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Pitt

Pitt hopes to rewrite history in ACC baseball semifinals

Jerry DiPaola
| Thursday, May 24, 2018, 3:57 p.m.
Outfielder Chris Cappas went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI in Pitt's 5-4 win over top-seeded North Carolina in the opening round of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday.
Pitt Athletics
Outfielder Chris Cappas went 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI in Pitt's 5-4 win over top-seeded North Carolina in the opening round of the ACC Tournament on Wednesday.
Pitt's Derek West pitched five innings of hitless relief against North Carolina.
Pitt Athletics
Pitt's Derek West pitched five innings of hitless relief against North Carolina.

When Pitt baseball coach Joe Jordano returned to his hotel room early Thursday morning, many thoughts raced through his mind.

Pitt had just upset North Carolina, one of the nation's top teams (No. 5, according to Baseball America), to reach the semifinals of the ACC Championship.

It was a historic night for the Pitt baseball program, playing in the ACC tournament for the first time since entering the conference in 2014. The Panthers (29-25) rallied from three deficits to defeat North Carolina (37-18) and eliminate the Tar Heels in a game that didn't end until almost midnight Wednesday night.

Jordano should have been tired, but he said, “I didn't sleep very well. So, I watched a documentary on the History Channel, completely off the sports grid.”

The documentary dealt with World War II and Winston Churchill, and it helped calm Jordano and allow him to rest and recharge for the rest of the tournament.

It also reminded Jordano, a history buff, of his favorite Churchill quote, which actually resonates with what his team is doing this week in Durham, N.C.

“History is written by victors,” he said, relating the quote that has been attributed to Churchill by historians. “I think I'll send that one to my team.”

Getting his team down to earth in time for the semifinal game at 1 p.m. Saturday against either Duke or Louisville might sound like a daunting task. After all, Pitt, the No. 12 seed, has shocked the conference by taking a six-game losing streak into the tournament and defeating No. 8 Georgia Tech and top-seeded North Carolina, 2-1 and 5-4, respectively.

“I think it's pretty easy,” Jordano said of grounding his team. “It's one of those things where all we keep focused on is what's next. We've done it all year. Our backs have been against the wall all year.

“We kind of got accustomed to just focusing on a phrase I got from my good friend (sports psychologist) Dr. Kevin Kevin Elko: ‘Be where your feet are.' That really rings true for us.”

Pitt is a geographic outlier in ACC baseball, one of the conference's three baseball-playing schools north of the Mason-Dixon Line. Notre Dame and Boston College are the others. Syracuse does not sponsor baseball.

ACC baseball has been dominated by southern schools for decades, with only Florida State, Clemson, Wake Forest, N.C. State, Georgia Tech and North Carolina winning 40 of the 44 championships since 1973.

Jordano is pleased with how his team has recovered from its losing streak, which might bring to mind another Churchill quote: “If you're going through hell, keep going.”

But he will put limits on his players' celebration.

“We're going to enjoy the moment and feel good about what we've accomplished,” he said, “but we also know the way to get to the next step is to win the tournament.”

Jordano said before the tournament that he believed in his pitching depth, which has carried the Panthers in two games and must continue to show up Saturday.

R.J. Freure appeared in both games, earning a save against Georgia Tech and adding to his incredible strikeout ratio of 95 in only 58 23 innings. But he's already thrown 65 pitches. Derek West threw 70 pitches Wednesday and did not allow a hit.

Blair Calvo, who started 13 games this season and hasn't pitched in the tournament, is available, along with Yaya Chentourf (3.46 ERA), Chase Smith (3.16) and Kevin Henriksen (4.28). Dan Hammer, who started Wednesday and threw 54 pitches, also could help.

Probably unavailable is Matt Pidich, who started and threw 83 pitches Tuesday in the Georgia Tech game. Jordano said he is uncomfortable using Pidich, his best pitcher, on three days' rest.

“First and foremost for me is not only his health, but his future,” Jordano said.

The two victories gave Jordano 588 in 21 seasons at Pitt, 871 for his career, including 10 years at Mercyhurst.

Does beating North Carolina as an underdog — while the stands at Durham Bulls Athletic Park were full of Carolina Blue — rank above them all?

“The most recent one is always the sweetest,” he said. “But when you put all that together, it was a signature win.”

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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