Pitt is one of only four teams in the Big East Conference to advance to the conference tournament each of the past five years. It's a credit to coach Joe Jordano and the consistency he has brought to the program.
But if the Panthers want to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1995, they have to be more successful in the conference playoffs than in recent years. Since 2009, Pitt is 2-8 in Big East tournament games, including an 0-2 record last season.
Pitt would qualify for the NCAA tournament by winning the conference tournament, which begins today in Clearwater, Fla. Short of that, the Panthers need to win multiple games this week to get back onto the radar of the NCAA selection committee. They are No. 64 in the RPI and possess one of the worst strength of schedule ratings among major-conference teams vying for an at-large bid.
The Big East tournament, the final athletic event for Pitt as a member of the conference, gets started at 10 a.m. when the No. 3 seed Panthers (40-15) face No. 6 seed St. John's (23-33) in a first-round game.
"It's kind of an honor," sophomore outfielder Boo Vazquez said. "We're hoping to end it on a strong note and do something special to close out the Big East."
One of the best seasons in school history, one that produced 40 victories for the first time and was highlighted by a 15-game conference winning streak, can abruptly end with another poor showing.
"We have an experienced group of kids," sophomore relief pitcher Joe Harvey said. "I don't see it as pressure. This is what everyone dreams of. You want a chance to go to the NCAA tournament."
The Panthers were swept last weekend at Louisville with the regular-season title on the line. They left 16 runners on base in a 5-2 loss in the first game of the series and 11 more in a 7-3 loss in the final game of the series.
"We outhit them in two of the three games and gave up one big inning each game, which is very uncharacteristic of us," Jordano said.
St. John's has won two of the past three Big East tournaments and a conference-record seven overall, but this season has been disappointing for the Red Storm. They finished with a 10-14 conference record and were swept at home by the Panthers early in the season.
"I feel like all the pressure was last week," Panthers senior infielder Sam Parente said. "It didn't go our way, but it's not the end of the world. We're still a [No. 3] seed. At the beginning of the year, we were predicted to finish seventh. Everyone is confident. We like where we are right now."
Jordano dowplays the pressure his team faces in the tournament. He believes the Panthers have the credentials for an NCAA tournament berth regardless of the outcome this week.
"When you look at our resume, we've won 40 games," Jordano said. "There are not a lot of teams in the country that have won 40 games. We played for a share of the conference tournament on the last day of the regular season. We have six sweeps in the Big East and we swept a team in Wichita State that hadn't been swept in 43 years. We can play with anybody."
• Game: Pitt (40-15) vs. St. John's (23-33) in Big East tournament opener, Clearwater, Fla.
• When: 10 a.m.
• At stake: Winner plays Notre Dame-Seton Hall winner Thursday; loser plays the loser of that game.mobilehome - pittsports
Ray Fittipaldo: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1230 and Twitter @rayfitt1. First Published May 22, 2013 4:15 AM