PITTSBURGH - The University of Pittsburgh baseball team collected its eighth ACC victory of the season Sunday afternoon, downing the third-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels in an offensive shootout at Charles L. Cost Field. A five-run third inning for the Panthers lifted the home team to an 11-9 win over the Tar Heels in a Coastal Division showdown.
With the win, Pitt evades a sweep as the Tar Heels earned the first two victories of the series on Friday and Saturday. The third-ranked team in the nation, North Carolina had lost just four games in ACC play coming into the weekend, losers of just eight overall.
Freshman Dan Hammer got in a bit of trouble in the first as the Tar Heels struck for four in the opening frame. A double and single put runners on the corners for a single by Kyle Datres to score the first of the game. A three-run homer off the bat of Brandon Riley would clear the bags as the third-ranked Tar Heels grabbed a 4-0 lead.
"I was very pleased with Dan [Hammer]," said head coach Joe Jordano. "When I went out to visit in the first inning, I think it was 4-0 and we had a couple runners on bases still with one out. I told him `Dan, you just have to pitch, man. I have all the confidence in the world that we're going to come out of this okay. You just have to keep pitching. Stick to the process and keep pitching.' And he did that. The end result of that was he got us through five innings and did a really good job for us. He's feeling good about it and we're feeling good about it. As you've heard me say many times before that we're trying to get a little better each game. Dan Hammer got a bit better today.
"That was probably the best offensive performance that we have had to date. Quite frankly, I felt that it was a must-win situation. There are so many teams bunched up in that seven, eight, nine wins column in the ACC and we're going to have to battle our way to the end. I just thought that our guys responded all the way around. It turned a little rough at the end but we played really well defensively, took advantage of the opportunities on offense, and gave us some big hits. Overall, it was a very, very good baseball game."
Pitt got one back in the bottom of the frame as a double by Caleb Parry and a walk to Frank Maldonado put two on. Shortstop P.J. DeMeo would single to center to score Parry, cutting North Carolina's lead to 4-1. In the second, the Panthers would edge closer to the North Carolina lead, plating two more to cut the deficit to just one. A single by Alex Amos put a man on for senior Jacob Wright to continue his offensive prowess, as the left fielder rocketed a ball over the wall in left center for his fifth homer of the season.
The Panthers kept it going in the next frame, taking the lead with a five-run third inning. Nick Banmandrew a leadoff walk, chasing the North Carolina starter. DeMeo would pop out in foul territory for the first out of the inning before a single by Yaya Chentouf would put two on for Manny Pazos. The senior catcher singled through the right side, scoring Banman before an error by the Tar Heels' right fielder allowed the runners to move up.
A single by Amos scored Chentouf and put runners on the corners for a bases clearing triple by Nico Popa. Pitt would score its fifth of the frame off a single up the middle by Wright, claiming an 8-4 advantage.
In the fifth, Pazos led things off with a single up the middle, moving to second on a walk issued to Amos. The Tar Heels would head to the bullpen again before a fielder's choice from Popa registered the first out of the inning. A single by Parry and an error in left scored both Popa and Amos, extending Pitt's lead to 10-4. The Panthers took an 11-5 lead in the seventh as Pazos, who reached on a leadoff double, was brought around on a groundout and wild pitch.
The two teams exchanged runs in the seventh, off a solo homer by North Carolina's Brian Miller in the top of the frame and a wild pitch that scored Pazos in the bottom half.
RJ Freure, who came on in relief of Hammer in the sixth, pitched a clean eighth inning and retired the first batter of the ninth before a single and walk would put two on with one out. Isaac Mattson took over on the hill and walked the first man he faced to load the bases with just one out. A bases clearing double by leadoff man Brian Miller would cut Pitt's lead to 11-8 as Mattson was replaced by Sam Mersing.
Back-to-back singles from the Tar Heels would cut the Pitt lead to 11-9 before Mersing got Datres to swing at strike three, changing the momentum in favor of the Panthers. With two outs, Riley would swing at a first pitch, grounding out to Amos to end the game.
"We are very, very thin and we just need some time to recover a little bit, rest our bodies and our minds and just keep ourselves in a good position to move forward," added the skipper. "We're going to take advantage of our break in the action. We look forward to this whole week on both sides, to get us a little bit better rested and then prepare ourselves for next weekend."
With the win, the Panthers improve to 17-20, 8-14 in the ACC. The Tar Heels drop to 31-9, 16-5 in the ACC.
The Panthers will have the week off before returning to action at Charles L. Cost Field, hosting SIU Edwardsville in a three-game, two-day series April 29-30.