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Pitt baseball, softball teams off to slow starts

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After last season, there was some room for optimism about the Pitt baseball and softball programs as both appeared to be heading in the right direction. A year later, though, it’s looking like both programs are deeply mired in the rebuilding process.

The Pitt softball program has had four consecutive winning seasons and an NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015. They also nearly made the tournament again last year after reaching the finals of the ACC Tournament before giving up a walkoff home run in the last inning to lose a late lead against a top ten Florida State team.

This year, the team is already playing catch up with a dismal 1-8 record. This past weekend, things hit rock bottom as the Panthers were swept, losing all four games in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, dropping a pair to both Wisconsin and Nebraska.

Pitt wasn’t only defeated in those matchups, they were dominated. The Panthers gave up a total of 46 runs and only scored three themselves. Twice they were shut out and three times, the games were ended early due to the mercy rule. You might expect that kind of result if they were powerhouses but as of last week’s rankings, neither team was in the Top 25 or receiving any votes in the poll.

The baseball season isn’t quite as far down the path as the softball season is but things don’t look promising there, either. Pitt is only 1-3 and after a season-opening win against Villanova, the Panthers have been overmatched, dropping games to Iowa, Marshall, and Milwaukee. Two of those games, a 10-1 beatdown against Iowa and 7-2 loss against Marshall, weren’t particularly close.

Last year wasn’t a banner year for the baseball team but it was one that saw them show definite signs of life in the very difficult ACC. For the first time ever, the team finished with a winning record, as they went 29-26. And while they had a while to go in being competitive against ACC teams, the 11 wins (11-19 record) was the most they had ever had. They also managed to win four series’ against Virginia, Miami, Georgia Tech, and Boston College. The team also had a great amount of postseason success, defeating Georgia Tech and then shocking top overall seed North Carolina before falling to Louisville in the semifinals.

It is notable, of course, that both programs have new coaches in place. The softball program lost Holly Aprile who resigned to take the head coaching job at Louisville. And despite the somewhat successful season that the baseball team had, longtime coach Joe Jordano was reportedly let go and forced to resign.

Now leading the softball program is Jodi Hermanek, who had 15 years of experience prior to coming to Pitt, including four NCAA Tournament appearances with Ohio and Southern Utah. Mike Bell heads the baseball program and while he has served as an assistant at some big time programs, including Florida State, Oklahoma, and Tennessee, this is his first head coaching gig. Both coaches appear to have their hands full at the moment.

So, why all the struggles? An important thing to remember is that both teams lost some key contributors so I’m not sure a repeat of last year’s success was in the cards no matter who was coaching.

One of the players that the baseball team lost was Liam Sabino, arguably the team’s biggest offensive threat, leading the team in a bunch of statistical categories. They also lost starting pitcher Matt Pidich, who was the ace of the staff and both players are now in the minors. Pidich, in particular, was taken relatively early, going in the eighth round to the Cincinnati Reds. The softball team lost arguably its top pitcher in Kayla Harris as well as catcher Giorgiana Zeremenko, who graduated as the school’s all-time leader in home runs. Both teams also lost some other key players, too.

Some rebuilding may have been seen this year but it’s possible that things could be even more challenging than anticipated — particularly for the softball team. A 1-8 start this early in the with so many blowout losses doesn’t bode well.

Long way to go for both teams this year and plenty of season is left. Still, these slow starts aren’t too encouraging.

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