever Jonathan Bautista walked two more batters and allowed a two-run single which gave him the loss. 

Despite a late comeback attempt following two-run home runs from junior infielder Justin Acal and graduate student outfielder Kyle Hess, the Panthers still came up just short. The game came to a close after the Panthers loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth inning, but ended the inning with all three base runners stranded to close the series.

Here are two key takeaways from this weekend’s series against the Cavaliers.

Panthers have tools on offense

Although this team is a clear regression from the team that almost made the tournament just two years ago, they still won some very improbable games. While losses to teams like Youngstown State and Kent State concerned many, it’s clear that this team is capable of playing at the highest level. 

The Panthers have struggled significantly with pitching and fielding this season, but they are improving. This team has the opportunity to perform well next year due to many of their players having at least one more year of eligibility.

The middle of Pitt’s batting order is their biggest strength. Acal, Hess and Funk kept the Panthers hopes alive in the final game of the series, and the Virginia pitchers did not give them the chance to bat in the ninth inning. The three hitters provided power to Pitt’s lineup, with Hess, Funk and Acal all hitting home runs during the loss and spearheading their late comeback. 

One bright spot on the younger side of the team is first-year outfielder Caleb Sturtevant. Coach Mike Bell started to put Sturtevant into the lineup and he has taken the role in stride, batting .316 in 19 total at bats. 

Pitt’s pitching is still unsatisfactory

Pitt’s offense isn’t bad by any metric — they rank third in the ACC in homers and eighth in the NCAA in walks drawn. They also average about seven runs per game. 

With that being said, their pitching is still lackluster. As a staff, the Panthers rank 11th in the ACC in runs allowed and 12th in batting average against, with opposing teams hitting an impressive .285 against Pitt pitching.

Pitt’s offense has carried them to multiple wins, and in order to build on their momentum from the weekend, the Panthers must get more quality starts out of their starting pitchers.

The Panthers must improve their pitching, whether it be personnel, training or position fit or they will remain stagnant and occupy the lower half of the ACC standings.

Pitt takes on West Virginia at PNC Park on Wednesday at 6 p.m., and fans can watch it on ACC Network Extra.