Pitt softball team captures first ACC Coastal title, eyes berth in NCAAs
Pitt didn't start its softball game against Louisville three hours early Friday to give it more time to celebrate an ACC Coastal championship. Coach Holly Aprile takes nothing for granted.
“I try not to focus in on that too much,” she said. “I'm not really focused on trophies or titles.”
Actually, Pitt was trying to beat the rain, which it did while also beating Louisville, 9-8, to nail down the softball program's first title in any league.
Home runs by McKayla Taylor (her 10th of the season), Alexis Solak and freshman Hunter Levesque staked Pitt (30-17-1, 15-6) to a 7-1 lead after three innings.
Louisville recovered to forge a 7-7 tie, but pitchers Kayla Harris and Sarah Dawson got the outs when they most needed them.
In the bottom of the sixth, Olivia Gray scored on a wild pitch after hitting an RBI triple to give Pitt just enough margin to win the game.
Dawson started and was replaced by Harris (14-2), who ended up as the winning pitcher. But Dawson returned to record the final three outs for her first save.
Pitt will enter the ACC Tournament next week in Atlanta as the No. 2 seed, hoping to earn only the second NCAA Tournament bid in program history.
How did it all come together? Friday's victory was probably the best example.
“Resiliency,” Aprile said.
A game-by-game look at the season shows she's right.
Pitt has had four stretches in which they struggled. Records of 0-3-1 and 0-4 turned immediately into two four-game winning streaks. Later, Pitt went from 1-3 to 5-1 and 4-5 to its current 9-1 record since April 14.
“We have learned a lot from our losses and our wins,” said Aprile, who has been with the program 14 years, the past nine as head coach. “Particularly from not getting down when things don't go our way. They are really good about bouncing back.”
The result is Pitt has compiled an RPI of 58 among 296 schools nationwide (fourth in the ACC).
The celebrations will have to be put on hold, though. Pitt has two more games against Louisville (32-18, 10-11) on Saturday and Sunday, giving the women the opportunity to pass Louisville (No. 39 in the RPI).
Pitt has won with a blend of pitching and defense and the power bat of all-time school home run leader Giorgiana Zeremenko, who is hitting .346.
Zeremenko, a senior catcher from Canon-McMillan, has hit 15 of her 46 career home runs this season. She needs two to tie her season mark of 17, set in 2016.
Defensively, Pitt has committed only 47 errors, an average of less than one per game, which ties into the mostly efficient pitching performances of Harris and Dawson.
Harris, a senior, also was the winning pitcher in another dramatic victory, a 1-0 eight-inning shutout of Florida State on April 6 in Tallahassee. Dawson, a junior, has struck out 73 batters in 137 2⁄3 innings
The victory against Florida State (No. 6 in the RPI) ended the Seminoles' 36-game ACC winning streak, but it was more than a well-pitched game.
Gray, a Trinity graduate, contributed an unassisted double play in the bottom of the eighth after driving in the only run in the top of the inning.
Part of this season's success can be traced to 2015, when Pitt earned its only NCAA Tournament bid.
Pitt's strong junior class of Gray, Dawson, Solak, Marissa DeMatteo (Neshannock), Californian Taylor Myers and Gabrielle Fredericks enrolled the following year. Putting an NCAA Tournament berth on the resume didn't hurt in attracting those women to Pitt.
“It has a lot of positive impact. It gave us a lot of great exposure, and it showed we can provide that opportunity,” Aprile said.
The senior class of center fielder Erin Hershman (Mars), Zeremenko, Taylor and Harris gained game experience in crucial situations three years ago, and that taste of success has carried into this season.
“When you have a good senior group and they provide a lot of experience and leadership, that definitely has an impact,” Aprile said. “The way the team has come together, we have a really nice blend of upperclassmen and underclassmen.
“This is one of the best teams we've ever had. It compares very favorably (to the 2015 team).”