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No. 17 Pitt Baseball Takes Two of Three Against Tar Heels

Photo used with permission of the Pittsburgh Panthers athletics department (www.pittsburghpanthers.com)

Saturday (Game 1) – Pitt 6, North Carolina 2

Nico Popa hit his eighth home run of the year driving in Sky Duff in the first inning and David Yanni followed that with an RBI double just three batters later. Those first-inning runs would prove to be all the Panthers needed as Pitt’s pitching staff held the Tar Heels to two runs while scattering nine hits. In one of his grittiest performances of the year, Mitch Myers gutted out six innings on his way to his third win of the year. Myers did not have his best stuff Saturday afternoon allowing a run in the second and a run in the third. His three-pitch mix was not fooling Carolina hitters early, but he eventually settled in and put together yet another quality start as the Panther bats were alive and well all game. After the Tar Heels cut the lead to one run in the third inning, Ron Washington Jr. extended the lead in the fifth with an absolute no-doubter down the left-field line. Hit bat flip made its way around Twitter on Saturday night earning over 63,000 views.

Pitt tacked on two more insurance runs in the seventh and eighth innings and closed the game out 6-2. After Myers exited the game after the sixth, Pitt’s bullpen delivered in a big way. To this point, the relievers had been the shakiest piece to this Top 20 team, but Corey Sawyer, Chase Smith, and Jordan McCrum each threw a scoreless inning and closed things out with little worry.

Saturday (Game 2) – Pitt 3, North Carolina 2

Clinching a series win on a Saturday is one of the best feelings in college baseball and the Panthers did just that sweeping the Saturday doubleheader. Matt Gilbertson twirled an absolute gem going seven innings and only allowing two runs. Both North Carolina runs came in the third inning as Gilbertson allowed a home run to UNC third baseman Clemente Inclan to start the frame and the Heels strung together a couple of hits to tack one more on. Quickly, the Panthers answered as Kyle Hess doubled to left in the bottom of the third to cut the lead in half. Two batters later, Panther second baseman David Yanni showed his maturity at the plate with two outs and two runners on working a count to 3-1 and lacing a double to centerfield plating two runs and giving Pitt the lead.

If you turned your TV off after the third you didn’t miss anything else as both starting pitchers settled in and neither team plated another runner. Scott Forbes opted to start his ace in game two and Austin Love put on a strikeout show at Charles L. Cost Field fanning 12 over six and a third. Matt Gilbertson had his fair share of punch-outs himself, striking out eight in seven innings.

After Gilbertson’s exit, Pitt called on sophomore C.J. McKennitt for the eighth and Jordan McCrum for the ninth. The hold for McKennitt might not get much love in the highlights, but it marked his third straight scoreless outing. A streak he would extend on Sunday going two innings without allowing a run. Prior to this streak, McKennitt had struggled, allowing two or more runs in three of his previous four appearances. As the season inches closer to the final stretch, the sophomore right-hander will undoubtedly be called on for more high-leverage innings, so his success will be crucial in close ball games.

Sunday – North Carolina 10, Pitt 9

Billy Corcoran’s return to the mound was greeted with a first-pitch home run by Tar Heel right fielder Caleb Roberts. The Heels were not done there though, plating four more runs in the opening frame leading to a 5-0 advantage through one half of an inning. Following a run on a Kyle Hess sacrifice fly, the Tar Heel lead shrunk to one run as first baseman Brice Hulett homered down the left-field line as the Panthers almost matched the Heels five first-inning runs with four of their own.

Corcoran returned for the second and was noticeably better as he mowed the Heels down 1-2-3. Corcoran did not have any command issues in his first start since February, but the stuff was visibly less sharp and the Heels took advantage in that opening frame. After such a long stint nursing an injury, it is not at all surprising that he lacked some velocity on his fastball and feel for his offspeed pitches. Hopefully, the clean second inning will lead to even more confidence as he builds himself back up to the third starter the Panthers absolutely need. Pitt did tie the game in the fifth on a Ron Washington Jr. sacrifice fly, but the Heels answered in the sixth with Caleb Roberts’ second home run of the game and they never relinquished the lead again. Extending their lead back to five runs, Pitt fought back valiantly as the tying run was in scoring position in the ninth as Ramon Padilla grounded out to the shortstop to end the ballgame. Not how Mike Bell’s squad wanted to end the weekend, but a series win is a series win and Pitt has momentum heading into their toughest series of the year, on the road against No. 7 Louisville next weekend.

Next Weekend:

Fri: 3 PM @ Louisville (ACC Network)

Sat: 1 PM @ Louisville (ACCNX)

Sun: 1 PM @ Louisville (ACCNX)