Pitt Baseball Heads Toward Home Stretch

Pitt's school-record of 39 wins in a season, set in 1995, is in jeopardy. With three more wins, and with seven regular season games remaining, the 2013 team is raising the bar.

Since Joe Jordano took over the Pitt baseball program in 1997, the Panthers have won 30 or more games in eight seasons.

This year's team enters its weekend series with Villanova with an overall record of 37-11. The 2010 team won 38 games, the previous best win total for a Jordano-coached team.

Clearly there is something special within this group to set a new school record for wins. Not just that, the success this season has instilled a realistic belief for this team to advance to Omaha.

"It's a good group of young men; good baseball players, smart baseball players," Jordano said. "We play the game the right way. We are getting superb starting pitching. We're playing very good defensively. We're one of the best offensive teams in the conference. When you put all those variables together, we're doing a lot of things well, and that's giving us an opportunity to win."

The numbers don't lie. Aside from the win total, Pitt leads the Big East in four offensive categories; runs batted in (333), home runs (46), runs scored (375) and total bases (763). All four of those categories tie in with each other, and are difficult for an opponent to catch up to on the scoreboard.

Eight regulars in the Pitt lineup are hitting at least .300, led by Boo Vasquez, a sophomore outfielder who's hitting .355, playing in 43 games this season with 37 starts.

Then there's the pitching. Pitt's three primary starters--juniors Rhys Aldenhoven, Ethan Mildren and Matt Wotherspoon--have combined for 24 wins, just three losses and a collective 2.56 ERA.

But where did it all start, and how did this group come together. Senior infielder Sam Parente credits the team's offseason workouts. It came just a couple weeks before the season, where it wasn't a matter of getting through the conditioning. It was a matter of how well everyone was getting through conditioning, and becoming closer. Part of the conditioning included running the stairs of the Cathedral of Learning, running Flagstaff Hill and running the stairs between Chevron Hall and Sutherland Hall, on Upper Campus.

"It was the first or second week, we do our 'Champions Challenge,' early in the morning," Parente said. "You see everybody working a lot harder than last year, and realizing this could be a special season. I really, truly saw at the end of two weeks, we have a great group of guys here, and we have something special."

Parente is a unique story in himself. He came to Pitt just last year after two years at Lackawanna Junior College. Prior to the season, Jordano made him a team captain--something he says he doesn't do. However, it was the team that wanted Parente as captain. Parente is hitting .312 this season, in 46 starts.

"We, historically, have not had captains," Jordano said. "This team, in particular, wanted Sam as its captain. That is something, that I told Sam, is very special to have that 'C' on his jersey. We have never done that before. That was something special that came from the players."

The Panthers also have junior Casey Roche, a junior outfielder who is second on the team with a .348 batting average. Roche has started all 48 games.

"It's a really close team, it's a really talented team," Roche added. "When your most talented guys are also your hardest-working guys, I think that was the key to the success.

"This is not a surprise to me. Nobody thought we would win the Big East, and now we're in position to."

In addition to winning a Big East title, the team is also focused on a possible berth to the College World Series. Jordano said he's not concerned about his team losing its focus over the course of these final seven regular season games. He says the focus, and the ultimate goal of getting to Omaha has always been there. The success this team has seen this year has led to confidence through each game, and has carried throughout the season.

On top of that, Pitt has a chance to exit the Big East by winning a conference title in its final year in the conference. They will then head to the ACC, where seven of those teams are ranked in the Top 25. Jordano feels what this team has accomplished, combined with the expectation of ACC teams from a national perspective is beneficial for the program as a whole.

"I think it's a perfect time, with us transitioning into the ACC, where the expectation for a lot of those teams, is to win a national championship," Jordano said. "That's an expectation we are going to have, and we are going to pursue. Everything we did, ends on, '1-2-3, Omaha.' That's our goal."

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