As the No. 12 (and last) overall seed in the ACC Tournament, Pitt’s baseball team seemed like a longshot to continue its season by getting out of its group to reach the weekend’s semifinals.
Seems like the team had other plans.
After defeating No. 8 seed Georgia Tech in a 2-1 game, the Panthers (29-25) pulled off the shocker of the tournament, knocking off top-seeded North Carolina (37-18), 5-4 on Wednesday. The Tar Heels, ranked No. 6 overall in the nation, had swept Pitt in the regular season making a win even more unlikely. Still, the Panthers produced enough offense to pull off the big win. The Tar Heels and Yellow Jackets will play a final game but both teams are eliminated and cannot advance.
Things didn’t exactly get off to a great start for the Panthers. They allowed two runs in the first inning to the Tar Heels and starter Dan Hammer was bounced in the third inning after North Carolina was on the move again. R.J. Freure was in and the Tar Heels scored a third run that inning but the damage was kept to a minimum as outfielder Frank Maldonado made one of the best catches you’ll ever see.
If you missed it, here’s the catch.
Point blank, he doesn’t catch that ball and North Carolina probably scores three runs there, likely putting the game out of reach. I don’t see any way that Pitt wins that game otherwise.
Maldonado then came back and wasn’t done. He was shaken up after hitting the wall but then came right back and led off with a double in the bottom half of that inning. Pitt responded on offense again, answering with two runs of their own to tie it heading into the fourth.
North Carolina added a run in the fifth but the Panthers came back. Again. This time, it was the bottom of the seventh as the team scored a pair of runs to take the lead for the first time, 5-4. The Tar Heels threatened one more time in the ninth with a potential tying run on second but Maldonado struck again, making another fine catch on a deep ball to end the game.
Pitt’s offense did the job on Wednesday after a sluggish game against Georgia Tech. The Panthers recorded ten hits to only five for North Carolina.
The game wasn’t without some controversy. Right fielder Connor Perry made a sliding catch that was questionable as it looked as if it could have bounced into his glove. Umpires went to the replay but couldn’t overrule it. But Pitt had a worse call go against them earlier in the game when a runner on third was called out after a batter was called for interference after swinging and missing. The call was downright horrible as pointed out by the announcers and could easily have cost Pitt another run in the fourth inning.
The job Maldonado did was simply amazing and he was clearly the player of the game for the Panthers. He’s been doing it all year for Pitt and it was great to see him stand out on a larger stage. But pitcher Derek West also did a heck of a job in relief. Pitt burned through two pitchers in the first four innings and West came on in the fifth with no one out and two men on. He not only got out of that situation giving up only one run but would go the rest of the way without giving up another. Pitt needed a strong relief performance and got it from him.
Pitt will now face either Duke or Louisville in a Saturday semifinal at 1:00 p.m.