Pitt falls to Clemson in weekend series

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Pitt falls to Clemson in weekend series

Charles Leblanc swings at a pitch.  Wenhao Wu | Senior Staff Photographer

Charles Leblanc swings at a pitch. Wenhao Wu | Senior Staff Photographer

Victor Wu

Charles Leblanc swings at a pitch. Wenhao Wu | Senior Staff Photographer

Victor Wu

Victor Wu

Charles Leblanc swings at a pitch. Wenhao Wu | Senior Staff Photographer

By Steve Rotstein / Staff Writer

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Pitt shortstop Charles LeBlanc hails from Quebec, but the sophomore seemed right at home this weekend in Clemson, South Carolina.

LeBlanc tallied nine hits and nine RBIs in 13 at-bats against the No. 14 Clemson Tigers (21-7, 7-5 ACC) on the weekend, and helped the Panthers roll to a blowout victory on Saturday night. But the Panthers (13-11, 5-7 ACC) ultimately came just short of what would have been a shocking series win over their ACC rival.

To start off a three-game series against Clemson, the Tigers ended Pitt’s winning streak with a dominant 14-6 win in game one on Friday night. The Panthers rebounded Saturday, winning 15-5 in game two. Pitt led for most of game three, but the Tigers came out on top, 4-3.

The Panthers continued their trend of starting slow in conference play, dropping the opening game of the series for the fourth time in all four conference series.

Pitt got on the board first on Friday as junior Jacob Wright led with a double, then scored on an RBI single by LeBlanc. That was Pitt’s only lead in game one, as Clemson tied the score in the bottom of the second inning and broke it open with three runs in the third.

The Tigers added two more runs in the fourth to take a 6-1 lead. As has been the case all season — even in eventual blowout losses to No. 6 North Carolina and No. 11 Florida State — the Panthers battled back.

Senior Aaron Schnurbusch started the fifth for Pitt with a bunt single. Senior Matt Johnson bunted Schnurbusch and junior Caleb Parry over before an RBI ground out from Wright and an RBI single from LeBlanc brought them home.

Junior Nick Yarnall mashed a two-run homer, his sixth of the season, to cut the deficit to 6-5.

The Panthers scored one more when Parry led off the seventh with a solo home run, but they couldn’t stop Clemson. The Tigers had already scored once in the fifth and five more times in the sixth to take a 12-5 lead.

Clemson scored again in both the seventh and the eighth to finish off a 14-6 win in game one.

“I thought we battled at the plate, being down 6-1 early and being able to battle back to make it 6-5 made it a good ballgame,” Pitt head coach Joe Jordano said in a press release.

Pitt sent team ace T.J. Zeuch to the mound in game two, and senior Alex Kowalczyk gave him a boost, spotting him a two-run lead in the top of the first with his team-leading eighth home run of the season.

After mowing down Florida State and Boston College in his first two outings of the season, Zeuch was off to a shakier start in this one.

He allowed three runs in the bottom of the first to give the lead back to the Tigers. But LeBlanc and Kowalczyk brought in three runs in the second inning.

Clemson’s first-year phenom Seth Beer, the NCAA’s leader in slugging percentage, cut into Pitt’s lead in the bottom of the third with his 12th solo homer of the season.

Tied at 5-5 and battling to regain the game, Pitt kept knocking off runs of its own, adding three more in the top of the fifth on a sacrifice fly by Wright and a two-run single by LeBlanc. In the sixth, the Panthers led 12-5.

Zeuch put up a pair of zeroes in the fifth and sixth before first year Yaya Chentouf came in to slam the door on Clemson with three more scoreless innings.

LeBlanc added his fourth RBI single of the game in the eighth, tallying four hits and six RBIs in game two. The Panthers added two more in the top of the ninth to cap off the 15-5 win.

“Offensively, I thought we were as good as we were all year. Charles had a great day and was outstanding with his two-out at-bats,” Jordano said.

Senior Aaron Sandefur took the mound for Pitt in the rubber match on Sunday, eager to build on a complete game shutout in his last start against Boston College.

LeBlanc kept his hot streak aflame Sunday with a single in the top of the first, then scored on an RBI double by Yarnall to give the Panthers an early 1-0 lead.

The Tigers ended Sandefur’s scoreless streak at 11 innings in the bottom of the third, but he stranded a pair of runners on the corners to keep the game tied, 1-1.

Junior Manny Pazos started the top of the fifth with a single for Pitt, then came around to score when right fielder K.J. Bryant dropped a routine fly ball by Wright to give the Panthers a 2-1 lead. LeBlanc knocked another RBI single into left to extend the lead to 3-1.

Sophomore Issac Mattson came in for relief in the sixth and entered in a bases-loaded, nobody-out situation. He nearly pulled off a Houdini, recording the first two outs on only four pitches before giving up a bloop single to tie the game 3-3.

Reed Rohlman drew a leadoff walk for the Tigers in the bottom of the eighth and came home on an RBI single to give Clemson a 4-3 lead. Pitt couldn’t come back in the ninth, losing the competitive series two games to one.

“It was a good baseball game,” Jordano said in the release. “We had a couple of opportunities to extend the lead early and we did not execute the at-bats. On the mount, we walked a few guys and that hurt us and ultimately a leadoff walk in the bottom of the eighth was the game-winner for Clemson.”

The Panthers are now 13-11 on the season and 5-7 in ACC play. They will take the field next in University Park, Pennsylvania, in an interstate matchup with Penn State at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 5.

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