For any college baseball team with NCAA Regional aspirations this time of year, it can get difficult trying to focus on that last regular season challenge.
Not for Pitt, who enters the final weekend with an overall 40-12 record, 15-3 in the Big East. That's because they face their toughest test to date in No. 10 Louisville, who enters the weekend at 43-10 overall, and a half-game back of the first-place Panthers, at 17-4 in conference play.
"It's one pitch at a time," head coach Joe Jordano said. "That's the approach we're going to take this weekend, but next week in Clearwater.
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCHUPS
Thursday: RHP Evan Mildran (Pitt) 9-2, 2.17 vs. RHP Chad Green 8-2, 1.73
Friday: RHP Matt Wotherspoon (Pitt) 9-1, 3.05 vs RHP Jeff Thompson 9-1, 1.94
Saturday: RHP Rhys Aldenhoven (Pitt) 8-0, 2.12 vs RHP Dace Kime 5-1, 3.06
As for strengths, a look at the pitching matchups proves to be comparable to the arms Pitt will send to the mound. Jordano also feels Louisville is an aggressive team, one that will run and steal bases when they can.
They're a very fast team," Jordano said. "I think they have three guys that are 20 or more bags stolen. It's going to be a dog fight. We've played well down there. It'll be a great atmosphere. It'll be a regional-type atmosphere."
And that will be the thing Pitt is hoping to get from this weekend, more than anything. Jordano referred to it as a 'Regional-type' atmosphere. That has resonated through to the players, who are also referring to this weekend's series as that type of atmosphere. At the very least, an opponent like Louisville is keeping the team in check, preventing them from looking further.
"You're going to go into Louisville, and there's going to be 4,000 or 6,000 fans," Pitt catcher Elvin Soto said. "It's a Regional environment. If you want to win in the regular season, anywhere, Louisville is a place you need to win, to make a statement."
Matt Wotherspoon, scheduled to head to the mound for Friday's game, isn't worried about he and his teammates getting amped for this weekend.
"It's huge," Wotherspoon said. "To be in this opportunity, this late in the season, nobody could have asked for anything more."/p>
Nor does he feel any added pressure, with the added stakes of conference and NCAA tournaments, looming around the corner. Jordano said last week, that what makes this team special, is the fact they play good, fundamental baseball.
Going along those lines, Wotherspoon says the team is buying into Jordano's philosophy of 'one pitch at a time.' An idea that by taking everything by just one pitch at a time, it will ease any pressure by focusing on the simplest goal.
"I don't think (there is more pressure)," Wotherspoon said. "We're just focusing on one pitch at a time. After this week with Villanova. Our focus shifts to Louisville. I don't think it adds pressure. It's just one pitch at a time."
Looking ahead, of the 64 teams selected for the NCAA Regionals, 30 are automatic qualifiers--winners of their respective conference.
According to a recent NCAA Tournament projection by College Baseball Daily, Pitt is one of three schools from the Big East to get in to the tournament, alongside Louisville and South Florida. That's good in the sense that the selection committee would take three team from the Big East. However, you can only assure yourself by winning the Big East Tournament. Especially if conferences such as the SEC and ACC gets nine teams and seven teams in, respectively, it makes it that much tougher for other conferences to get at-large bids.
That's where strength of schedule figures in. According to an RPI ratings index by Boyd's World, Pitt is ranked 72 in RPI--which might not help their case as an at-large, making this weekend in Louisville, and the following weekend in Clearwater, all the more meaningful.
Infielder Evan Oswald--leading the Big East with 192 assists, defensively--also looks ahead to a possible Regional, and also hears the talk about whether Pitt is a bubble team or not.
While some may say they don't think about it, Oswald wonders how you can not think about the opportunity.
"Comparing yourself to those teams is what you need to do to become a very successful baseball program," Oswald said. "A lot of people talk strength of schedule, we have 40 wins, we're playing great baseball. We should get a lot more recognition."
Even Jordano thinks about it. While his team has bought into the 'one pitch at a time' theory, it's even hard for him to not think about.
"If you look at the Top 25 teams, there's eight teams ranked, and we're one of them," Jordano said. "We'll let the chips fall where they may, but I'm confident in believing this is a team that deserves a regional opportunity."