Baseball: No. 20 Clemson to visit struggling Panthers

Baseball: No. 20 Clemson to visit struggling Panthers

By Mark Powell / Staff Writer

Pitt baseball can’t seem to stop losing.

The team has dropped nine of its last 10 games since sweeping Georgia Tech on the last weekend in March.

But April isn’t over yet, and breaking the streak won’t get any easier this weekend with a three-game home series against No. 20 Clemson that begins Friday night.

The good news for the Panthers? These games against Clemson are most likely Pitt’s last against a ranked opponent in the regular season. The South Carolina school is the third ranked team the Panthers will face this month.  The respite from top opposition will bode well for Pitt’s hopes of making the ACC tournament, which expanded to include 10 teams this year. The Panthers currently trail Duke and UNC, the fifth- and fourth-place teams, respectively, by one game in the Coastal Division standings.

With a few out-of-conference games mixed in, the Panthers play the remainder of their ACC schedule against teams near the bottom of the conference: Notre Dame, Boston College and Maryland, which have a combined conference record of 13-35.

But that’s in the future. The focus is on the present. 

Offense, or lack of it, has made up a large part of the problem during the losing streak, as Pitt has failed to score more than two runs in seven of its last 10 games.

The woes at the plate did not end Wednesday night against Kent State, when the Panthers recorded just two hits in a 4-1 defeat. Their only run came off an error in the first inning. To junior outfielder Boo Vazquez, the solution is simple.

“We have to be consistent in getting quality at-bats,” Vazquez said after the loss. “Even if we’re not getting hits, we need to hit balls hard, draw some walks and strike out less.”

When asked how to get out of their slump, he and his teammates mentioned efficiency. During this losing streak, Pitt has lacked patience at the plate. 

Patience will be a necessary virtue against this weekend’s opponent. The Tigers have one of the most dominant starting rotations in the ACC. Both Daniel Gossett and Matthew Crownover have an ERA less than three runs per game, and only one pitcher has an ERA of more than four runs per game.

Still, the Panthers have reasons for optimism due to their impressive home conference record. Pitt is 7-2 at home against ACC opponents this season, including series sweeps of Duke and then-No. 23 Georgia Tech. The only conference losses for Pitt at home this season came against top-ranked Virginia.

“I think we’re comfortable at home,” senior pitcher Matt Wotherspoon said. “We know the guys behind us are comfortable and that they’ll make plays.”

Pitt will have to improve on its pitching, too, because the Tigers have one of the best lineups in the ACC. Clemson has six batters hitting above .300, led by Tyler Krieger’s .326.

Although their individual statistics are impressive, Clemson has split its last 10 games. With more consistent play, Wotherspoon believes his team has a chance to perform well against a team that has been mediocre of late.

“If we play hard, throw strikes and swing the bat, we’ll put ourselves in a good position to win the series,” he said.

First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 6 p.m. at Charles L. Cost Field.