Share This Page

Pitt counts on pitching

The last time Pitt won a Big East Conference tournament baseball game, it was in dramatic fashion. Jim Negrych blasted a 400-foot, walk-off home run in the 12th inning to beat Boston College and reach the 2005 final.

The same pitcher who got the victory in that game will be on the mound when the Panthers (27-25) play South Florida (32-24) at 5 p.m. Tuesday at KeySpan Park in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the Big East tourney's first round.

Paul Nardozzi, a senior right-hander who holds the school's career strikeouts record, tossed a five-hitter in a 5-2 victory over USF on March 17 in Tampa, Fla. He is one of only a handful of holdovers from that Big East finalist team.

"It's a big difference in atmosphere," Nardozzi said. "Once you play in it, you realize just how big of a difference."

That the Panthers even reached the Big East tourney makes this season a success story. They lost their first eight games of the season, including games to top-ranked Vanderbilt and top-20 Coastal Carolina, but recovered to win their next six before beginning conference play. Projected to finish ninth, Pitt went 15-11 and clinched the Big East's fourth seed, just ahead of USF (13-14).

"When we got to 0-8, we were all pretty down," Nardozzi said. "We knew we were playing good baseball, but we couldn't put it together for nine innings. We knew we had some talent on this team, so we weren't worried."

Perhaps the Panthers had motivation after being projected to finish second in the Big East last year, but placed ninth. Pitt missed the postseason despite having Major League Baseball draft picks such as second baseman Jim Negrych (sixth round, Pirates), pitcher Billy Muldowney (eighth, Cubs) and shortstop Jimmy Mayer (30th, Devil Rays).

"To not make it last year was disappointing," Nardozzi said, "because we had a lot of talent."

These Panthers have solid senior leadership on an otherwise young team that has seen as many as seven freshmen and sophomores in the lineup at one time:

= Nardozzi is 5-5 with a 3.93 earned run average and 84 strikeouts with 20 walks this season. He has 262 career strikeouts, breaking Dave Welty's 39-year-old record (238) on April 29 against New York Institute of Technology.

"It's a credit to Paul and his perseverance," Pitt coach Joe Jordano said. "It's a fruition of a promise I made to him when recruiting him: 'If you come to Pitt, you'll start from day one.' He's a had a lot of double-digit strikeout games.

"He's a pitcher. He doesn't have anything overpowering, but he knows how to pitch."

= Right fielder Paul Parise is tied for the school's career hits record, needing one to break Bryan Spamer's mark of 250.

= First baseman Seth Button leads the Panthers with eight home runs, 31 RBI and a .532 slugging percentage.

Pitt, however, has played its last 12 games without its leading hitter, redshirt freshman third baseman Gary Bucuren. A Kentucky transfer who was drafted in the 34th round by the Pirates out of Ambridge High School, Bucuren was batting .319 in 38 games before injuring his left (non-throwing) wrist. The injury exposed Pitt's scholarship limitations, as it isn't a fully funded program.

"We're the type of team that has to play clean baseball," Jordano said, stressing a simultaneous need for solid pitching and situational hitting. "When we don't do those things, we don't have the depth to make up for it."

The pitching staff, led by Nardozzi, junior left-hander Rob Brant (4-5) and freshman right-hander Nate Reed (4-5), is supported by a strong bullpen. Redshirt sophomore Kyle Landis (4-4), who has a 2.15 ERA in 19 appearances, allowing 25 hits while striking out 57 and walking 16 in 50 13 innings, is one of the top relievers in the NCAA.

Where Pitt's pitching was stretched thin two years ago, when the Panthers played four games in three days, it is a strong suit this time.

"We just couldn't recover from that," Jordano said. "If we get to that point this year, I'd feel pretty good about it."

If Pitt is going to make another run at the Big East Championship - which is the Panthers' only shot of qualifying for the NCAAs, given their record - it could begin and end with Nardozzi, who called the strikeout record "a pretty good accomplishment."

"Hopefully, we can end with a better one," Nardozzi said. "The Big East championship."

Additional Information:

Big East tournament

Pitt (27-25, 15-11) vs. South Florida (32-24, 13-14)

When, where: 5 p.m. Tuesday · KeySpan Park, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Notable: Pitt is the No. 4 seed and USF No. 5 in the Big East tournament, which has been expanded to eight teams. The Panthers reached the 2005 Big East final, losing to Notre Dame, 11-4, but didn't qualify for the postseason last year. The only time Pitt has qualified for the NCAAs was in 1995.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.