The Panthers Feature a Solid Pitching Staff and a Young Lineup
The 2013 season marks the second for Danny Lopaze as Pitt's associate head coach, and his fifth year overall on the staff. Lopaze is the recruiting coordinator as well as spearheading the Panthers' offensive attack as the team's hitting coach.
Lopaze helped guide the Panthers to record-breaking seasons in each of his first three years at Pitt. In 2011, Lopaze worked with a powerful offensive attack that ranked first in the BIG EAST in numerous categories. Despite a nationwide drop in power numbers with the introduction of new regulation bats, Pitt continued to produce one of the most electric and dangerous lineups in the country.
The 2011 team had the most draft picks selected in a single season (6). Four sluggers (Kevan Smith, David Chester, John Schultz and Travis Whitmore) were all taken in the entry draft.
On three different occasions, a Panthers' slugger was named BIG EAST Player of the Week. In addition, five hitters were named to All-BIG EAST teams. Chester and Smith were first team selections while Schultz was named to the second team and junior transfer Anthony Defabio and freshman Casey Roche nabbed third team honors.
As the recruiting coordinator, Lopaze guided several newcomers to immediate impact. Defabio, along with transfer Rick Devereaux were often used as the team's designated hitter. Roche led a talented freshmen class that included starting shortstop Derik Wilson and pitchers Matt Wotherspoon and Ethan Mildren.
In 2010, the Panthers enjoyed arguably the deepest and most talented lineup in the nation with the number of records broken and national rankings proof.
The Panthers set or tied six team hitting records in 2010, finishing second in the country in batting average at .363 and fifth in runs scored at 9.5 per game. Every player in the starting lineup hit over .320 while Joe Leonard, John Schultz and Sean Toole each batted over .400, marking the first time in Pitt history three players surpassed the .400 mark in a single season. Eight players also had at least 44 RBI on the season which led the Big East.
Just a season after guiding Chris Sedon to a stellar campaign, Leonard surpassed Sedon's record-breaking year under the direction of Lopaze. The third round pick by the Atlanta Braves, Leonard set single season records for hits (104), RBI (71), doubles (23) and at bats (240) while earning All-America honors from Louisville Slugger, the American Baseball Coaches Association and Ping! Baseball. In addition to his All-America accolades, Leonard was tabbed the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association District 1 Player of the Year, was a semifinalist for both the John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year and the Dick Howser Trophy and was the 2010 Big East Player of the Year.
In Lopaze's initial season, the Panthers experienced a dramatic turnaround, putting up the best offensive numbers since 2002 with a .307 team batting average, 60 home runs, 340 RBI and a .487 slugging percentage.
Second baseman Chris Sedon, an eventual 10th round draft pick by the Detroit Tigers, played a big part in the Panthers success by having the greatest single season in Pitt history, hitting .398 with 22 home runs, 62 RBI, a .796 slugging percentage and swiping 19 stolen bases.
For his efforts in 2009, Sedon was named as a CollegeBaseballInsider.com All-American, ABCA All-American, Louisville Slugger First Team All-American and a Baseball America Second Team All-American. The four All-America honors for Sedon is a record for a Pitt player.
In addition to Sedon's success, Lopaze mentored Smith, a former quarterback for three seasons for the Panthers, to a .363 batting average, three home runs and 21 RBI. Smith also had a 23 game hit streak, as well as becoming one of the leaders on the field behind the plate.
"Coach Lopaze has brought a great amount of energy and passion to our program," said head coach Joe Jordano. "The results of his body of work are obvious. I consider him one of the best in the business and I truly appreciate his work ethic and tremendous knowledge of the game."
Lopaze came to Pitt from Oakland University where he served as pitching coach, catching coach and also held key recruiting responsibilities for the Golden Grizzlies.
Prior to his position at Oakland University, Lopaze served as an assistant at Michigan State University. In his three seasons with Michigan State, Lopaze was a jack of all trades working with the Spartan outfielders, first basemen, catchers, pitchers and hitters. He spearheaded the Spartans' junior college recruiting efforts as the junior college recruiting coordinator. Lopaze was also the Camp Coordinator for the first two of his three years in East Lansing, gaining valuable experience working camps all over the country ranging from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Virginia, to Santa Clara University, in Santa Clara, California.
