Thanks to a late-inning home run by Senior Nico Popa, the Panthers salvaged the series on Sunday dropping two of three to the Duke Blue Devils. Coming off the hottest start in Pitt’s ACC history, this weekend’s three-game slate in Durham was the classic letdown spot. Pitt did not execute at the same level as last week and relied on another clutch home run by Popa to get a win on the weekend. Despite the disappointing performance, there are still positives Coach Bell and his staff can take from this weekend.
The Panthers fell 3-1 on Friday and 8-1 on Saturday before pulling out a thrilling 5-4 win on Sunday.
Let’s take a look at our nine key takeaways from Pitt’s 1-2 week.
1. Nico Popa has the clutch gene. Two weekends in a row now, Nico Popa has come to the dish with the Panthers trailing in either the eighth or the ninth inning. Both times, Pitt’s lead vanished after his at-bat concluded. With a man on and a one-run lead, Popa clubbed one over the wall in left giving the Panthers a 5-4 lead that they held to avoid a series sweep.
2. Popa is not the only Panther performing at the end of games. Jordan McCrum has solidified himself as Mike Bell’s high leverage reliever. In addition to recording multiple saves last weekend, McCrum entered Sunday’s contest in a crucial spot in the seventh inning. Holding serve, he only allowed one hit in 2.1 innings and notched his first win in the blue and gold.
| Pitt 5, Duke 4
— Pitt Baseball (@Pitt_BASE) March 7, 2021
3. Production from the bottom of the order has to improve. This weekend the five through nine hitters combined for two hits in three games. Without putting anyone on base to turn the lineup over, the top of the lineup’s damage potential is limited. Bell continues to make small changes to the lineup in an attempt to spark something, but, to this point, those efforts have yielded minimal results.
4. Pitt’s 2-3 combo might just be the best in the ACC. Both Popa and Hess have been incredible to start the season. They lead the team in Batting Average, On Base Percentage, Slugging Percentage, and OPS. Popa leads the team in home runs with four and Hess co-leads the team in doubles with five. Both players should hear their names called in June during the 2021 Major League Baseball Draft.
5. McCrum has gotten most of the attention among Panther relievers, but there is plenty of love to go around. In addition to McCrum, Dylan Lester, Chris Gomez, and David Ferguson have yet to allow a run in multiple appearances. Especially as the Panthers do not have a set Sunday starter, the depth of this bullpen will continue to be tested weekly and, so far, they have answered the call.
6. The 2021 ACC Baseball crown is absolutely up for grabs. This weekend there were zero sweeps around the conference. While it is only two weeks in, it is clear that the ACC is going to be a tight race all year. Grab your popcorn and tune in every weekend because there will be meaningful baseball played all season.
7. Scar tissue can lead to some incredibly strong skin and Mike Bell is letting his pitchers build some early in the season. In games one and two of the series, both Mitch Myers and Matt Gilbertson had innings where they were clearly not their normal selves. Credit Coach bell for allowing them to stay in there, take their lumps and find their way out of jams.
8. In addition to letting his pitchers work their way out of jams, Coach Bell has been incredibly flexible with both his lineups and defensive positioning. Overall, the Panther defense has been sound to start the season. However, after a difficult start to the series with the leather, Bell moved some guys around and allowed Sky Duff to be the Designated Hitter on Sunday and focus his entire attention at the plate. Especially with the top half of the order, Bell can’t afford to have his hitters dwell over shortcomings on defense while at the plate.
9. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again. This team is resilient. Going on the road in this conference is always tough and salvaging series’ on Sundays goes a long way down the stretch. After dropping the first two of the series and going down early on Sunday, Bell’s club battled back to win game three, salvage the series, and hold serve in the conference standings. You always want to win the series, but when you go on the road, sometimes you have to be happy with getting one and living to fight another day.
After a few days of practice back home, Pitt heads south for the fourth straight weekend for what should be their toughest test of the early season. Georgia Tech has put up incredible numbers offensively and currently sit alone at the summit of the ACC Standings. See below for this week’s schedule:
Friday: 7 PM at Georgia Tech, ACC Network
Saturday: 6 PM at Georgia Tech, ACC Network
Sunday: 1 PM at Georgia Tech, ACCNX
ICYMI: Pitt unveiled the new changes to the Petersen Sports Complex this week. Take a look at the improved digs.