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Pitt Baseball - A Proud Tradition




Feb. 10, 2014

The Panthers' roots in collegiate baseball date back to 1869, when the "University Nine" of the Western University of Pennsylvania defeated the Eckfords of East Liberty, 21-20, in a five-inning contest. According to the 1937 edition of the student yearbook, The Owl, the 19th-century slugfest was the "first game of consequence played at the University."

     It was not until the following season in 1870 when the "University Nine" lost their first game, but despite the team's earliest successes, competitive baseball was only played intermittently for the next two decades. Toward the turn of the century from 1888-94, baseball flourished again at the Western University of Pennsylvania, helping to define a period that has been referred to as the University's first "golden age" in athletics (1892-94).

     Official sponsorship of the baseball program from the University came in 1907 and was followed by several changes to the school's identity. In 1908, the Western University of Pennsylvania changed its name to the University of Pittsburgh after relocating its campus to Pittsburgh's Oakland neighborhood and, as part of the move, adopted the "Panthers" nickname in 1909. It was also around this time when Dick Hoblitzell made his Major League debut with the Cincinnati Reds (Sept. 5, 1908), becoming the first Pitt player to ever break into the Big Leagues. Hoblitzell's 1,130 hits and .278 batting average are the best career offensive marks of any former Panther in Major League Baseball.

     Several highly credentialed names came to head Pitt's baseball team shortly after the University officially recognized the program. Thomas McCreery, the Panthers' first head coach on record to have played in the Majors (1895-1903), anchored the 1912 unit in his first and only year with the team. Sam Wilson, Pitt's team captain in 1914, replaced Mays Edmundson (1913-14) in 1915. According to The Gazette Times, Wilson "was so popular with his teammates and showed such a fine knowledge of baseball that he was a unanimous choice for the leadership position."


 

 

     James DeHart, one of the most renowned Panther athletes of the early-20th century, suited up with the baseball team to make history in the spring of 1916. Though he was not the first to engage in multiple sports at the University, DeHart did become Pitt's first four-sport letterman. Best known for quarterbacking the Panthers' undefeated team in 1916 under the tutelage of Glenn "Pop" Warner, DeHart lettered in baseball, basketball, football and track and field at Pitt.

     Walter Blair, who was a catcher for the New York Highlanders of the American League from 1907-11, coached the Panthers in 1917. However, at the end of the season, Pitt suspended all baseball activity due to waning interest in the sport. Not only was World War I a leading factor in the program's disbandment, but so too was the irregularity of scheduling, the lack of proper facilities and the growing popularity of football.

     Three years passed without baseball at the University (1918-20) before Dick Harley, who played 740 games in the major leagues (1897-1903), resurrected the Panthers' program in 1921 with notable success. In the first season of the "Harley Era," Pitt went 13-6, recording the most wins in a single season during Harley's tenure as head coach. The Panthers struggled throughout much of 1922, but they did take two games from Penn State at the end of the season to knock the Nittany Lions out of contention for the Tri-State Championship. Team captain Steve Swetonic, who debuted with the Pittsburgh Pirates on April 17, 1929 as a reliever, helped Pitt rebound to win 11 of 17 games in 1923 and to finish at 8-3 in a shortened 1924 season.

     All in all, Harley's Panthers excelled on the field during his four years at the helm and his influence on the program made him one of the most respected coaches in college baseball. As noted in the 1923 edition of The Owl, "Coach Harley's years of experience served to great advantage in molding the genuine fighting spirit that characterized the backbone of the team."

     In 1925, Pitt baseball entered its second hiatus in eight years and did not return until 1939 when Ralph Mitterling (1939-54, 89-106-1), the third consecutive Panther head coach with a background in Major League Baseball (1916, Philadelphia Athletics), took over the team. Baseball has since been played continuously at the University.

     The modern era of Pitt baseball was welcomed with the first ever game played at Pitt Stadium, a multi-purpose facility constructed at the heart of the University's campus, on May 5, 1939. Lefty Drobniewski set records in batting average (.458) and slugging percentage (.750) during the 1939 seasons, records that remained untouched for the next 11 and 10 years, respectively. Ed Raymond, who was a member of the Panthers' only basketball team to advance to the Final Four (1941), also made his baseball debut with Pitt in 1939.

     1941 was the best season of Mitterling's first decade with the program, as it featured a seven-game win streak and undefeated record (3-0) against longtime rival West Virginia en route to a 9-3 overall finish. Pitt encountered a bout of misfortunes from 1942-48, going 16-41 during that time. Reviving the "genuine fighting spirit" of Panther teams of the past, the 1948 Pitt baseball team battled in three extra-inning affairs during its 11-game season, with the first of which lasting 15 innings against Juniata in a heartbreaking 3-2 loss (currently tied for the longest game in program history).

