Wichita, Kan. - The University of Pittsburgh (1-0) baseball team used a pair of runs in the top of the ninth to open its 2013 campaign with a 6-4 victory over Wichita State (0-1) this afternoon at Eck Field. Prior to the Panthers win, WSU had been a perfect 69-0 in the month of February at home under head coach Gene Stephenson.
"Wichita State has been a premier program for many years led by one of the greatest coaches of our game, Gene Stephenson. Today our objective was to execute the things that we are committed to as a team and we did a solid job in all phases," said head coach Joe Jordano.
Casey Roche and Sam Parente each recorded a pair of RBIs and Ethan Mildren tallied an impressive outing in his debut as a Friday starter, finishing with an impressive line of 7.0 innings, five hits, two earned runs and a career-best tying nine strikeouts in a no decision to help the Panthers get the opening day victory.
"Ethan Mildren pitched very well and settled down after the two run homer in the first and got us through the seventh inning. We had a little bump in the pen but Tanner Wilt settled down and got us the win," Jordano said. "I was impressed with our job at the plate today. We were aggressive and ran the bases well and came up with some big two-out RBI knocks. Eight of our nine hitters had a hit, led by Casey with three."
The Panthers offense got off to a quick start in the first inning as Stephen Vranka got the game started with a single that crept past the shortstop into left. After a fly out, Roche came up in the third spot and slapped the first pitch into right for a single which moved Vranka to third. A nice first-to-third pick off move from WSU starter Cale Elam saw Varnka get gunned down at the plate for the second out of the inning. The Pitt batters kept after it and Parente roped a single to left to get Pitt on the board. Elvin Soto followed up Parente's hit with a two-out hit of his own, a triple that found its way over the Shocker's center fielder's head in deep center. The Panthers' were unable to score Soto from third and took a 2-0 lead into the bottom of the frame.
Mildren started his day with a three-pitch strikeout of Cody Bobbit before Garrett Bayliff singled to right and WSU got a homerun to right from Casey Gillaspie to knot the score, 2-2. Mildren responded strongly by striking out a pair of Shockers to limit the damage.
After Pitt went scoreless in the second, Mildren got a 1-2-3 inning that started with his fourth strikeout in as many batters. After a pop up to shallow right was routinely handled by Bennette Hill at second, the Shockers looked like they were about to get an extra base hit from Taylor Doggett but Roche made an outstanding diving catch in right to end the inning.
The two squads exchanged scoreless third and fourth innings before the Panthers struck again in the top of the fifth inning. With one out, Vrnaka roped a double down the left field line and was brought home a batter later on a first pitch bullet up the middle from Roche that lifted Elam from the game with a final line of 4.2 innings pitched, seven hits, and three earned runs. Aaron LaBrie came in to close out the frame and hold the Panther advantage to 3-2.
The bottom of the sixth started off with WSU's Gillaspie drawing a leadoff walk prompting a mound visit from Jerry Oakes who was able to calm his ace down. Following the visit, Mildren was able to regroup and strike out the next three batters to get out of the jam. The inning looked like it may end the day for Mildren but he came out again in the seventh and was able to get yet another 1-2-3 frame to end his day by retiring 13 of the last 14 batters he faced, including not allowing a hit for his final four innings of work.
In the top of the eighth, WSU's T.J. McGreevy started the inning by getting a pair of outs on three pitches before A.J. Lardo reached on base hit up the middle and stole second to get into scoring position. Another clutch two out hit, this time from Eric Hess, gave the Panthers an insurance run and a 4-2 lead.
The Shockers were able to get to the Pitt bullpen in the eighth to tie the game. After Joe Harvey loaded the bases, Tanner Wilt came out of the pen with two outs and gave up a single through the left side of the infield that scored a pair of runs and knotted the game going into the ninth.
Evan Oswald led off the ninth by getting plunked in the back to get a leadoff runner on prompting a call to the pen for WSU. After Albert Minnis was able to get his first batter faced out, Boo Vazquez blooped a single into center between three Shockers. Roche came to the plate and was again in an aggressive mode smoking a first pitch fastball into center to score Oswald and again give the Panthers the lead. Parente took the same approach to his at-bat and chopped a first pitch fastball into center over the head of the secondbaseman to score Vazquez and extended the Pitt lead to two runs going into the ninth.
Wilt stayed on the mound in the ninth and was able to get the final three outs to earn the win, closed emphatically with a strikeout of Garrett Bayliff with the tying run on base.
"There is no question that Wichita State will be back at it again tomorrow," Jordano said. "They are well coached and a very talented team. We will have another opportunity to play tomorrow and we will be ready."
The Panthers and Shockers will be back in action tomorrow at 3 p.m. ET. Matt Wotherspoon takes the mound for Pitt, while WSU will have A.J. Ladwig toe the rubber for the second game of the series.