May 6, 2012
PISCATAWAY, N.J. – The Pitt baseball team moved one win closer to the final playoff spot in the BIG EAST, holding on for a thrilling 4-3 win at Rutgers on Sunday. The Panthers took two out of three games from the Scarlet Knights, winning a conference series for the second straight weekend.
Leading by one run with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, freshman closer Tanner Wilt faced a tough task for any pitcher, let alone one still in his first college season. With the bases loaded and one of the conference’s top hitters at the plate, Wilt got Patrick Kivlehan to ground into a 5-3 double play to end the game.
“We made some big plays in big situations. Obviously that play at the end of the game was huge,” said Pitt head coach Joe Jordano. “You’ve got the bases loaded with one out and their best hitter, maybe the best hitter in the conference, coming up to the plate. We did a great job and made a great play.”
Kivlehan entered the game with a .403 average, 10 home runs and a .486 on-base percentage. With nowhere to put him, Wilt had to go right at him. Third baseman Sam Parente made a nice play on the groundball, touched third and threw to first baseman Rick Devereaux, who also made a great play by tagging the runner following an off-target throw.
Matt Wotherspoon picked up his fourth win of the season, giving up three runs on four hits and three walks. He struck out four batters in 7.2 innings of work.
While Wotherspoon pitched a great game, he had some help from right fielder Casey Roche early on. Roche made a game-changing play by robbing Charlie Law of a solo home run in the second inning. The catch was made on a towering fly ball that was about to drop on the other side of the right-center field fence.
“It was very exciting. We really needed to win that ballgame and win the series,” said Jordano. “As we’ve been saying, we’re in a must-win situation. There were some big plays and some big pitches. That was a heck of a team win today.”
Offensively, the Panthers strung hits together when they needed to, tallying five of their eight hits in two innings, both of which resulted in two runs.
With one out in the third inning, Stephen Vranka and Anthony Defabio hit back-to-back doubles to tie the game at 1-1. One batter later, Rick Devereaux gave Pitt a 2-1 lead with a RBI single.
Sam Parente upped the lead to 4-1 with a two-run single in the fifth inning. The Panthers again started the rally with one out as Derik Wilson singled and Vranka walked. They each advanced one base on DeFabio’s sacrifice bunt and scored on the two-out hit by Parente.
Wotherspoon ended up giving up one run in the sixth inning and another in the eighth inning, but a trio of relievers – J.R. Leonardi, Joe Harvey and Wilt – helped preserve the lead.
“It was a great game all-around,” Jordano said. “I’m very excited about it and we just have to keep moving forward.”
Jordano and the Panthers, of course, have their eyes set on qualifying for the conference tournament. They entered the weekend two games back of Villanova for the eighth and final spot, but now sit just one game back as the Wildcats lost two of three to Notre Dame.
Pitt will host a midweek non-conference game against Akron on Tuesday before travelling to Seton Hall for a BIG EAST series this weekend. The Panthers will play a doubleheader with the Pirates on Friday and one game on Sunday in the first of their final two conferences series of the season.