It was certainly not the start Mike Bell’s club was hoping for as the No. 6 Miami Hurricanes (11-4) pulled their brooms out of their holsters for a series sweep to open up conference play.
The best chance for a win certainly came on Friday when the Panthers (10-5) came back from a four-run deficit to send the game to extras, only to come up short as 2019’s ACC home run leader, Alex Toral, went deep to walk it off in the eleventh. As an underdog on the road, an extra inning loss can often be a confidence killer and that proved to be, unfortunately, true for the remainder of the weekend.
Miami is never an easy place to play and it’s made even tougher with this year’s Hurricane roster. Miami is a veteran laden team and took advantage of a disappointed Pitt squad after Friday’s extra inning loss. Let’s recap the three games.
Friday: Miami 5, Pitt 4 in 11 innings
If you are trying to convince your friends to give college baseball a chance, Friday’s game was certainly the game to show them. With former All Star and Pittsburgh Pirate Gaby Sanchez in the booth, game one of this series was the inaugural conference baseball game on the ACC Network and, other than the outcome, it was an absolute pleasure to watch. Pitt’s starter Billy Corcoran battled all afternoon without his best fastball in his arsenal. Corcoran, who frequents the low 90’s, only hit 90 miles per hour a handful of times all game, but a plus changeup kept him in the game against a left-handed-heavy Miami team. As a rule of thumb, the changeup is always a very important pitch when facing a hitter on the opposite side of the plate due to the action of the pitch going away from the hitter. The potential pitfall when relying on the changeup is if it is left up in the zone, it can result in hard hit balls, and that’s what happened in the 4th inning as Anthony Vilar and Alex Toral both took Corcoran deep on Corcoran’s two worst changeups of the afternoon. The Panther bats were quiet early in the ballgame but came alive in the seventh and eighth innings plating four runs on five hits. Pitt had a chance to take the lead in the eighth with leadoff hitter Sky Duff at the plate with the bases loaded. However, Miami closer Daniel Federman made a fantastic pitch as his fastball started off the plate but danced over the inside corner to end the inning. Mason Ronan dazzled out of the bullpen for the Panthers throwing 2.2 shutout innings to get the Panthers through the eighth. CJ McKennitt came on and was equally as impressive through two innings. Unfortunately, one bad pitch to Toral to lead off the eleventh, and the Panthers best chance at a victory completely vanished.
Saturday: Miami 5, Pitt 0
On Saturday, the Canes certainly didn’t give Pitt any chance to lick their wounds as they started Chris McMahon, potentially the ACC’s top pitching prospect for this year’s draft, on the mound. McMahon pitched in the mid-90s and showed a swing-and-miss slider that resulted in eight strikeouts. It is rare for a college pitcher to have electric stuff like McMahon’s and also exhibit above average command. McMahon is the exception, not allowing a single walk in his seven innings. The Panthers failed to plate a run against either McMahon or reliever JP Gates and fell 5-0 in a short and not-so-sweet two-and-a-half-hour contest. One bright spot for the game was freshmen lefty Adam Bloebum as he threw 1.2 shutout innings in his ACC debut and only allowed one hit.
Sunday: Miami 14, Pitt 2
The Panthers did find themselves with their first lead of the weekend on Sunday after plating two in the top half of the third inning, but Miami quickly answered with three runs in the bottom half of the third and never looked back from there scoring fourteen unanswered runs in a Sunday afternoon rout. Pitt starter Matt Gilbertson stayed in the zone and gave his defense a chance to make plays, but those plays were tough to make as Miami had many hart hit balls against the right hander. Up until Sunday, the Panther bullpen had been extremely reliable, but that bullpen momentum came to a screeching halt as the relief core allowed 10 runs. On the offensive side, Pitt did manage eight hits but stranded ten base runners as they only managed one hit with runners in scoring position.
- Mason Ronan. Ronan came to Pitt with a lot of buzz about his upside. A left hander who frequents 90 miles per hour is a sight for sore eyes on the high school circuit. Ronan, though, finished last season with the highest ERA on the team and averaged more than one walk an inning. He was outstanding on Friday going 2.2 innings and allowing no runs on two hits.
2. Kyle Hess. Full disclosure: I got to watch Hess in high school during his time on the showcase circuit, and I have always loved his game. He had a great weekend going 6-11 and seemingly finding the barrel every time he was at the plate. Hess is a draft eligible sophomore, so don’t be surprised if you hear his name continuing to generate buzz all season.
3. Fight. This may say corny, but it is incredibly important heading into conference play that this team does not give up when they are down. Despite getting swept, Mike Bell’s guys never showed signs of giving up. They fought hard against a national championship contender and that should result in wins as we move through the season.
1. Top of the lineup. This weekend the top four in the lineup hit a lowly .196 going 10-51 with only one extra base hit. More production from the top half of the order is absolutely needed if Pitt is going to beat the cream of the crop in the ACC.
2. The shift. I fully believe in using analytics to your advantage and do not blame Bell or the staff for shifting on hitters like Alex Toral. However, the shift was beaten in big spots and resulted in 3 huge RBIs on Friday and Saturday.
3. Limiting the damage. While this is really only applicable to Sunday’s game, the seven-run eighth inning makes tough to feel good about much on the flight back home. The blowout loss creates a sour taste that makes it impossible to feel good about anything after this weekend.
After a midweek contest against former Big East foe, South Florida, in Tampa on Tuesday , Pitt returns home to face Virginia this weekend in the second conference weekend of the season.