Pitt baseball falls in Backyard Brawl 9-4


Hannah Wilson | Assistant Visual Editor

Noah Martinez throws the ball the first for an out on Wednesday against West Virginia at PNC Park.

By Alex Porter and Jack Markowski

On a crisp spring night at PNC Park, Pitt and West Virginia clashed in front of a small yet boisterous crowd as they renewed the Backyard Brawl. 

Graduate student first baseman Noah Martinez spoke about the experience of playing at a big league stadium.

“It was awesome,” Martinez stated. “It was a great time being out there with the guys and competing on the highest level”.

The Panthers (16-19, 7-9 ACC) headed into Wednesday night’s game with the Mountaineers (26-11, 5-4 BIG 12) riding high on the back of a series win against No. 8 Virginia. West Virginia entered with good momentum of their own after taking two of three from Oklahoma State last weekend. 

Pitt’s pitching woes continued and West Virginia took advantage of a few big innings that broke the game wide open on the way to a 9-4 win for the Mountaineers. West Virginias’ pitching staff put together six straight scoreless innings as part of a complete performance. 

Graduate student infielder Sky Duff talked about regaining momentum and the ebbs and flows of baseball. 

“A big thing for us that coach talks about everyday is just not getting too high or too low, whether that be with big wins or losses,” Duff stated. 

West Virginia entered the contest without their leader and best player, sophomore infielder JJ Wetherholt. Wetherholt leads the BIG 12 with a remarkable 64 hits, 45 runs and a .451 batting average. Despite his absence, the WVU offense remained potent, totaling 12 hits. Their depth also proved crucial, as nine different Mountaineers reached base safely.

First-year Carson Estridge earned his first career start for the Mountaineers. In his previous work as a reliever, Estridge struck out 12 batters through nine innings while only giving up one run. His inexperience cost West Virginia, as he surrendered three runs on five hits in his two and a third innings pitched. The Mountaineer relievers, on the other hand, dominated, only walking one Panther and striking out five.

For the Panthers, junior pitcher Matthew Fernandez started the game, bringing a bit more experience to the mound with 43 strikeouts in 34 1/3 innings on the season. However, Fernandez didn’t fare any better, allowing seven hits and walking a batter home over three frames of work. In fact, the rest of the staff continued his struggles, conceding six runs over the final six innings.

Head coach Mike Bell praised Fernandez’s effort, despite some adversity and tough luck. 

“I thought he was outstanding,” Bell said. “You looked over to the other dugout and there was that sense of, ‘Oh my, what are we running into.’” 

Offensively, Martinez led the charge for the Panthers with two doubles and two runs. Duff also had a strong performance, recording three hits in the game.

Despite some individual efforts, Pitt’s offense struggled mightily as the game went on with only five hits after the third inning. This combined with the Panther’s pitching, ultimately became too much for them to overcome.

The Panthers had Estridge’s number early. Martinez opened the scoring with a one-run double before junior second baseman Justin Acal came through with an RBI single, making it 2-0 after the top of the first inning. 

Pitt’s strong start continued in the top of the third with another two runs. Martinez started the inning with his second double on the day. The Panthers brought him home on a costly WVU error that chased Estridge from the game. First year outfielder Caleb Sturtevant added on with an RBI single, making it a four-run lead.

West Virginia mounted a rally in the third, opening the inning with five straight hits on their way to a five-run inning that provided them with a lead they never surrendered. 

WVU’s success at the plate translated to the mound, as they retired the Panthers in order in the fourth. They expanded their lead in the bottom of the inning, adding three more runs on three hits, making the score 8-4. In the process, the Mountaineers chased sophomore reliever Johnathan Bautista before he could even complete the inning.

Pitt’s pitching ran into control issues in the middle innings, which was a major factor in the Mountaineers’ comeback. Fernandez, Bautista and graduate student reliever Erubiel Candelario combined for two walks, two hit by pitches and a wild pitch across the third and fourth innings. 

The Panthers’ offense went cold during that same stretch as well. Pitt recorded no runs on two hits between the fourth and sixth innings while pushing a runner into scoring position just once. 

Pitt had a prime scoring opportunity in the top of the seventh with runners at second and third with one out, but a pair of strikeouts swiftly ended that threat. The Panthers were dormant from that point on, putting up just one hit while West Virginia clinched the win. 

Pitt’s clutch hitting was severely lacking and hampered their offense to an irreparable degree. The Panthers hit .190 with runners on base and .167 when those runners were in scoring position, leaving them with no margin for error against a potent West Virginia offense. 

This marks Pitt’s third straight loss to WVU. West Virginia has dominated the rivalry in recent years, winning eight of the last 10 matchups. The two teams are scheduled to meet twice more this season  — once in Pittsburgh and once in Morgantown.

The Panthers will continue their schedule against No. 2 Wake Forest this weekend. Coverage will air on the ACC Network.