The Pitt Panthers baseball team headed down to Spartanburg, South Carolina, to take part in the Wofford-USC Upstate Tournament over the weekend, winning two of their three matchups.
In its first game, Pitt topped Presbyterian 4-3 on Friday, a feat that sounds more impressive when taking into consideration that the Blue Hose went 32-29 in 2017 and were playing less than an hour away from their home field.
Dan Hammer got his second start of the season in that game, and he struggled early, allowing Presbyterian to load the bases and plate a run in the top of the first. He would later give up a solo shot to Blue Hose infielder Jack McLaughlin in the top of the second before settling down and giving the Panthers two more scoreless innings.
”Dan [Hammer] did not get off to a great start, but he battled, made some adjustments and got us through five,” Pitt head coach Joe Jordano said after the game. “Chase [Smith] came in and did a really nice job for us again, and then we had to go to Yaya [Chentouf] early in a bases-loaded, no-outs jam in the top of the eighth. He did a great job minimizing and keeping the lead and finished it off in the ninth.”
As Jordano noted, Smith was just about flawless for Pitt again in relief, as he checked in for two innings and gave up no runs, no walks and just one single. He was replaced by T.J. Pagan, who got the Panthers in a jam, forcing closer Yaya Chentouf into early action. Luckily, Chentouf was up to the task, and he was able to notch his second save of the season in a two-inning outing.
At the plate, the Panthers saw contributions from Nick Banman, who knocked in Frank Maldonado with a double in the top of the second; Connor Perry, who hit a sacrifice fly to right field, allowing Maldonado to score again in the fourth; and David Yanni, who belted a two-run homer that would ultimately give Pitt the win.
With a strong collective pitching effort and another display of power at the plate, the Panthers were able to get the best of the Blue Hose and are now 4-0 against them all time.
The Panthers had a busier day on Saturday, as they faced both USC Upstate and Seton Hall. They made the most of it, though, first squaring off with USC Upstate in the morning and seeing results similar to their season opener against Oakland.
Matt Pidich got his second start of the season, and again, he was solid. He came incredibly close to posting his second quality start of the season but was pulled after 5.2 innings, having struck out a career-high eight batsmen and given up just one earned run. But perhaps the story of the game and the weekend was the support he got from Liam Sabino yet again.
In the season opener, Sabino went 4-for-5 with a home run, propelling Pitt to its first win of the year with Pidich on the mound. On Saturday, he went 3-for-5, blasting a solo shot in the top of the fifth and bringing home Alex Amos with a ninth-inning homer for the win. In addition to batting in all three of Pitt’s runs, Sabino was also the only Panther to notch multiple hits.
However, Pitt’s overall offensive struggles persisted in their second contest of the day, as the Panthers were blanked 1-0 by Seton Hall for their second loss of the year.
While Pitt got a quality start from Blair Calvo on the mound, his six scoreless innings and eight strikeouts were not enough to get the Panthers the win in his comeback from Tommy John surgery, as the team struggled to produce at the plate.
Calvo handed the ball off to Smith in the seventh inning, but the reliever was undone by a throwing error by catcher Cole MacLaren. In an unusual play, MacLaren tried to throw a runner out at second base, but he hit him in the helmet. The ball then bounced into the outfield, allowing Seton Hall’s Casey Dana to score what proved to be the game-winning run.
“It’s unlike something I’ve ever seen before,” Jordano said of the error after the game. “That was a tough loss. We pitched very well. Blair [Calvo] gave us a solid outing as he continues to increase his pitch count. He did a really solid job, we just made a couple of mistakes defensively that ended up costing us.”
Jordano also acknowledged Pitt’s lackluster offensive showing in the tournament finale, saying, “We must do a better job at the plate. I am confident that will happen.”
After the weekend’s action, the Panthers stand at 5-2 on the season. They’ll head back to Kissimmee, Florida, where their season began, to take on UMass in the Sunshine State Classic on Friday at 3 p.m. ET.