With one swing of the bat in the top of the ninth, Bryce Hulett saved the weekend for the Pitt baseball team. After a disappointing 2-2 start to the season, the Panthers needed to win three of the four games they played in their second series of the season to get back on track, and they accomplished that by splitting two games with Bradley and sweeping Lipscomb in the Music City College Classic.
On Friday, Matt Gilbertson turned things around after a shaky opening day start, twirling five innings of one-run ball. Gilbertson pitched to contact and avoided the big inning, something that plagued him last week. Most importantly, the Panthers bullpen started hot and stayed hot all weekend. Pitt also played with a lead most of the game and stranded the tying run at third in the ninth inning, as Hayden Summers notched his second save of the season to finish off a 4-3 win over Bradley.
On Saturday, Pitt played a doubleheader, with the first game against Bradley and the second against Lipscomb. Pitt’s bats were quiet in the first game, as the team scored just twice on eight hits. Both Sky Duff and Jeffrey Wehler had two hits, but Pitt never got the big one to drive in multiple runs and build momentum. And as a result, Pitt fell to Bradley 3-2.
Despite allowing three runs in the sixth inning and carding the loss, Billy Corcoran has looked every bit the part of a quality second starter. It’s never been a question about ability with Corcoran. A highly acclaimed recruit out of Malvern Prep, Corcoran battled injuries all last season, which limited him to four appearances. But if Corcoran can stay healthy, the Panthers have the makings of a highly competitive weekend rotation, as Logan Evans delighted all in attendance in Saturday’s second game.
In a near carbon copy of his performance last weekend, Evans threw seven shutout innings against one of the best teams in the highly competitive Atlantic Sun Conference. In addition to Evans’ mastery on the hill, Pitt bats finally came alive and notched 16 unanswered runs in an abbreviated seven-inning game that was called by the mercy rule.
Notably, the bottom of the order’s production outpaced the top half, with the latter four in the lineup driving in 12 runs. As has been noted before, it is always going to be about depth with Pitt baseball. In the uber-competitive ACC, the bottom half of the order, the bullpen and the bench will always be critical to winning conference weekends, and the productivity of the bottom half of the order on Saturday has to give Mike Bell a lot to be excited about.
After trouncing Lipscomb 16-0 on Saturday, Pitt found itself trailing the same team 5-4 in the seventh inning on Sunday. However, the Pitt bullpen worked the final seven innings of the game and kept the Panthers in it, despite using five arms. Neither Dylan Lester nor Baron Stuart allowed a run over the last 10 outs of the ballgame. Lester, a Pitt veteran, and Stuart, a South Florida transfer, are sure to combine with Summers to make up the back end of the Pitt bullpen this season. They also shut down Lipscomb through the use of different styles, as Lester relied on soft contact and Stuart struck out four of the six batters he faced.
The great bullpen performance was almost for naught, though, as Pitt still trailed in the eighth inning. Lipscomb gifted Pitt the tying run, as Wehler reached base on a free pass, stole second and then advanced to third and home on wild pitches. Hulett then played the hero, hammering a solo shot in the ninth to give the Panthers a 6-5 lead Stuart would preserve.
Next weekend, Pitt will face its final test before ACC play begins as the team will head down to Fayetteville, North Carolina, to face Army, Ohio State and Campbell in the All-American Classic. The first game — a tilt with Army — will get underway at 3 p.m.