Sometimes the actual action in a game against a No. 1 team doesn’t come close to the hype that builds beforehand.
When the top-ranked Virginia Cavaliers showed up in Pittsburgh on Friday, they made it clear that a letdown in reality would not be the case.
Friday, April 5
In baseball there are great performances, there are dominating performances and then there are performances such as the one that University of Virginia sophomore pitcher Nathan Kirby put on Friday evening.
Kirby no-hit Pitt while striking out 18 batters en route to the Cavaliers’ 4-0 win over the Panthers.
Although the Panthers had just suffered a deflating defeat, they were quick to compliment the ace of the No. 1-ranked Cavaliers after the game.
“He just commanded the strike zone,” Pitt slugger Boo Vazquez, who only struck out once Friday night, said. “He never really fell behind hitters. Every time you looked up it seemed like it was a 0-2 count.”
That command was on full display, as 87 of Kirby’s 122 pitches were strikes, while his fastball velocity remained between 92 and 95 mph throughout the game. The loss was also the first time the Panthers have ever been either shut out or no-hit at Charles L. Cost Field in their four seasons playing there.
Pitt head coach Joe Jordano had little choice but to praise Kirby’s performance as well.
“Obviously that was a completely dominating performance by Nathan Kirby,” Jordano said. “It was possibly one of the best games in my 27 years that was thrown against us.”
His performance received national attention, as it was highlighted on CBSSports.com’s Eye on Baseball, and the final out of the game topped SportsCenter’s nightly top 10 plays.
Despite the utter domination that occurred Friday night, the Panthers’ players and coaches were well aware that this was just one game of a three-game series.
“For us, it’s a matter of how we respond,” Jordano said. “I’m sure that we will come out and compete tomorrow.”
Vazquez felt the same.
“It’s gonna sting a little,” Vazquez said after the game. “But once my head hits the pillow, I’m worried about the game tomorrow.”
Saturday, April 6
It’s tough to keep a series exciting throughout the remaining games when the opener featured a no-hitter.
But the Panthers, one night after failing to collect a base hit and striking out 18 times against Kirby, tried their best to keep it rolling.
Pitt bounced back from a dismal outing Friday night to defeat Virginia in the second game of the series, winning 2-1 on a walk-off sacrifice fly by infielder Jordan Frabasilio.
The Panthers scored their first run of the series in the second inning when, with runners on first and third, freshman outfielder Nick Yarnall lofted a sacrifice fly to left field, scoring right-handed outfielder Casey Roche.
The Cavaliers tied the game up in the top of the seventh on a bobbled ground ball and subsequent throwing error by Pitt shortstop Dylan Wolsonovich.
The game remained knotted at 1-1 until the bottom of the ninth, when, following a walk from outfielder Boo Vazquez, a Roche hit-by-pitch, and a sacrifice bunt by first baseman Eric Hess, Frabasilio launched a fly ball into center field that was deep enough to score pinch runner and outfielder A.J. Lardo, giving the Panthers’ baseball program their first win over a No. 1 team in program history.
Despite the success by Frabasilio and company in the bottom of the ninth, the true star of the game was Pitt starting pitcher Joseph Harvey, the closer-turned-starter who blanked the Cavaliers’ elite offense.
Harvey lasted seven innings, allowing just two hits and zero earned runs while punching out five, drawing high praise from his teammates.
“All the credit in the world goes to [Harvey],” said Hess, who after a night off on Friday went 3-3 that afternoon. “Holding a lineup like that to two hits is something special.”
Harvey maintains that it was his calm approach that led to his strong performance.
“I don’t really put a lot of pressure on myself to be honest,” Harvey said. “I was locating my fastball pretty well, and that was the biggest thing for me today.”
Jordano was proud of Harvey, a redshirt junior, but also was quick to give credit to reliever Hobie Harris, who pitched two hitless relief innings in the eighth and ninth.
“Joe Harvey pitched incredibly well again today,” Jordano, referring to Harvey’s recent string of performances, said. “And Hobie was rock solid out of the bullpen as well. We created opportunities and did a good job taking advantage of them.”
