Pitt Baseball: Panthers get shot at Big East lead
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Pitt and Connecticut have produced some memorable basketball games over the past decade, but this weekend they will lock horns in what should be an exciting baseball series at Trees Field.
In fact, it might not be much of a stretch to say that this will be one of the biggest baseball series to take place at Trees Field given how much is at stake and how good both teams have been this season.
Pitt (30-10, 12-3 in the Big East) is ranked its all-time high of 24th by Collegiate Baseball; Connecticut (34-8, 13-2) is ranked 13th and has won 13 consecutive Big East Conference games and 22 of its past 23 overall.
The Panthers are the top offensive team in the Big East (team batting average of .369) and also have the league's best fielding percentage (.976). The Huskies feature the conference's top pitching staff (3.67 ERA).
Game: No. 24 Pitt (30-10, 12-3 Big East) vs. No. 13 Connecticut (34-8, 13-2), Trees Field.
TV, radio: 3 and 6 p.m. Saturday, noon Sunday.
Pitt: Has 30 wins in a season for the ninth time. ... Junior 3B Joe Leonard (Connellsville) leads the Big East in hitting (.455) and was named to the College Baseball Foundation's national All-Star lineup. ... Starting catcher/designated hitter is Seneca Valley graduate Kevan Smith, who was Pitt's starting quarterback for three games in 2007.
Connecticut: Leads the all-time series, 34-23. ... Won two of three games against Pitt last year. ... Has won 13 consecutive Big East games and 22 of its past 23 overall.
Of note: The Huskies have stolen a Big East-high 123 bases.
Most important, the teams are separated by one game in the Big East standings and, if the Panthers can pull off a sweep, they would be in excellent position to win their first regular-season Big East title since 1994.
Pitt coach Joe Jordano is not about to put too much significance on one series.
"I know it sounds like a cliche, but we really look at this the same way we do every weekend -- 27 innings of baseball in which we need to play as well as we are capable of playing," Jordano said.
The series will be played at Trees Field on Pitt's campus, and admission is free. There are two games Saturday -- 3 p.m., 6 p.m. -- and one Sunday (noon).
Last year, the Huskies won two of the three games between the teams, all in Storrs, Conn. Both teams expect to have the top of their rotations ready for the series.
"Connecticut's strength is clearly their pitching, and they have a very strong 1-2-3 in their rotation to go along with a very deep bullpen," Jordano said.
Pitt's top three starters, Corey Baker (9-1, 4.4 ERA), Matt Iannazzo (7-1, 3.23) and Nate Hood (4-0, 3.26 ERA), will pitch in that order. Pitt's junior third baseman, Joe Leonard (.455), a Connellsville graduate, is the Big East's top hitter, but the Huskies counter with two of the league's top five pitchers, Elliot Glynn (4-2, 2.16) and Matt Barnes (6-0, 2.89).
Although the series is a significant one, the Panthers will have nine more games after this weekend against conference teams. The top eight qualify for the Big East tournament, so it nearly is a given that the Panthers will be in the field and get a shot to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
Pitt gradually has evolved into one of the best baseball programs in the Big East in Jordano's 13 seasons, but he believes the best is yet to come. This is their final season at Trees Field. Next year, they will move into their new baseball stadium across the road at the Petersen Sports Complex.
"Last November, we signed our best recruiting class ever, at least as long as I've been here," Jordano said.
"I don't know that we would have signed half those kids without [moving to the new ballpark], so we expect to play in a lot more of these kinds of series in the future."
First Published April 30, 2010 12:00 am