Baseball: Panthers look for all-around effort, entertain Duke in first ACC home tilt

Baseball: Panthers look for all-around effort, entertain Duke in first ACC home tilt

By Nate Barnes / Sports Editor

Pitt baseball has struggled early in its first season as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference, losing five of its first six games. After the Panthers notched wins in their first home games of the season on Tuesday and Wednesday, they look to carry that momentum into this weekend’s series against Duke.

For the Panthers (9-10, 1-5 ACC) to win against the Blue Devils (14-7, 4-2 ACC) this weekend, the scheme is a simple one from head coach Joe Jordano’s perspective. 

“We have to pitch well, we have to minimize opportunities for our opponent, we have to play clean defensively and we have to have great situational at-bats,” Jordano said. “When we do that, we’re a pretty good team. When we don’t, we can be beat by anyone.” 

Steven Shelinsky Jr. has been one of Pitt’s best situational hitters of late, batting .500 with 13 RBIs in his last six games. He acknowledges that the Panthers have to consistently “put a full game together” in relation to the aspects listed by Jordano.

“We’ve had games where the hitting’s on, the pitching’s off, or the pitching’s on, our hitting’s not there,” Shelinsky said. “Just getting everything to click as a team is the biggest thing right now.” 

The problem is the Panthers haven’t been able to do the things that make them a pretty good team, and that’s starting to worry their head coach 19 games into the season.

“When they keep coming up, to me, that’s a little bit of a lack of concentration and focus and, you know, we can’t have that,” Jordano said. “Especially, again, in this league when you’re playing such great teams every weekend, the margin of error is so slim.”

The margin of error gets no wider this weekend with Duke visiting the Panthers — the Blue Devils have won seven of their last eight games. On the mound, Pitt will send Rhys Aldenhoven, Joe Harvey and Matt Wotherspoon to start the series’ three games. Duke’s rotation has yet to be announced. 

Senior outfielder Casey Roche understands his coach’s concern with the team’s mental state so far, but also said the Panthers are still working on incorporating new pieces to the team at a point relatively early in the season. 

“We’re nowhere near our peak, at all,” Roche said. “Not even close to our peak. Just to keep building and keep taking those steps forward without taking any steps back is really what we’re trying to do.” 

A big step in reaching that goal comes from playing what Roche calls “mistake-free baseball” to finish games. 

“Because we’ve had leads in a good amount of ACC games and we haven’t won ’em,” he said.

To take that step, Jordano says his team needs to stay focused and concentrated on the diamond in order to execute properly.

“We have a motto about being in the moment, and they have to do a better job of that,” Jordano said. “When they’re at the plate, they’re on the bases, they’re on the mound, they’ve gotta execute. And again, they’re playing hard. The team is playing very hard,” he said.