Sunday, April 7
Hits came at a premium for Pitt in its weekend series against Virginia, whose pitchers lead the ACC in team ERA with a 2.04 mark. But heading into the series’ rubber match Sunday afternoon, the Panthers at least anticipated some runs against the Cavaliers’ worst statistical starting pitcher.
Instead, Pitt’s batters made Virginia’s fourth pitcher, Brandon Waddell (4-1, 3.76 ERA), look like a major leaguer in a 3-0 loss at Charles L. Cost Field.
Waddell prevented the Panthers (16-15, 8-7 ACC) from taking the series by throwing an eight-inning shutout, marking this as both the deepest he’s pitched into a game and the first shutout of his career.
Waddell threw just 71 total pitches in the contest, racking up three strikeouts and no walks against 25 batters. Those numbers, along with Virginia’s no. 2 defense in NCAA Division I (.986 fielding percentage), prove a lethal combination for opponents’ offenses.
“They are one of the class organizations and programs in all of college baseball, and there’s a reason,” Pitt coach Joe Jordano said of Virginia (27-5, 12-3 ACC), a team that has appeared in 10 straight NCAA tournaments. “Great coaching staff. I respect them very much, and you see the level of play.”
Pitt’s only legitimate shot at getting on the board came in the fourth inning.
To open the frame, outfielder and pitcher Stephen Vranka reached on an infield hit to Virginia shortstop Daniel Pinero. Vranka was advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Pitt shortstop Dylan Wolsonovich, and he moved to third in the ensuing at-bat, a sacrifice fly to right field by outfielder Casey Roche.
With two outs, though, left fielder Boo Vazquez was unable to convert on the RBI opportunity, hitting a feeble line drive directly at Pinero.
It was the only inning in the game that a Pitt base runner had reached scoring position, a sign of Waddell’s dominance, which infielder Jordan Frabasilio attributed to a smart approach.
“[Waddell] would add and subtract speed well on his fastball just to throw timing off of our hitters, sneak over a little change up and use his curveball at the right time,” Frabasilio, who had one of the two Panther hits that afternoon, said.
After a starter such as Waddell puts together an outstanding performance, the opposing band of hitters usually sees an opportunity when a relief pitcher takes to the mound. That wasn’t the case Sunday, though, because the Cavaliers have a promising young closer in Nick Howard (1-0, 1.76 ERA), whose fastball can reach 96 mph.
Howard needed just eight pitches to finish the job that Waddell had started.
“That’s the best pitching staff, top to bottom, we’ve faced this year,” Jordano said. “That guy coming out of the pen there is one of the best in the country.”
The numbers back Jordano’s claim — Virginia’s starting pitchers posted a 0.04 ERA on the weekend — but the Panthers coach was off on one thing: Howard didn’t actually arrive from the bullpen.
He started at first base for the Cavaliers and was responsible for a hit and an RBI off Pitt’s Matt Wotherspoon in the fourth inning.
The hit scored first-team All-American Mike Papi, who hit a one-out double off the right field wall, giving Virginia a 1-0 lead.
“You don’t get away with quite as many pitches or mistakes,” Wotherspoon said. “But I left a changeup up in the zone [to Papi], and I kind of just hung it there. He hit it off the top of the wall, and I tip my cap to him. He hit my mistake.”
Wotherspoon finished with six strikeouts, but four hits and two walks in seven full innings of work.
Virginia got its other two runs in the ninth off reliever Hobie Harris and Jon Danielczyk. Both runs were credited to Harris, who, coming into the game, had thrown more than 13 consecutive scoreless innings of work.
“It’s tough,” Wotherspoon added. “I hate the term moral victory, but we’ve got to win one. You can’t get swept at home, but you can get out of it that we can play with any team in the country.”
A feeling of accomplishment was contagious in the dugout after the game.
“There are a lot of positive things we did this weekend,” Frabasilio said. “We played clean, we played hard, stuck it out against the No. 1 team. It would’ve been nice to get the series win, but we got one at least.”