DURHAM, NC – With a 9-5 upset win over No. 8 Notre Dame, No. 12 Pitt — the lowest-seeded team in the ACC Tournament — earned the right to make Thursday’s matchup with No. 1 Wake Forest a “winner takes all” for a ticket to the semifinals.
“What this tournament provides [is the ability] to compete against the best,” head coach Mike Bell said after the win. “It also propels and allows you to go on to postseason baseball, which is what we’re here to do. In order to do that, you gotta beat the best.”
And, to face the Deacs, often called “Rake Forest,” the Panthers proved they can rake themselves. A leadoff blast by third baseman Sky Duff got things started, and another home run in the second kept the lead in tact. With a three-run shot over the right-field wall in the fourth, and two one-run homers in the seventh, Pitt was able to pull out the victory.
But, the turnaround is quite short for the Panthers. Their critical matchup with the Deacs is in less than 24 hours.
“Wake Forest is a great team,” Duff said. “We know that. We’ve played them. We also know that we can play with them. We’re here to win.”
Despite of the gravity of Thursday’s game for both teams, the Panthers will stick to the norm.
“Do what got you here,” Bell said. “Our message will continue to stay the same. We’ll continue to lead off Sky, we’ll continue to run out the same guys. And we’ll go play baseball, and we’ll put all our chips in the middle. Whatever is going to happen is going to happen.”
After using Friday starter Jack Sokol against Notre Dame, Pitt will likely turn to Logan Evans. The junior is 5-2 on the season in 46 innings with a 5.09 ERA. In a start against the Deacs earlier this season, Evans gave up nine runs, six earned, in two innings.
The plan is fluid though. Bell and his team work with a “pitch-by-pitch, inning-by-inning mentality.”
“If we can get the ball to [reliever] Nash Bryan at the end of the game, we feel very comfortable there,” Bell said.
Bryan threw 13 pitches on Wednesday, getting through 1.1 innings with one hit and a strikeout.
In turn, Wake Forest will move reigning back-to-back ACC Pitcher of the Year Rhett Lowder ahead one day. The undefeated junior allowed two runs in 6.2 innings against the Panthers, striking out seven.
“Yeah, he’s very talented,” Bell said. “I mean, he’s the best in the country. There’s a reason why he’s won the ACC Pitcher of the Year twice. But he’s not perfect. And that’s a beautiful thing. We just got to go play baseball, and play smart situational baseball, and good things can happen.”
The opportunity to play spoiler to the Deacons is an enticing one for the Panthers.
“That’s kind of the Pitt mentality,” Bell said of the underdog position. “You could say ‘why are you here?’ Well, this is three years in a row. These guys have earned everything that they’ve gotten in front of them. The names that you’re gonna see on draft days [on the other side], it’s like none other. And these guys kind of embrace that, that underdog role.”
“[There’s] a chip on [our] shoulder if you go through our clubhouse,” Duff added. “It’s not one guy in there that’s here to show up just for the week, have fun. Everybody’s here to win. You can put us anywhere in the pack. We’re gonna be here to compete.”
In a three-game series in late April, Wake Forest won two of three games. After losing 3-0 on Friday, the Deacs outscored the Panthers 40-5 the following two games.
First pitch is set for 11am ET on ACC Network.