Feb. 16, 2012
PITTSBURGH—The Pittsburgh Panther baseball team will start off the 2012 season with the Big East/Big Ten Challenge on Friday, Feb. 17 against the Iowa Hawkeyes. This will be the first of four games scheduled for the team’s stay in Florida this weekend. The first pitch will be thrown at 1 p.m.
The Panthers will also be playing the Michigan Wolverines at 7:30 p.m. on Friday to round out the day’s doubleheader. Set for Saturday will be a matchup against the Northwestern Wildcats at 4 p.m., followed by a game against the Indiana Hoosiers scheduled for 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon.
Head coach Joe Jordano is assured of the team’s preparation for the competition, and is ready for the season to get under way. Jordano currently has 399 wins with Pitt, which ranks second all-time in school history. With the lineups just about set for the Big East/Big Ten Challenge, the Panthers are confident in themselves and the players taking the mound to come out of the weekend with success.
Pitt vs. Iowa (Feb. 17, 1 p.m.)
In 2011, the Pittsburgh Panthers had a 33-23 record and finished third in the Big East Conference. In games at neutral sites, such as the ones set for this weekend, they were 6-5 overall. The Iowa Hawkeyes went 20-32 in 2011 with a .262 team batting average and a 4.22 team ERA.
However, Pitt will be facing an improved Iowa baseball team and will be matched up against the Hawkeyes’ ace, senior left-handed pitcher Jarred Hippen. Hippen was named to the 2012 Big Ten Preseason All-Conference First Team by College Sports Madness and received the honor of Second Team All-Big Ten in 2010 and 2011. Last season, he had a 4-6 record in 94.2 innings of work with a 3.14 ERA. Hippen tossed four complete games and recorded 61 strikeouts, while only allowing two runs or less in nine of his 14 starts.
With what is projected for Friday’s afternoon game, this will be a matchup of two southpaws taking the mound, as senior left-handed pitcher Matt Iannazzo will be starting for the Panthers. Iannazzo went 8-3 with a 2.73 ERA in 102.1 innings pitched in 2011, complimented by an exceptional 1.11 WHIP. He was selected to the Preseason All-Big East First Team for the second year in a row and is listed by College Baseball Insider as one of the best starting pitchers in the Big East Conference. Iannazzo also ranks second all-time in wins (21) at Pitt, sitting three shy of Corey Baker’s record set from 2008-2011.
Iowa’s offense will be headed by senior infielder Mike McQuillan, a player who recorded 21 multi-hit games in 2011. During his junior season, McQuillan led the team in batting average (.330), hits (66), RBI (31), and on-base percentage (.410). For the Panthers, their dominant offensive presence will be headed by one of the team’s leaders in 2011—sophomore outfielder Casey Roche. Roche batted .345 in 2011 with 19 RBI, in addition to a .445 slugging percentage and a .398 on-base percentage.
Pitt vs. Michigan (Feb. 17, 7:30 p.m.)
The Panthers will face the Michigan Wolverines to conclude Friday’s doubleheader. The Wolverines are coming off an upsetting season, where they went 17-37. In 2011, they had a team batting average of .245 and a team ERA of 5.09. Regardless of what 2011’s numbers may say about this team, the Panthers will have to be prepared for Michigan’s top arm in senior right-handed pitcher Brandon Sinnery.
In 2011, Sinnery was named to the All-Big Ten Third Team as a starting pitcher after having recorded a 2.91 ERA in 15 appearances—a season in which he threw two complete games and held opponents to a .239 batting average. Sophomore right-handed pitcher Matt Wotherspoon is set to take the ball to compete against Sinnery. Wotherspoon went 5-2 in 2011 in 15 appearances, posting a 3.78 ERA with 31 strikeouts.
One of Michigan’s top offensive players is senior catcher Coley Crank, who led the team in total bases a season ago. After appearing in every game in 2011, Crank finished the year with a .268 batting average. However, he did hit 17 doubles, seven home runs, and had 33 RBI with a prominent .474 slugging percentage. Wotherspoon will have to remain focused and trusting of his arsenal to make sure that Crank does not hurt the Panthers, especially in the later innings of the game.
Additional offensive leaders from 2011 that return to make appearances in this year’s Pitt lineup include the two Duquesne University transfers from a year ago—senior catcher and outfielder Anthony Defabio and first baseman Rick Devereaux. Defabio is coming off a season in which he batted .337 with one home run and 25 RBI, with an impressive .435 on-base percentage. Devereaux batted .290 with two home runs, 20 RBI, and a .390 on-base percentage. If these players pick up from where they left off a season ago, the Panthers could come out of the Big East/Big Ten Challenge with promising results.
The remaining games, Northwestern & Indiana
The Panthers will be taking the field against the Northwestern Wildcats and Indiana Hoosiers to round out their trip in Florida. The Wildcats went 20-29 in 2011 with a 2-6 record at neutral sites. The Hoosiers will be the first team that the Panthers face that had an above-.500 record last season. They went 30-25 (7-7 at neutral playing fields).
Sophomore right-handed pitcher Ethan Mildren and redshirt freshman right-handed pitcher Luke Curtis are penciled in to pitch against Northwestern and Indiana this weekend. Mildren went 4-5 in 2011 with a 4.31 ERA in 71.0 innings and recorded 49 strikeouts. Curtis is back and healthy this year after missing all of 2011 due to injury.