Baseball: Pitt wins 2 of 3, only 1 game out of first place

By Torie Wytiaz

It’s hunting season.

By taking two of three games from Big East opponent… It’s hunting season.

By taking two of three games from Big East opponent Cincinnati, the Pitt baseball team remains on the prowl for the regular season conference title, now just one game behind the first place Connecticut Huskies.

The two Pitt wins in the weekend series were dominated by impressive offensive production and consistent pitching, and it showed in the 12-2 and 8-5 final scores.

In the team’s 12-2 rout, junior pitcher Corey Baker turned in a complete game performance, giving up just seven hits to earn his 11th victory.

“Baker was great,” head coach Joe Jordano said. “We needed a complete game out of him, and he delivered big time. He always competes hard and gives us a chance to win.”

Baker’s work from the mound allowed the Panther offense to emerge, with junior John Schultz leading the way.

Schultz finished the series opening game with two hits in three at-bats and also drove in three of the Panthers’ 12 runs.

“Schultz is a very solid and consistent player and a very unselfish hitter,” Jordano said.

In addition to his two hits, Schultz also managed to draw three walks, a statistic that Jordano values greatly.

“Schultz broke the single-season record for walks this year, which proves what a great eye he has and his willingness to be patient at the plate,” Jordano said. “That record is not as heralded as some other offensive records, but it is certainly of equal importance.”

The second game against the Bearcats resulted in the 10th victory for Pitt sophomore pitcher Matt Iannazzo, who went six and two-thirds innings.

The Panthers’ relief pitching was strong in the game, as J.R. Leonardi completed two innings of scoreless work, and Joe Leonard closed out the victory in the ninth inning.

Leonard, a junior pitcher, set another Pitt record: the single-season record for saves with eight, while also contributing two hits and three RBIs on offense.

“Leonard is a special player,” Jordano said. “He has been great for us at the plate and on the mound.”

With the second win of the series, the Panthers earned their 17th Big East victory of the year, matching the most conference wins in the team’s history.

But the third and final game against Cincinnati did not add to that total, as the Panthers fell to the Bearcats 3-1.

The one run produced by the Panther offense was a season low and one Jordano attributes to outstanding opposing pitcher.

“Our offense was solid in games one and two, but we ran into a hot pitcher in Andrew Strenge,” Jordano said. “He did the same thing to Connecticut last weekend in a 3-2 complete game, and he was good again today.”

Leonardi was credited with the loss after conceding two runs on two hits in his relief effort in the eighth inning.

Freshman pitcher Alex Caravella made his third start of the season for Pitt and gave up only one run while striking out four batters.

Even Schultz’s 3-for-4 performance at the plate could not generate the runs needed to overcome the two-run deficit as the Panthers failed to record the sweep of the Bearcats.

Despite less offensive plays in the final game of the series, Jordano noted that the situation was not cause for panic.

“Basically, the game came down to one pitch in the eighth inning, and Cincinnati delivered with a two-run double,” Jordano said. “I think that shows how special this team has been at the plate all season and that coach Lopaze and coach Leahy have done a great job with our offense.”

The Panthers (36-14, 17-6 Big East) have one conference series remaining against the South Florida Bulls at home this weekend before they advance to the Big East tournament.

“We are very pleased with our season thus far, and our club has competed well in the conference,” Jordano said. “Our players have worked very hard and have stayed very focused. Anyone on this team will tell you we are not done yet and have a lot more left to prove.”

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