     The program took a turn in a much more positive direction in 1949 when the Panthers won 11 games for the first time since 1923 behind the production of Frank Papariello, whose .808 slugging percentage still stands as the team's single-season record. In 1950, George Lowe topped Drobniewski's single-season batting record with a .474 mark of his own and also recorded a .574 on-base percentage (program record). After floating under and above .500 in 1951 (9-10) and 1952 (7-5), an outstanding offensive and defensive resurgence paved the way to a 12-6-1 record in 1953. The Panthers won 11 of their last 13 games to finish the season, including a whopping 36-6 victory over IUP (the most runs and largest margin of victory in program history). Dick Shannon also became Pitt's first seven-game winner in 1953, tossing 95.1 innings on the year and working the most complete games (9) ever recorded by a Panther in a single season.

     Mitterling's final season at Pitt was highlighted by a 10-7 showing in 1954, capping off a coaching career that certainly cannot be overlooked. Mitterling produced some of the most successful baseball talents in Panthers history with three of his former players making their major league debuts while he was still coaching. Bob Malloy, whose 3.26 career ERA is the lowest of any former Pitt player with more than one season played in Major League Baseball, debuted with the Cincinnati Reds in 1943. Dave Pope (1952, Cleveland Indians), who batted .294 as a rookie, and Russ Kemmerer (1954, Boston Red Sox), each broke into the big leagues in the 1950s as well.

     Bobby Lewis (1955-90, 396-281-1), a teacher in the University's Health, Physical Education and Recreation Department in the School of Education, was hired as Pitt's new head coach in 1954 and is one of the most storied figures in school historythanks to his work with the Panthers over the course of 36 seasons. As former athletic director Ed Bozik once said, Lewis was "a throwback to the simpler days of college athletics -- a full-time faculty member and a coach second."

     The Panthers were 34-39 in Lewis' first four seasons (1955-58), during which some of the most esteemed athletes in Pitt history made their baseball debuts. In 1955, Joe Walton, an All-American football player who helped lead the Panthers to consecutive bowl games in 1955 and 1956, appeared in his first college baseball game playing center field. Walton was known to have incredible power at the plate and was described by Lewis as a "very fine ballplayer." In 1957, the Washington Redskins called his name in the second round of the NFL Draft and he later led a prominent coaching career in professional football from 1967-91. Walton often joked about how the curveball was what kept him from continuing to play baseball.

     Mike Ditka, praised by Lewis for his ability to cover ground in the outfield, made his Pitt debut on the diamond in 1958. Ditka lettered in baseball, basketball and football for the Panthers and was the fifth overall pick of the 1961 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. He has since become a three-time Super Bowl Champion, as a player and as a coach, and has also been enshrined in both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame.

     1959 marked the beginning of a new era for Pitt baseball. The Panthers posted a 14-4 record that season and qualified for their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Ithaca College, 4-3, in 11 innings in the opening round of the District 2 Regional. Senior shortstop George Schoeppner, whom Lewis considered one of the best players he ever coached, was the catalyst of Pitt's 1959 team, becoming the Panthers' first ever All-American and All-Region selection. Lewis' No. 10 and Schoeppner's No. 25 are the only baseball uniforms retired by the University.

     In 1961, Jim Sylvis shined on the mound for Pitt. In his first start of the season, Sylvis pitched a no-hitter against Clarion, resulting in a 1-0 victory for the Panthers. Also, on the final day of the regular season, Sylvis tossed a 14-inning complete-game shutout against Fort Lee, though he was tagged with a losing decision in the 2-1 final.

     From 1962-65, Pitt went 59-16 with four consecutive seasons of 11 or more wins. In 1963, the Panthers won the first eight games of the season average 10.4 runs per game and were led by the .494 batting average of Bob Cuthbert, topping Lowe's record set in 1950. Both Cuthbert and John Carlisle, who tossed no-hitters against Duquesne and Kent State and became the first Pitt pitcher to strike out 100 batters in a season (105), were All-Region selections that year.

     The Panthers won 17 games for the second time in as many years in 1965 after opening the season at 10-0, the best start of any team in program history, and shutting out 10 of their opponents, also a program best. Qualifying for its second NCAA Tournament in six years, Pitt fell once again in the first round, this time to No. 7 Lafayette, 4-3, in the Princeton Regional. Fred Mazurek garnered All-American honors at the end of the season after leading the Panthers in batting (.466) and striking out just four times in 73 total at-bats. Pitching, however, defined Pitt's remarkable 1965 campaign. Lee Brueckel, who served as a starter and reliever for the Panthers, led the nation with a 0.68 ERA in 58.1 innings, striking out 63 batters and tossing six complete games, including four shutouts. Dave Blyshak also dominated the pitching charts with his 0.94 ERA. Brueckel (0.84) and Blyshak (1.74) are first and second, respectively, on the program's all-time ERA list.

