The Pitt baseball team opened conference play this week with a bang sweeping Top 25 Florida State in Tallahassee after taking down Jacksonville University earlier in the week. Pitt’s series sweep of the Seminoles is the first road sweep of a conference opponent since joining the ACC.
The successful week began with a 7-2 victory over Jacksonville University on Tuesday. Jumping out to a 6-0 lead, Mike Bell’s squad finished off the Dolphins while allowing some newcomers to get their first taste of collegiate action.
Once getting to Tallahassee against the No. 9 Florida State Seminoles, the Panthers put together a complete performance pitching a shutout in Game 1 for a 1-0 victory, riding strong offense to a 7-2 win in Game 2, and winning in come-from-behind fashion in Game 3, 9-7, in extra innings. This pushes the Panthers’ record to 6-1 on the year.
Take a look at our nine takeaways from an exciting week of Pitt baseball.
T9 | Pitt 7, No. 9 FSU 7— Pitt Baseball (@Pitt_BASE) February 28, 2021
Little bro gets on base, big bro gets them both home! @nicopopa3 crushes a pitch over the LF fence & ties this game up!!!
: https://t.co/Lat9F2FOyx#H2P pic.twitter.com/0vNzqR5o3a
1. The Panthers handed the Noles their first sweep in Tallahassee since 2017. Coming into the week D1 Baseball ranked Florida State the 24th best team in the country. The first road sweep in Pitt’s ACC history comes during the first weekend of the 2021 ACC season putting the Panthers at the top of the conference standings.
2. Games one and two of the FSU series featured masterful starting pitching performances for Bell’s club. Mitch Myers (Friday) and Matt Gilbertson (Saturday) each went six innings and carded double digit strikeouts. Myers struck out an astounding thirteen while walking two and only allowing two hits. Gilbertson punched out ten while scattering five hits and allowing two free passes. The impressive starts for Myers and Gilbertson were crucial to the Panthers success on Sunday, as well. With Sunday starter Billy Corcoran unable to start, Pitt needed a fresh bullpen to get through game three.
3. Resilience was the theme of Pitt’s first weekend and that theme reigned true again this weekend. Down 7-5 in the top of the ninth, Nico Popa took veteran Seminole closer Chase Haney over the left-field fence to plating himself and younger brother Dom in the process. After three scoreless extra innings, Pitt’s first two hitters struck out leaving nobody on with two outs. After a Sky Duff double and a hit by pitch taken by the older Popa, Kyle Hess doubled to left-center plating both base runners and giving Pitt a 9-7 victory.
T13 | Pitt 9, No. 9 FSU 7— Pitt Baseball (@Pitt_BASE) February 28, 2021
We have the lead!!! @Hessy21Kyle with the clutch double off the fence to bring home both @Sky_Duff3 & @nicopopa3!!
: https://t.co/Lat9F2FOyx#H2P https://t.co/XBTdbJmKq6 pic.twitter.com/DDT022BJwU
4. The backend of a bullpen is tough for a lot of college programs to get figured out. Often, veterans work their way into the starting rotation and underclassmen may struggle in high leverage, late-inning situations. Mike Bell’s staff fixed that problem through the transfer market. Dylan Lester, a 2019 transfer from San Jacinto Junior College, and Jordan McCrum, a 2020 transfer from Monmouth, make a formidable duo to hold leads at the end of games. Lester through 3.1 scoreless innings this weekend while striking out seven and McCrum fanned six in 2.2 innings. Both feature low to mid-nineties fastballs and sharp-breaking pitches which yield a lot of swings and misses.
5. Once again, the top half of the Panther order came to play. The top five in the order combined for 12 extra-base hits in this week’s four games. Nico Popa carded two doubles and three home runs this week leading the way for the Panthers.
6. In our preseason preview, we talked about the Panthers infield flexibility and it was on full display this week. The Panthers infield was outstanding defensively and Bell has seemed to find a lineup he likes with Sky Duff manning the hot corner, Brock Franks playing shortstop, David Yanni shifting over to second base, and Bryce Hulett at first. Franks is the new addition, a glove-first shortstop who can really pick it.
The flexibility comes in handy in games like Sunday. Late in the game and needing a run, Bell pinch hit for Franks with Matt Tarabek allowing Tarabek to stay at third, with Duff moving to second and Yanni to short.
7. A few short innings after shifting over to shortstop, David Yanni made the play of the weekend. After loading the bases with only one out in the 12th inning, Seminole pinch hitter Tyler Martin chopped one over pitcher Chase Smith’s head. In a do-or-die situation, Yanni darted toward the middle of the field and seamlessly fielded and threw to the plate narrowly nabbing the winning run at the plate. The call was upheld by video evidence and in slow motion, it was even clearer, any slight misstep by Yanni and the Noles would have won the game.
8. There is always something to improve on even during a highly successful week like this one. Pitt hitters struck out 53 times in this week’s 40 innings. A lot of chasing pitches out of the zone was the Panthers Achilles’ heel.
9. It can’t be overstated how important this week is in the grand scheme of Pitt baseball. A series sweep of a program like Florida State gives Mike Bell’s squad some reassurance. Even if they were confident coming into the season, the conference is as deep as it has ever been. This win solidifies that the Panthers are certainly to be taken seriously this year.
Coming up, the Panthers have the next four days off before heading to Durham to face Duke in a weekend series. The Blue Devils are coming off a 1-2 weekend hosting Boston College.