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Now in 4th ACC season, Pitt baseball must show improvement

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Photo used with permission of the University of Pittsburgh athletics department - www.pittsburghpanthers.com

In their final season in the Big East, Pitt had one of its most successful baseball seasons in school history. Winning a school record 42 games in 2013 was part of a special year when the program showed real improvement and found itself in the Top 25 rankings. Since then, however, things haven't gone quite so smoothly.

In 2014, of course, the program moved to the highly-competitive ACC. Winning a 42 games there was a fantasy and even winning 30 would be challenging. Understandably, head coach Joe Jordano and the program has earned the right to some time to ease themselves into the new conference. So, finishing 22-30 in their debut season in the ACC was understood. Not many batted an eye at the 20-32 record a year later. Last year the team was better but still had a losing record at 25-26 for the third consecutive season.

The Panthers need to show improvement and get over the .500 mark this year.

The Pitt baseball team opened its season on Friday with a 5-3 win over Delaware. It's a nice little start, but they need to do a lot more of that winning thing.

That's no easy task, obviously, when you're playing in arguably the toughest baseball conference around. But with each losing season in the ACC, the perception about the school not taking the sport all that seriously will continue to swell. That 42-win season seems like a distant memory right now, even though it's only three years ago. And while no one expects that kind of year from the in the near future in the loaded ACC, getting to the 30-win mark in the fourth year of the school being in the conference would be a nice starting point.

None of this is to suggest that the program hasn't had its moments in recent years. Despite the lack of success on the field, the team had five players taken in the MLB Draft last year, including first-round pitcher T.J. Zeuch, who was the highest Pitt draft pick of all time. Pitt had six players selected in the two years before that. The Panthers do have, at the very least, some players that are desired by pro teams. In addition to Zeuch, Pitt produced an All-American at shortstop last season in Charles LeBlanc. Former Pitt player Kevan Smith made his major league debut last year with the Chicago White Sox. The team took a game in a series against No. 1 Virginia in 2015. Despite those high points, there's no doubt that the team needs to win more.

Pitt will always be at a disadvantage of sorts when it comes to recruiting. Many top players want to play in warmer climates and even though the early part of the season is played in warmer areas, being able to play/train year-round in warmer areas has to be attractive. But as Pitt has proven with the 11 guys they've had drafted in the past three years, they are capable of finding some decent players - even if it isn't/hasn't been enough. That availability will always be there because players want to be seen and, in the ACC, you're right on center stage.

Last year, Jordano received a three-year extension as head coach. As I wrote at the time, given Pitt's recent success of getting players drafted and pulling off some nice wins over ranked teams in the past two years, I didn't have any problem with it. Some would even call it a warranted extension in order to try to build some momentum. All of that makes good sense to me and I think that extending Jordano was probably the right move.

Now, though, the team must start producing a few more wins. And getting over the .500 mark for the first time in the ACC would be a good starting point. Expecting this year's team to win more might be difficult given the losses of LeBlanc and Zeuch to the MLB Draft. But teams routinely lose players to the MLB Draft and at some point, some degree of improvement is warranted.

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