     Only five Pitt pitchers have recorded earned run averages below 1.00, with all five of such marks coming between 1965 (Blyshak and Brueckel) and 1970. Don Stock continued the trend of the previous season with a 0.82 ERA in 1966. Dave Welty led the NCAA and set a single-season program record in 1967 with a 0.33 ERA, allowing just two earned runs in 55 innings to go along with a 6-1 record and 89 strikeouts. Welty started the season with 44.2 consecutive innings of shutout baseball, the longest recorded stretch of scoreless frames in program history. Three years later in 1970, Frank Mincarelli held a 0.74 ERA in Pitt's inaugural season at Trees Field.

     The 1970s were a period of offensive might for the Panthers. Ken Macha batted .415 as a junior in 1971 with seven home runs and 31 RBI in Pitt's 18-win season. He collected All-Region honors in 1972 and was drafted in the sixth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Panthers' highest draft pick at the time. Macha went on to play six seasons with the Pirates, Montreal Expos and Toronto Blue Jays and has also managed the Oakland Athletics (2003-06) and Milwaukee Brewers (2009-10).

     Pitt's offense batted .339 in 1973 and went 10-3 on the season thanks to Jim Sufrin (.447), Paul Quarantillo (.433) and Dan Slain (.388), who each contributed to make the Panthers' lineup one of the nation's most potent congregation of college hitters. In 1974, Peter Martorelli became the best at getting on base in Pitt baseball history with a .581 on-base percentage and Dan DeStout had one of the best offensive seasons ever by a Panther catcher when he batted .435 with five home runs in 1977.

     Allen Lachowicz made his freshman debut in 1979, going 3-2 in five starts and recording a 1.50 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 36 innings pitched. Lachowicz blossomed into the Panthers' best starting pitcher since George Medich, who played 11 seasons in the big leagues and whose 124 career wins in Major League Baseball are the most by any former Panther. Playing a critical role in Pitt winning 17 of its last 19 games to finish at 25-8 in 1981, Lachowicz completed his junior campaign with a career-best 1.41 ERA and became the University's first and only first-round selection in the MLB Draft (Texas Rangers). Lachowicz struck out Reggie Jackson (Oakland Athletics) twice in his first appearance with the Rangers, a game in which Lewis attended. When injuries closed the door early on Lachowicz's young career in 1983, Lewis, who was always one to remind his players "the degree comes first," advised him to return to school to earn his degree, which he did.

     The early 1980s featured several record-breaking feats by Panther players, beginning with Mike Luciow completing two no-hitters in 1981. In 1983, Tony LaCava set records in batting average (.508) and on-base percentage (.623) and Aaron Krause closed his career with a program-best 17 wins and 17 complete games from 1981-84.

     Joining the Big East Conference in 1985, the Panthers entered a transitional period from independent competition to troublesome conference clashes with the likes of Seton Hall and St. John's. Aside from Chris Jelic (1985, Kansas City Royals) and Matt Stennett (1986, Houston Astros) being selected in the MLB Draft, Gregg Lamanti (12) and Dave Westwood (11) teaming up to become the first Panthers to hit for double-digit home runs in 1987 and Billy Sherbondy being named the 1988 Big East Rookie of the Year, Pitt struggled to make an immediate impact in the Big East. The Panthers finished last in the South Division of the conference in four of five seasons from 1985-89 and fell to the basement of the Big East when divisional play was removed from the conference's format in 1990.

     Mark Jackson (1991-97, 183-143-1) was named Pitt baseball's next head coach shortly after Lewis' retirement in 1990, and it did not take long for him to create a buzz in the Big East. Following 15-30 and 25-22 finishes in 1991 and 1992, Jackson led the Panthers to their first appearance in the Big East Tournament in 1993. Pitt opened the season at 17-2 and finished at 30-13 (10-11, Big East) overall, placing sixth in the conference standings.

     The Panthers remained steadfast with their winning mentality in 1994, winning 17 of their first 22 games of the season. Pitt went on to post a 31-16-1 (15-5, Big East) record and was crowned the Big East Regular Season Champion to guarantee a second consecutive conference tournament appearance. The Panthers led the nation in stolen bases (207) that year, with Craig Crawley (36), Bob Miller (31), Danny Gonzalez (27), Jason Conti (25) and Josh Tyler (24), the 1994 Big East Player of the Year, carrying the weight on the base paths.

