Baseball: Pitt reaction to stinging loss proves ‘Backyard Brawl’ still alive


The displeasure was evident on Casey Roche’s face, his expression after the game fixed in a grimace.

“I flat out hate West Virginia. I don’t like them at all,” Roche said, following the Pitt baseball team’s second loss this season to non-conference rival West Virginia. “I’m real upset about it.”

Roche sat slouched near the dugout railing after he and his fellow seniors lost their final chance to get the better of an all-too familiar opponent.

At Charles L. Cost Field on upper campus Tuesday night, people in attendance saw, what used to be for many around here, a common sight: the Mountaineers of West Virginia. The school’s baseball team made the hour or so drive north to face an old enemy for a Western Pennsylvania edition of the Backyard Brawl. 

It was second meeting between the schools this season — the first coming a week ago, a 6-3 loss for the Panthers in Morgantown, W.Va. — but Pitt faced a similar fate this time as well, falling 6-4. The defeat ends a three-game winning streak for the Panthers and gives the visitors the season sweep.  

The long-running series —  beginning in 1939 with the first meeting of the teams in what Pitt considers its “modern era” — has avoided becoming a casualty of conference realignment, as seen in football, men’s basketball and a number of other sports. The continuation of the baseball series this year stands out as one of three instances in which Pitt varsity teams, which includes gymnastics and wrestling, still face the Mountaineers during their inaugural season in the ACC. The two institutions were Big East members together beginning in 1991  — Pitt had joined in 1982 — but then West Virginia left for the Big 12 in the summer of 2012. 

Part of the reason that the baseball matchup hasn’t gone on hiatus, though, is Pitt head coach Joe Jordano’s long-standing relationship with WVU’s head coach Randy Mazey, a Johnstown native. 

“I don’t think it’s as intense as the old basketball and football rivalry,” Jordano said. “I think there’s a mutual respect, and we’re going to continue [the tradition] well into the future.”

The teams had a two-game home-and-home arrangement last season, too, but an increased interest in this particular game was evident in the stands. 

A vocal visiting contingent decked out in old gold and navy blue school apparel helped fill the stands, cheering loudly as their team gained the lead, lost it, regained it, lost it and captured it for the final time.  

Pitt freshman pitcher T.J. Zeuch started on the mound this Tuesday and last Tuesday in Morgantown, W.Va., getting credited with a no decision today and a loss a week ago. 

“It’s pretty intense,” the first year player said of the rivalry. 

Although Pitt and West Virginia are no longer conference opponents, the competition maintains relevance as a crucial chance to boost a resumé for the postseason  — something that isn’t lost on Zeuch despite his lack of experience within the rivalry.

“This game is huge for us in terms of our schedule,” he said. “Two wins against a quality Big 12 team like West Virginia would really help you out down the road.” 

Pitt has had success in recent years against its regional rivals, owning a 8-4 overall record and 3-1 home advantage since 2010.

That success echoed at the individual level by Roche, who came into the game against WVU hitting .357 for his career, the highest average of his teammates. The veteran continued that success Tuesday, going 3-5 at bat with two RBI.

“I think anytime you play a rival, you try to elevate your game,” he said.

This trend didn’t make this loss or the one that preceded it any less painful for Roche in what likely was he and his fellow seniors’ last game against such a meaningful opponent. 

“Losing to them twice this year,” Roche said, “it really stings.”