June 11, 2007
PITTSBURGH - The 2007 Pitt baseball season brought a few landmarks and even a few surprises as head coach Joe Jordano's team was selected to finish ninth by league coaches and played to an impressive fourth-place finish in the Big East Conference.
With youth leading the way, the team shrugged off a tough 0-8 start to the season, against arguably the toughest schedule assembled in Pitt history, to finish strong with a 27-27 record overall and a 15-11 league mark.
Six underclassmen peppered the starting lineup including four freshmen and two sophomores. The four field players combined to play in 88.0 percent of Pitt's games and the two pitchers - including starting freshman Nate Reed (Reading, Pa./Oley Valley) and sophomore go-to reliever Kyle Landis (Hazleton, Pa./Hazleton) - combined for 33 appearances on the year.
Also included in the list of underclassmen is freshman first baseman Gary Bucuren (Ambridge, Pa./Kentucky), freshman center fielder Jordan Herr (Lancaster, Pa./Delaware), sophomore catcher/designated hitter Morgan Kielty (Burlington, Ont./Burlington Central) and freshman shortstop Danny Lopez (Queens, N.Y./Monsignor McClancy).
"This was a productive year for us," Jordano said. "We knew going into the season that we would be young, however, I did not realize at times how young we really were. As the season progressed, we had upwards of 5-7 freshmen and sophomores on the field at any given time. With this youth comes inexperience. But you cannot teach experience - you have to live it."
Bucuren, despite being hampered by injury down the stretch, led the team with a .319 batting average and was second in doubles, triples and homeruns and was third for the Panthers in RBI with 29.
Two Panthers helped re-write the Pitt record books in 2007 in two major categories. Senior pitcher Paul Nardozzi (Victor, N.Y./Victor) became the all-time strikeouts leader at Pitt with 260 in four seasons. Nardozzi completed the season with a 5-6 record and a team-low 3.58 ERA among Pitt's three weekend starters.
Senior outfielder/pitcher Peter Parise (Bronx, N.Y./Cardinal Spellman) became Pitt's all-time hits leader, tying the record at 250 in his final game at Trees Field, on May 19 against Seton Hall. Parise broke the record, just miles from where he grew up, in game one of the Big East Championships at KeySpan Park in Brooklyn. Parise had one hit against USF in the loss and added two the next day against Connecticut to complete his four-year career with 253 hits.
Nardozzi and Landis were each named to the All-Big East third team for their efforts during the season. Nardozzi also earned Big East Player of the Week honors and Landis led the league and the nation for most of the season in ERA, holding a 0.33 ERA midway through the year.
At the plate, senior Seth Button (Elk Lake, Pa./Gloucester College) and Bucuren led the charge. Button posted team highs in homeruns (8), RBI (31), hits (63), doubles (16), total bases (104) and slugging percentage (.530) as well as posting a .312 batting average at the plate, good for second on the team.
Parise leaves Pitt with more than just the hits record under his belt. Parise will leave as the program's all-time leader in games started (206), games played (206) and at bats (827). He also recorded four saves on the year to go along with a 2-1 record and 1.12 ERA on the mound.
Junior Dan Williams (Berwyn, Pa./Episcopal Academy) proved to be the Panthers' most patient hitter drawing a team high 30 walks on his way to posting a .301 batting average, which was third-best on the team.
Defensively, Lopez recorded a team-high 133 assists as the Panthers' shortstop, while Button recorded a team-high 378 putouts as the Panthers' primary first baseman. In addition, Lopez was also the Panthers' most consistent base stealer, being caught just once in 11 attempts, while junior Sean Conley (Chippewa, Pa./Blackhawk) led the team with 11 stolen bases.
After the 0-8 start, which included tough losses at No. 1 Vanderbilt and vs. Michigan State, the Panthers rebounded, winning 10 of their next 14 games. The 2007 campaign also included series sweeps of Big East rivals Villanova and 2006 Big East Champion Notre Dame, as well as, at Lehigh and at Central Michigan. Pitt earned series wins over Louisville - who recently advanced to the College World Series, Cincinnati and Georgetown on its way to the fourth-place finish.
The season came to a conclusion with a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to USF in the first round and a 5-2 loss to Connecticut in the double elimination Big East Tournament to put their final record at 27-27 and 15-11 in conference play.
"I believe we lost some games we probably should not have lost but definitely had some wins that were unexpected as well," Jordano said. "The core group of players are returning with valuable gained experience and I really like the group we have coming in. I honestly can't wait for the first practice this fall."
The Panthers are extremely optimistic for next season with ten strong signees for next season, adding to the 21 returning players for the 2008 season.