     Taking 16 of their first 18 games of the season and recording the most wins in program history (39), a record that remained unbroken until 2013, the 1995 Panthers placed fourth in the conference to head to their third straight Big East Tournament. Unlike the previous two seasons, Pitt cruised through tournament play, defeating Providence, 10-4, in the championship game. Having secured an automatic bid to the 1995 NCAA Tournament, the newly crowned Big East Tournament Champions advanced to the Mideast Regional in Knoxville, Tenn. The Panthers lost to No. 11 Oklahoma State, 6-3, in the first round but outslugged The Citadel, 12-10, and California, 9-4, in the following games to earn another shot against the Cowboys.  Resilient and determined, the Panthers turned to their explosive offense to remain alive in the regional but fell once more to No. 11 Oklahoma State, 15-13, ending the best postseason run in program history. Tedde Campbell, who signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1996, was the most reliable arm on the team that season, setting records in wins (15), games started (16), total appearances (26), innings pitched (135.0) and strikeouts (109). Leading Pitt's offense was Trent Babcock, who batted .352 with 13 home runs and 47 RBI in the best statistical season of his career.

     The final two seasons of Jackson's career with the Panthers were not as decorated as the previous three as Pitt failed to gain entry to the Big East Tournament in both 1996 and 1997. With growing interest spurring in the collegiate game, the Panthers played their first ever games before crowds gathered at Three Rivers Stadium in 1996, where they defeated West Virginia, 3-1, and lost to Akron, 6-4. Pitt finished below the .500 mark (19-26) in 1997 for the first time since Jackson's first season as head coach, setting into motion a plan that intended to restore the program's prestige with permanence moving forward.

     Athletic director Steve Pederson hired Joe Jordano (1998-present, 469-376-2) as the Panther's head coach on Nov. 15, 1997, marking the beginning of a rebuilding project that has delivered an unprecedented amount of growth, productivity and success over the past 16 seasons. Jordano is the winningest coach in program history, amassing 469 wins and 10 postseason appearances. He has coached 49 All-Conference selections, 18 All-Region selections and 12 All-Americans and has seen 49 of his players go on to sign professional contracts. Through his emphasis on excellence, integrity and passion, Jordano has played a crucial role in reestablishing the Panthers as a premier Northern program.

     Jordano captured his first win with Pitt in the 1998 season opener, an 8-3 win against Northwood on March 2, and picked up his first conference victory against Georgetown, 5-1, on March 22. He was also welcomed by more than $500,000 in renovations to Trees Field in 1999, which included the installment of an AstroTurf infield. Freshman Mike Gonda led the team in batting in 1999 with a .367 average in 47 games played. Joe Lydic hit .336 with 14 home runs and 53 RBI and Steve Dickinson batted .347 with 13 home runs and 47 RBI also. In 2000, Ben Copeland stole 37 bases to set the program's single-season record for swipes as the Panthers snapped their five-year drought from the Big East Tournament.

     Pitt finished above .500 in conference play (14-11) for the first time in five seasons in 2002 and finished with a 36-16-1 overall record. The Panthers started the season at 10-0-1, the second-best start in program history, including a season-opening sweep against Maryland-Eastern Shore where they outscored the Hawks, 34-1, in the series. However, for the first time in history, Pitt missed out on postseason play after having a winning record against conference opponents in the regular season, placing fifth in the standings and a half-game behind Boston College and Rutgers. Brant Colamarino (19) and Brad Rea (18) combined for 37 of the Panthers' 60 home runs that season, with Rea finishing his Pitt career with All-American honors and the most career home runs (49), RBI (198) and total bases (428) in Panthers history.

     On May 6, 2003, Pitt played its first ever game at PNC Park, losing to Duquesne in a low-scoring, 2-1 game. The Panthers returned to the Big East Tournament in 2004 following a 38-18 (17-9, Big East) season and hitting 61 home runs (program record) on the year. Jordano earned his first Big East Coach of the Year award that season, P.J. Hiser was named Big East Player of the Year, Nick Evangelista was named Big East Pitcher of the Year and Jim Negrych was named Big East Rookie of the Year. In 2005, Pitt went 33-22 (15-10, Big East) and advanced once more to the conference tournament. In the opening round, the Panthers upset top-seeded No. 23 St. John's, 4-1, but later lost to Notre Dame, 11-4, in their first Big East Tournament championship game since capturing the crown in 1995. Copeland and Negrych were named All-Americans and Robert Brant was named a Freshman All-American that season.

