Gateway grad Vranka powering ranked Pitt baseball
The nationally ranked University of Pittsburgh baseball team defeated Georgetown, 6-2, on Sunday in Bethesda, Md., and the victory capped a series sweep of the Hoyas.
It brought Pitt's overall record to 36-11, and the Panthers remained tied atop the Big East regular-season standings with South Florida at 15-3.
For Gateway graduate Stephen Vranka, Pitt's starting center fielder and leadoff hitter, Sunday's game was another chance to build on his already stellar junior campaign.
And he didn't disappoint.
Vranka went 2 for 5 with a two-run home run in the top of the sixth. The blast, his sixth of the season, made the score 5-1, and the Panthers cruised from there.
The Panthers have enjoyed one of the best seasons in school history, and Vranka is a big part of that.
“We thought it was going to be a pretty good year for us considering we had most of our starters back from last season,” Vranka said.
“We've got a lot more pitching this year, which has helped us out a lot, especially in the three-game series in the Big East. Last year, we were young, and we used last year to get experience. We're succeeding this year with what we failed at last year because we were young.”
Vranka started all 46 games through Sunday, and he hit .304 (55 for 181) with 17 doubles, three triples and the six home runs.
In the three-game sweep of Georgetown, Vranka was 6 for 13 at the plate with four RBI, four walks and six runs scored.
Vranka said he's tried to be more of a patient hitter, and he has drawn 32 walks this season, good for second on the team.
“I really didn't draw too many walks last year, and I've improved on that this year,” Vranka said. “I also tried to cut down on my strikeouts. I simply wanted to get stronger and faster.”
Vranka has served as the leadoff hitter in most games this year. It is something he takes pride in.
“I always like trying to get the game started well,” Vranka said.
“Getting the pitcher off his rhythm and giving him a hard start always is pretty important to me. A walk is as good as a hit, but I've done a good job of getting my fair share of hits for the team.”
Getting on base by any means necessary is a goal for the entire team.
“We're an aggressive team, and we try to hit fastballs early in the count, especially when there are runners already on base,” Vranka said.
“If we need to be patient and take what the pitcher gives us to draw a walk, we'll do that.”
Vranka has been named to the Big East Honor Roll three times this season.
His second honor came April 22 after he capped a solid week with a three-run walk-off home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth to give Pitt a 6-3 win over Rutgers on April 21.
He was honored again Monday after he went 8 for 22 (.364) with five RBI, two home runs and three doubles in Pitt's 4-1 week.
“It's really nice to see that, but I don't play to get those accolades,” Vranka said.
“The team has helped me get those, but working together to get the win is the biggest thing.”
The Panthers, who clinched a spot in the Big East Tournament with the weekend sweep of Georgetown, has two more three-game series left in the Big East regular season.
Pitt hosts Villanova on Friday at 6 p.m., Saturday at 3 p.m. and Sunday at noon, and the Panthers will travel to Louisville for three games May 16 to 18.
The Cardinals currently are 14-4 and in third place behind the Panthers and South Florida in the Big East standings.
The Big East Tournament will be May 22 to 26 in Clearwater, Fla.
“We're really excited for the Big East tournament, but we're trying to not look too far ahead,” Vranka said.
“We have some big games to take care of before the tournament begins. We want to wrap up the Big East regular-season title and then move on from there.”
Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412- 388-5825 or at email@example.com.