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Pitt baseball team braces for move to ACC

Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Pitt baseball coach, Joe Jordano sits in the dugout during the Panthers' game against the University of Akron this past May at Charles L. Cost Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt baseball coach, Joe Jordano sits in the dugout during the Panthers' game against the University of Akron this past May at Charles L. Cost Field.
Justin Merriman | Tribune-Review - Pitt baseball coach Joe Jordano talks to players on the pitcher's mound after making a change in pitchers during a game against Akron on Wednesday, May 1, 2013, at Charles L. Cost Field.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Justin Merriman  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pitt baseball coach Joe Jordano talks to players on the pitcher's mound after making a change in pitchers during a game against Akron on Wednesday, May 1, 2013, at Charles L. Cost Field.

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Wednesday, Feb. 12, 2014, 10:59 p.m.
 

Without trying to sound boastful, Pitt baseball coach Joe Jordano admits, “I really think we would have been one of the top three teams in the Big East (this season).”

That's nice, but it's also history Pitt prefers to see in its rearview mirror.

Pitt enters its first ACC baseball season understanding what awaits them.

“A dramatic difference in the caliber of competition,” Jordano said.

Weather permitting, the season begins Friday, Saturday and Sunday with a three-game series against Coastal Carolina in Florence and Myrtle Beach, S.C. The first ACC series is March 7-9 at North Carolina.

Baseball America's preseason top 20 includes six ACC schools, led by No. 1 Virginia. The others are No. 5 North Carolina State, No. 6 Florida State, No. 13 Clemson, No. 16 Miami and No. 17 North Carolina.

“The simplest way to put it is this is the big leagues of college baseball,” Jordano said. “This is as good as it gets.”

Pitt returns five of its top seven hitters and two of its three best starting pitchers from a team that won a school-record 42 games last year (42-17, 18-6 in the Big East). Nonetheless, Pitt was picked last in the ACC Coastal Division by conference coaches.

“I love this team,” Jordano said. “This team is working harder than any I have ever had. But there are a lot of players that we recruited on this team that were recruited to compete in the Big East.

“It will take a couple of recruiting cycles to complete a full roster of ACC players.”

For the first time in Jordano's 17 seasons at Pitt, the program is fully funded with 11.7 scholarships. Plus, Pitt upgraded its facilities three years ago with construction of Charles L. Cost Field on the $28 million Petersen Sports Complex on campus.

“We are headed in the right direction,” Jordano said. “Our facility is very nice. But when you compare it to some of the facilities that exist in this conference, there is a ways to go.”

Jordano said some ACC games draw crowds of 5,000-6,000 to venues that are “as nice as any minor league facility we would ever go to.”

ACC membership allows Pitt to recruit players from some of the most fertile regions in the U.S. Freshman catcher Manny Pazos of Miami is competing for the starting job with freshman Caleb Parry of Riverside, Calif. Only six of Pitt's 33 players are from the WPIAL.

“It expanded our recruiting reach,” Jordano said. “But with that goes a much more competitive environment. You can't make mistakes.”

Among the returning players are five .300 hitters, led by right fielder and preseason All-American Casey Roche, who hit .339 with nine home runs and 65 RBIs last season.

Other returning starters are left fielder Boo Vazquez (.337), rated the 67th-best hitter in the nation by Baseball America; center fielder Stephen Vranka, a Gateway graduate (.318); second baseman Dylan Wolsonovich of Ford City (.940 fielding percentage); first baseman Eric Hess (.305); and designated hitter Steven Shelinsky (.311, with 12 home runs).

Starting pitcher Matt Wotherspoon (9-3, 3.70 ERA) returned for his senior season after getting drafted in the 20th round by the Detroit Tigers.

“If he can be a little more efficient with his pitchers, he can be something pretty special,” Jordano said.

The No. 2 starter is Australian Rhys Aldenhoven, who was 8-1 with a 2.76 ERA last season after joining the team from Hill College in Hillsboro, Texas.

“Wherever they are,” Jordano said, “we'll find them.”

Jerry DiPaola is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jdipaola@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JDiPaola_Trib.

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