     Although Pitt fell to 19-34 (7-19, Big East) in 2008, the Panthers bounced back at 28-21 (13-13, Big East) the following year, defeating West Virginia, 13-12, in a walk-off win on the final day of the regular season to qualify for the postseason. Chris Sedon batted .398 with a program-best 22 home runs and 62 RBI in 2009, a season in which he collected All-American honors.

     In 2010, Pitt (38-18, 18-8 Big East) was without Sedon in the lineup, but it managed to set team records in hits (772), runs (531) and RBI (481). The 2010 Panthers were the first to have three starting position players with .400-plus batting averages as well, led by Sean Toole (.471), Joe Leonard (.433) and John Schultz (.404). Leonard solidified his reputation as one of the most formidable sluggers in program history when he set records in hits (104), doubles (23) and RBI (71). Schultz, on the other hand, finished first on the single-season list in runs scored (76) and second in hits (91). Complimenting Pitt's offensive output was strong pitching throughout the entirety of the season, as Corey Baker (11) and Matt Iannazzo (11) became the school's first duo to have double-digit wins in the same season. Leonard, the Panthers' primary closer, also converted a program-best eight saves.

     2011 marked the program's inaugural season at Charles L. Cost Field, a state-of-the-art stadium built within the Petersen Sports Complex. Since the gates have opened, Pitt has gone 55-20 at home and has won 11 of 15 three-game series played, including nine sweeps. Nearly 25,000 fans have witnessed some of the program's greatest players in recent memory take the field, including the record-six players taken in the 2011 MLB Draft. Kevan Smith (7th round, Chicago White Sox), a former quarterback, catcher and designated hitter at the University, is now regarded as one of the top prospects in the White Sox organization. Also, in 2012, Iannazzo became the program's all-time leader in wins (28).

     The Panthers' 2013 season was one of the most successful seasons the program has ever had, cruising through a record-breaking 42-17 (18-6, Big East) campaign that featured eight weekend series sweeps while finding itself rankied in all five major college baseball polls for the first time in history. Picked to finish seventh in the preseason coaches' poll with no Panthers selected to the preseason All-Conference team, Pitt entered its final season as a Big East program off the radar and distant from any demanding expectations. However, the Panthers managed to exceed predictions by competing for a share of the regular season title on the final day of conference play and seeing a program-best eight players take home Big East honors.

     The season began with a three-game series sweep over perennial Missouri Valley Conference power Wichita State, marking the first time the Shockers had been swept at home in 43 seasons. Wichita State's three losses to Pitt were the first games ever lost at home in the month of February (69-3) under head coach Gene Stephenson (35 years) as well. The Panthers powered on through March, sweeping St. John's in three games during the first weekend of conference competition. It was the first time in program history that the Panthers swept the previous season's Big East Tournament Champion in a three-game set, in addition to being the first time the Red Storm had been swept at home in 17 seasons. On April 9, Pitt routed Youngstown State in a 24-7 win on the road while Casey Roche became the first player to hit for the cycle since Leonard in 2010, going 5-for-7 with 10 RBI, including a grand slam, in what was one of the most remarkable individual offensive performances in Pitt baseball history. Roche was named an All-American by the NCBWA, becoming the 12th All-American selection under Jordano.

     The Panthers ranked seventh nationally in scoring (7.5) and runs (444), 12th in on-base percentage (.403), 16th in slugging percentage (.448) and 20th in home runs (49). In the conference, Pitt finished first in batting average (.302), on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs, RBI (394), home runs (by a 20-home run margin over Louisville), total bases (926) and walks (292). It was also second in hits (625) and doubles (108), tied for third in triples (23) and fifth in stolen bases (72). Defensively, the Panthers were fourth in the Big East in ERA (3.59) and fifth in strikeouts (349) and batting average against (.258). They converted 61 double plays on the season as well, which were the most among all conference teams and tied for 10th nationally.

     Pitt saw three players get selected in the 2013 MLB Draft, including Ethan Mildren (12th round, Minnesota Twins) and Matt Wotherspoon (20th round, Detroit Tigers), who teamed up to become the first Panthers in program history to log more than 100 innings each in the same season, and Elvin Soto (16th round, Arizona Diamondbacks), the team's backstop and highly-coveted switch-hitting prospect. Mildren and Soto each signed with their respective teams, but Wotherspoon will return to lead the weekend rotation in 2014 after opting to remain at the University for his senior season.

     On July 1, the University of Pittsburgh officially joined the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC), setting the stage for one of the most anticipated eras in Pitt baseball history. With strength and stability now steering the future, the Panthers look to display their belonging in one of the most competitive baseball conferences in the country.