As Pitt baseball coach Joe Jordano watched Cinderella stories Stony Brook and Kent State crash the College World Series a year ago, he couldn't shake one thought in his mind: "Why not Pitt?"
A bit ambitious for a team most pegged to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big East Conference? Maybe. But Jordano and, more importantly, his players believed reaching Omaha, Neb., the longtime site of the College World Series, was a realistic goal.
"We knew we were going to have a solid team, but why not raise the expectation?" Jordano said.
To be clear, the Panthers (37-11, 15-3 Big East) still have a long way to go before they can book tickets to Omaha, but this team is positioned to make some postseason noise unlike any other in Pitt history.
Pitt wraps up its home schedule this weekend, with a doubleheader today (making up a Friday night game postponed due to weather) and a game Sunday against Villanova (11-36, 2-16).
After a midweek non-conference game against Kent State, one of the teams that inspired Jordano to dream big, Pitt will finish the regular season with a three-game series at Louisville (39-10, 14-4) that could decide the conference regular-season title.
The Panthers are even making some national waves. They aren't quite a lock for the NCAA tournament yet, but a three-game sweep this weekend against the last-place Wildcats should do the trick.
"I think we're a little young and naive to it," junior outfielder/pitcher Casey Roche said of the team's success. "There's no pressure at all. We're a pretty confident team, we feel like we should be there and we're just playing like we should."
Pitt hasn't won a Big East regular-season crown since 1994. That, along with a conference tournament title in 1995, are Pitt's only championships since joining the Big East in 1985. The Panthers are tied with South Florida (32-16, 15-3) atop the conference.
"This is not a surprise at all to me," Roche said.
"We thought we were going to win the Big East the whole time and now we're in position to."
If they want to claim the Big East tournament crown, Pitt likely will have to get past a Bulls team responsible for all three of its league losses this year. The Panthers were swept at South Florida in a three-game series in early April, all by one run.
"At that point, we knew that we could play with anyone when we're doing the things that we need to do," Jordano said.
Senior third baseman Sam Parente, elected captain by his teammates before the season, said he knew this team had a chance to be special early on when the Panthers showed up for their preseason "Champions Challenge" -- a week of early morning conditioning workouts that involved swimming in ice-cold pools and running up and down the stairs of Pitt's Cathedral of Learning.
"The goal of the offseason was not to do stuff just to do it, but to do it with a purpose, and it's paying off," Parente said. "It's going great for us."
The goal of "Omaha" might have seemed far-flung to outsiders early in the season, but to the Pitt players, it was only natural.
"It's everybody's goal," Parente said. "Every team in the nation, their goal is always Omaha. That's the highest level of success you can get, and we saw last year how two Cinderella stories, your Stony Brooks and Kent States, made it. We felt like we can be one of those teams. We have the talent, we just had to put it together."
NOTE -- Infielder P.J. DeMeo of Central Catholic signed a letter of intent with the Panthers.
Sam Werner: email@example.com or on Twitter @SWernerPG.