The Pitt Panthers baseball team opened the 2018 season with a lopsided 9-3 victory over the Oakland Golden Grizzlies on Friday afternoon. The win came in the first game of the Sunshine State Classic, which is underway at Osceola County Stadium in Kissimmee, Florida.
The Panthers saw an especially dominant performance from infielder Liam Sabino, who was making his first start since transferring from Vanderbilt. He opened the scoring with a solo shot in the bottom of the first and never let up, going 4-for-5 on the day and batting in another run. Left fielder Nico Popa also had a decent outing, as he went 2-for-4 with an RBI of his own.
Coach Joe Jordano talked about Sabino’s memorable debut in an interview after the game.
“For (Sabino) to put the Pitt uniform on for the first time and, in his first at-bat, hit a home run that put us up in the bottom of the first was something that I hope he’ll remember for a very long time, and I know I certainly will,” he said.
With that said, Pitt was also the beneficiary of some good luck — particularly in the third inning, when Oakland fell apart.
David Yanni reached base on an error in the bottom of the third, which allowed Alex Amos and Cole MacLaren to plate two unearned runs as Sabino reached third. In the next at-bat, Sabino came home on a wild pitch, and Yanni advanced to third. Then Yanni came home when Oakland catcher Mike McGee dropped Caleb Parry’s third strike, giving Pitt a 5-0 lead.
Pitt would later pile on, as Sabino hit MacLaren home in the fourth. The Panthers would then get another run on another Oakland mistake, as Popa came home on a wild pitch in the sixth. Pitt would then put its finishing touches on the game by batting in two more runs in the seventh for a 9-1 lead. Oakland would get two more back in the eighth but ultimately fell 9-3.
While the Panthers got lucky at the plate, Matt Pidich was dominant on the mound, giving up just three hits and one run over six innings on Friday. In addition to that, he struck out a career-high seven batters and issued only two walks. Pidich showed his first signs of wear in the fifth and declined in the sixth, but he was able to get out of the inning having allowed just one run.
“Having a good defense behind me, I just know with these guys if I pitch to contact, they’ll take care of me,” Pidich said after the game. “I know just to pitch to contact, and they’ll have my back, and I have theirs.”
Chase Smith was solid in relief for Pidich from the seventh inning on, but he was replaced after 1.1 hitless innings by Kevin Henriksen, who struggled.
Henriksen gave up a single and an RBI triple to start things off. He bounced back with a strikeout before giving up a walk and an RBI single. At that point, Jordano replaced him with Peyton Reesman, who gave up just one hit and no runs in the remaining 1.1 innings.
Although the Panthers ended up with an impressive scoreline on Friday, it’s worth noting that they would have found themselves in a much closer ballgame if not for Oakland’s mistakes. Still, while there’s room for improvement, Pitt showed a lot of promise in its 2018 opener.
Jordano and the Panthers will take the field again Saturday at 11 a.m. ET, when they’ll face Saint Louis in their second game at the Sunshine State Classic. Pitt will then play Toledo at 6:30 p.m. ET before taking on Oakland once more Sunday at 11 a.m. ET.