In his first season, Lopaze tutored outfielder Ryan Basham, a first team All-Big Ten selection who was drafted in the 29th round by the Toronto Blue Jays. Lopaze also helped develop All-Big Ten infielder Steve Gerstenberger in his first season at first base, where he posted a .991 fielding percentage that season and his 406 putouts were the most in MSU single-season history. In 2007, Lopaze mentored freshman Chris Roberts, who batted .322 and was named a Freshman All-American by Ping Baseball!
A Lakeridge, Va. native, Lopaze attended Potomac Senior High School where he was named an All-American by Baseball America in 1999. Lopaze was drafted in the 16th round by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays following his senior year. Following his senior season at Potomac, Lopaze played for the Ohio Warhawks, a national powerhouse program under the direction of Ron Slusher. In 2006, Lopaze was inducted into the Potomac High School Hall of Fame.
He opted to attend Virginia Commonwealth University and as a freshman earned Rookie of the Year honors from the Colonial Athletic Association as well as All-American honors from Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball. While playing at VCU, Lopaze was a member of the 2000 Yarmouth Dennis Red Sox in the prestigious Cape Cod Baseball League under the direction of Scott Pickler, Head Coach at Cypress College. In four years at VCU, he led the Rams to three NCAA Regional tournament appearances (#2 seed at LSU, #4 seed at South Carolina and a #2 seed at N.C. State). Lopaze hit one of five Ram home runs on Championship Sunday to defeat LSU and force a game two, which had never been accomplished during Skip Bertman's reign in Baton Rouge. As a senior in 2003 he led the Rams to an all-time high in victories with 46 while the Ram pitching staff led the country with an E.R.A. of 2.54.
Lopaze was drafted and signed by the Chicago Cubs in the 40th round of the 2003 Amateur Baseball Draft. He spent a season playing professional baseball with the Cubs organization in Boise, Idaho, and Lansing, Mich., assisting Lansing to a Midwest League Championship in 2003.
From 2003-05, Lopaze served as an assistant general manager and assistant coach for the Petersburg Generals. In 2005, he moved into an assistant coaching position, working with infielders and hitters.
Lopaze graduated from Virginia Commonwealth in 2004 with a degree in Sports Management/Parks and Recreation.
He married the former Lisa Wilson, a native of White Lake, Mich., on September 27, 2008. The couple currently resides in Pittsburgh.
Former Players on Coach Lopaze
"Coach Lopaze greatly contributed to my development as an all-around baseball player as well as a person. The instruction and knowledge of the game he possesses helped me achieve many awards and goals including Big East Player of the Year and the opportunity to be drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 3rd round. My success at the University of Pittsburgh was greatly influenced by the coaching staff and their ability to develop a program that works." - Joe Leonard, First Team All-American & 3rd Round Draft Pick of the Atlanta Braves in 2010.
"My experience as a Pitt baseball player was a very special time in my life. It allowed me to build friendships and memories that I will have for a long time. I was very fortunate to have such a great staff of coaches. They were all dedicated to develop player's skills for opportunities at success and to one day have a future career in baseball. I was able to work with Coach Lopaze the majority of the time at Pitt due to my position and him being our hitting coach. When I switched over from playing football, he was the first guy I worked with and made the transition very easy. He is a passionate coach that strives for the game to be played the right way. The dedication he showed to the program and players is something I will always appreciate because it was a huge reason why we were so impressive at the plate. His experience, knowledge, and dedication have given me a great opportunity to succeed as a professional baseball player and also in life. He is a guy that does everything first class and is someone you can always count on to be there for you." - Kevan Smith, 2011 First Team All-American & 7th Round Draft Pick of the Chicago White Sox in 2011
"Coach Lopaze showed me a great work ethic and prepared me for professional baseball. He helped me mechanically and mentally on my swing and was always there when I needed it. I couldn't ask for a better coach or person and the dedication he has to the hitters and the Pitt Baseball Program is unbelievable. I was privileged to have him as a coach." - David Chester, First Team All-Big East & 33rd Round Draft Pick of the Boston Red Sox in 2011
"I've never had a coach who paid such close attention to the little things, along with stressing the mental maturation of all his players like Coach Lopaze. My success stems heavily from not only learning the mental side of the game but also by having Coach Lopaze translate into off-field absolutes for success in life. Not only did Coach Lopaze make himself available whenever anyone needed extra help during my career at the University of Pittsburgh, but he continues to help out in whatever way he can now that I'm in professional baseball. It's safe to say that not only did Coach Lopaze uphold his promises to me regarding my on-field career, but also served as a great role model off the field." - John Schultz, 34th Round Draft Pick of the Miami Marlins in 2011