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Pitt Baseball sweeps Rutgers, moves to 2nd in Big East

Stephen Vranka's walk-off home run gives Pitt the series sweep of Rutgers and pushes them to a game out of 1st with many winnable games ahead.

As has been the case more often than not for the Panthers in 2013, Pitt got hits when they needed them over the weekend, allowing the team to pick up a sweep of the visiting Scarlet Knights, pushing their Big East record to 9-3 and 29-10 overall. With 16 games to play, not including the Big East Tournament, Pitt has already eclipsed their win total from 2012.

It started in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader. Ethan Mildren, the reigning Big East Pitcher of the Week, got the win with seven solid innings. He gave up only one earned run while striking out four. But the game was tight throughout, with Pitt only holding a 4-2 lead going into the 6th inning. That's when the Panthers made their move. With the bases loaded, Casey Roche got a walk to bring in one runner, then Steven Shelinsky, Jr. and Sam Parente were both hit by pitches two bring in two more runners. Elvin Soto stepped up to the plate and hit a grand slam and just like that, Pitt took a 4-2 nailbiter and made it a much more comfortable 11-2 lead. Pitt went on to win 14-5.

The second game followed a similar script. Coming into the bottom of the 6th inning, the Panthers only held a 5-3 lead. But just like Game 1, a timely grand slam gave Pitt enough distance to get the win. This time it was Shelinsky who drove one to right field, giving Pitt a 9-3 lead after six innings. Matt Wotherspoon got the win after pitching seven innings and striking out three.

Sunday's game turned into a big game for the Panthers. With Louisville's loss at St. John's, a Pitt win would leave them in 2nd place and just a game back of conference leader South Florida. The Panthers nearly fell apart in the 8th inning. Leading 3-0, Rutgers quickly tied the game and had runners on 1st and 2nd with no outs. Joe Harvey came in to relieve Roche (who started on the mound in place of Rhys Aldenhoven, who didn't suit up for the Panthers over the weekend due to injury). Harvey then struck out three straight Rutgers batters to close the inning. Pitt failed to score in the bottom of the 8th while Rutgers only managed a hit in their next at bat. In the 9th, Parente got things started with a double, followed by a Boo Vazquez pinch-hit single to place runners on the corners. Stephen Vranka was next up and with a 2-1 count, he smacked one over the left field wall to give Pitt a 6-3 win and the series sweep.

More importantly, Pitt is 9-3 and in sole possession of 2nd place with very winnable games ahead of them in conference play. The next three series are against Cincinnati, Georgetown, and Villanova, three of the bottom four teams in the conference. After that, they'll head to Louisville. The Panthers have an excellent chance to keep pace with the Bulls and challenge for the regular season title with four weeks to go in college baseball's regular season.

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