Third-seeded Pitt loses first game of Big East baseball tournament
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Pittsburgh coach Joe Jordano knew his team had more of a challenge than the seeds would suggest Wednesday, as his third-seeded Panthers were facing a sixth-seeded Rutgers team that had taken two of three games from them in early April.
But he never expected a loss like Pittsburgh took, with ace Corey Baker giving up 11 hits in the first two innings for a 9-0 deficit on the way to a 9-5 loss in the opening round of the Big East tournament at Bright House Field.
"There's no scenario where I would have predicted us being down 9-0 after the first two innings," Jordano said. "Corey's pitched really well for us all year, and it just wasn't his day. That's asking a lot to come back from that big a deficit."
A week ago, Pittsburgh (37-17) had a shot at the Big East regular-season title, but now, after losing their last three games, their next loss could potentially be their last, as a quick exit would hurt the Panthers' chances at an at-large berth to the NCAA Tournament.
"We just have to turn the page and forget about today," said Baker (11-3), who had matched a season high with 12 hits allowed in his first meeting with Rutgers, a 9-8 loss on April 1. "We lose again, we're done, so we can't linger on today and let it affect us."
With innings at a premium on the mound, facing a potential six games in five days, Jordano stuck with Baker for six innings and a season-high 130 pitches. He gave up 16 hits, matching a 16-year-old Big East record.
Early on, Pittsburgh's bats weren't any better — Rutgers starter Casey Gaynor (8-5) faced the minimum through four innings, thanks to two double plays. Still, the Panthers got 2-run singles from centerfielder Zach Duggan and third baseman Joe Leonard in the fifth and sixth, then an RBI from catcher Cory Brownsten to cut the lead to four runs entering the seventh.
The bad breaks continued, however — with two on and one out in the eighth, Brownsten ripped a shot toward shortstop that hit Pitt's Kevan Smith in the leg for an out. Philip Konieczny stranded two runners to end the inning, as he had as a pinch-hitter in the sixth.
Even in the ninth, down four, Duggan led off with a single, but any hopes ended when shortstop Danny Lopez grounded into Pitt's third double play of the game.
It's another early morning for the Panthers, who will send sophomore left-hander Matt Iannazzo (10-2, 3.68 ERA) for a 10 a.m. start against the loser of Wednesday's game between second-seeded Connecticut and seventh-seeded Cincinnati. The loser of Thursday's game will be eliminated from the tournament.
Pittsburgh has gone two-and-out in its last two Big East tournament appearances, in 2007 and 2009, but the Panthers feel their prolific bats give them a better chance to make a sustained run after a bad start.
"Losing the first game puts us up against a wall," Leonard said. "We battled back to 9-5, and had our chances, but we couldn't capitalize on it. ... I think we're going to focus on the next game and bounce back tomorrow. Whatever they throw at us, we're going to put up runs."