Baseball: On the rise, Panthers ready for 2010 campaign

By Mike Furlong

Last year’s Pittsburgh Panthers baseball squad turned in a very good performance,… Last year’s Pittsburgh Panthers baseball squad turned in a very good performance, finishing 28-21 overall and 13-13 in the Big East. They also qualified for the Big East tournament as the seventh seed after preseason rankings had the Panthers squad ranked 11th out of 12 conference baseball teams.

But in the Big East tournament in Clearwater, Fla., — a double-elimination tournament — the Panthers suffered losses to South Florida and West Virginia.

The standout performance from the season came from then-junior Chris Sedon with a .398 batting average, 22 homeruns and 62 RBIs. Sedon, a transfer student, was named a first team Big East selection as well as a Louisville Slugger All-American. But in the 2009 MLB Amateur Draft, the Detroit Tigers selected Sedon, and he now plays in the club’s farm system.

With Sedon gone, his one-year performance will be hard to replicate this season. While the Panthers were selected to finish sixth in the Big East in a preseason college baseball poll, the coaching staff is still optimistic.

“We cannot replace Chris Sedon. He had a career season last year,” head coach Joe Jordano said. “We can only hope to have a few players pick up his offensive production from last season.”

Despite the loss of one of the Pitt’s best players in recent years, this year’s squad is hoping to improve on last year’s campaign under Jordano. He begins his 13th campaign with the Panthers when they travel to Wofford College in South Carolina for a three-game series this weekend.

With a younger squad than in previous seasons, Jordano believes that his team’s potential is promising.

“Developing. Our pitching staff will be young at times, but every guy has the tools to be a productive part of the staff. We have to strive for consistency,” Jordano said. “Defensively, we were the best fielding team in the conference a year ago and for the most part the entire team is back with the exception of Chris Sedon. Offensively, same story.”

Jordano pointed to some key returning players like redshirt junior catcher Kevan Smith, who batted .363 last season and senior infielder Joe Leonard, who finished the 2009 campaign with 35 RBIs and a .316 batting average. Jordano also said that senior infielder Frank Mercurio and junior outfielder John Schultz are important players coming back for the Panthers.

Joining these returning players are 11 athletes of Jordano’s 2010 recruiting class.

It’s “one of the most decorated and talented incoming classes we have ever had,” Jordano said.

The strong recruiting class, Jordano said, was aided in part by the construction of the new Petersen Sports Complex, which could be open in time for next year’s baseball season. The new Petersen Sports Complex began construction during the offseason, with plans for a new turf baseball field. The Panthers currently play at Trees Field, which is located behind the Charles L. Cost Center . upper campus.

“The Petersen Sports Complex will vault us into the top-three facilities in the Big East,” Jordano said. “It has already impacted our recruiting in a positive way.”

Another way that the new facility will impact the program is giving the Panthers an opportunity to host games and tournaments early in the season — something they are currently unable to do because of weather conditions on the grass surface at Trees Field. The new complex will also help the program with attendance, thanks to an increase in seating to 1,000 seats.

With their series against Wofford set to start on Friday, the Panthers will be on the road much of the early part of the season. They will not return home until March 16 with a matchup against Youngstown State.

Pitt will travel to South Carolina, Tennessee and Florida for all of its early season games before returning home in mid-March.

The Panthers begin conference play on March 26 with a series against St. John’s at home. With nine Big East series during the season, the Panthers have a challenging field ahead of them with Big East favorites Louisville — which won the 2009 Big East regular season title and conference tournament — South Florida and St. John’s.

The schedule is “very solid from top to bottom, and I would not be surprised if it is a dogfight down to the final weekend,” Jordano said. “We have our work cut out for us, but we are very close to be ready to get it on.”