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Pitt baseball eyes strong finish, postseason run

| Thursday, May 9, 2013, 11:15 p.m.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review
University of Pittsburgh's head baseball coach, Joe Jordano talks to the umpire during Pitt's game against the University of Akron at Charles L. Cost Field in Oakland on Wednesday evening, May 1, 2013.

Pitt's nationally ranked baseball team concludes its final home series in the Big East with three games against Villanova beginning at 6 p.m. Friday at Cost Field.

The Panthers, ranked No. 17 in the Collegiate Baseball Newspaper poll and No. 24 by Baseball America, have swept four consecutive three-game series against Big East opponents since losing three straight games against South Florida in early April.

Pitt (37-11, 15-3) has swept five conference series this season. The Panthers, who will play in the ACC next season, are 9-0 at home in conference play.

“I feel we should be 18-0 right now in the Big East,” said senior infielder Sam Parente, who was voted the first-team captain under veteran coach Joe Jordano. “It's been a special season. To top it off with a Big East (championship) would be special.”

“We were (picked) seventh in the Big East,” said junior outfielder/pitcher Casey Roche. “(No Pitt players) thought that at all. We felt we were going to win the Big East.”

Roche said the Panthers, who won their last Big East regular-season title in 1994 and their last conference tournament in '95, are enjoying the season too much to realize what they are doing.

“We're a little young and naive, so there's no pressure at all,” he said.

Pitt gained momentum after three losses at South Florida by a total of three runs, Jordano said. The Panthers have won 15 straight conference games since.

“The first game (1-0 loss) we had opportunities — they scored an unearned run. The second game (7-6) we lost in the bottom of the ninth — a walk-off. The last game (3-2 loss) it was 2-2 going into the ninth,” Jordano said. “I thought in that particular series we pitched well. We did a great job defensively, with the exception of that one play in the first inning of the first game. USF is good, probably the best USF team since I've been in the league. But at that point, we knew we could play with anyone.”

Pitt and USF are tied atop the Big East. Louisville follows with a 14-4 conference record.

Although Villanova (2-16), Pitt's upcoming opponent, is last in the Big East, Jordano maintains the Panthers aren't taking anything for granted.

“Villanova has three (pitchers) that have been very competitive and kept them in games,” Jordano said. “We certainly can't look past this weekend.”

Villanova starters Josh Harris, Pat Young and Stephen Ostapeck have ERAs of 3.34, 4.09 and 4.66, respectively. They'll face a Pitt lineup leading the Big East in home runs, RBI, runs, hits, slugging percentage and total bases while ranking second in batting average.

The Big East regular-season champion receives the top seed at the Big East Championships from May 22-26 in Clearwater, Fla.

John Harris is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jharris@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JHarris_Trib.

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