Baseball: Mountaineers snap Pitt’s winning streak


By Nate Barnes / Sports Editor

Pitt baseball rebounded from a so-so start with a weekend series over Duke, but a familiar foe ended a streak of hot play from the Panthers Tuesday afternoon.

The Panthers five-game winning streak came to an end when the Panthers lost to the West Virginia Mountaineers, 6-3. The Panthers took a 1-0 lead early, but four unanswered Mountaineer runs put the game out of Pitt’s reach in this year’s baseball rendition of the Backyard Brawl.

Weather was a factor at Hawley Field in Morgantown, W.Va., with snow beginning to fall in the eighth inning of what Pitt head coach Joe Jordano called a “tough game in tough conditions.” Despite falling behind 4-1, the Panthers (12-11, 4-5 ACC) cut their deficit to one run late in the game, but West Virginia (13-8, 0-0 Big 12) responded to put the game away.

“We fought back to make it a 4-3 game going into the bottom of the eighth, but a couple of well-placed balls enabled West Virginia to score twice to make it much tougher for us going into the ninth,” Jordano said.

Pitt got on the board quickly in the first inning after outfielder Stephen Vranka led off the game with a double to left-center field. Vranka moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by shortstop Dylan Wolsonovich, then scored on Boo Vazquez’s sacrifice fly to right field to give the Panthers a 1-0 lead.

The sacrifice fly upped Vazquez’s team-leading RBI total to 25 on the year, but miscues in the field allowed West Virginia to tie the game in the bottom half of the frame.

West Virginia’s Taylor Munden led off with a base hit to left and advanced to second on a bunt. Pitt then committed a pair of errors that allowed the unearned run to cross at the expense of starter T.J. Zeuch.

The 6-foot-7 freshman from Mason, Ohio, suffered his second loss of the season after he was handed the ball as Tuesday’s starting pitcher. Zeuch (1-2, 1.98 ERA) lasted four innings and allowed three runs on three hits and a pair of walks.

He allowed two more to score in the third inning when Munden again reached base leading off the inning, this time by working a walk after running the count full. After allowing a single to Bobby Boyd, Zeuch struck out Billy Fleming looking on three pitches, then got clean-up hitter Ryan McBroom to fly out harmlessly after falling into a dangerous 3-1 hitter’s count.

Zeuch couldn’t come all the way back, though, as he walked the next batter he faced and allowed two runs to cross when Shaun Wood singled to right field with the bases loaded to put the Mountaineers ahead, 3-1.

“I should have made more key pitches,” Zeuch said regarding his outing. “We didn’t do the little things and they came back to bite us.”

Aside from the innings in which he allowed runs, the freshman retired the side in order in the second and fourth innings. From his spot in right field, senior Casey Roche thought Zeuch did a good enough job of keeping the Panthers in the game while he was on the mound.

“I thought T.J. Zeuch pitched well and did all we can ask him to do,” Roche said.

Roche and the rest of the Panthers had difficulty giving him and the rest of their pitchers the necessary offensive support, though, as West Virginia’s pitchers kept the Panthers off the scoreboard for six innings of play after Pitt scratched out a run in the game’s initial frame.

In the meantime, the Mountaineers added another run in the sixth to take a 4-1 lead headed into the final three innings.

Roche, a senior from Downingtown, Pa., broke Pitt’s dry spell in the eighth inning with his third home run of the season. Vazquez worked a walk prior to Roche’s two-out bomb to left field that cut Pitt’s deficit to a single run.

As they did in the third inning, however, the Mountaineers ensured their victory by scoring two more runs with two outs. J.R. Leonardi entered to pitch in the bottom of the eighth and recorded an out, but he walked the next man he faced and was pulled in favor of Jon Danielczyk.

Danielczyk allowed his inherited runner to score on Boyd’s second hit of the game. Boyd then scored his second run of the day on a base hit to right by Fleming for a 6-3 West Virginia lead.

The Mountaineers’ timely hits were a key factor in deciding Pitt’s loss on Tuesday, according to Jordano.

“Give credit to West Virginia for scoring five of its six runs with two outs,” Jordano said. “They are a solid team.”

In their final stand at the plate in the top of the ninth, the Panthers went down in order. Matt Johnson and Jordan Frabasilio grounded out, and Eric Hess struck out against Mountaineers pitcher Michael Bennett to end the game.

Bennett pitched four innings to relieve starter Zach Bargeron and earn the save, while Bargeron took the win after tossing five frames.

After the loss to their rivals, Roche and the Panthers turn their focus to this weekend’s home series against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. Georgia Tech visits Pittsburgh ranked as the No. 23 in Baseball America’s top 25 poll.

Roche said the team just has to focus on looking forward to that series.

“That’s all I care about. That’s all we care about,” Roche said. “There’s nothing we can do about today’s loss. That game is in the past and our entire focus is geared towards preparing to win this weekend.”