Pittsburgh didn’t exactly ease into its college baseball opener against Wichita State on Friday afternoon. The Panthers didn’t limit starting pitcher Ethan Mildren, who threw 110 pitches, and they put up impressive late-game at-bats.
WSU didn’t approach the game any differently, aside from holding back converted reliever Cale Elam in his first collegiate start, but Pitt had more energy and urgency at the end.
After the Shockers tied it on Mikel Mucha’s two-run single in the eighth, Pitt scored two in the top of the ninth, the decisive runs in a 6-4 Panthers win at Eck Stadium. The loss was the first for WSU in 70 February home games under coach Gene Stephenson.
Pitt’s ninth-inning rally started when WSU reliever T.J. McGreevy hit No. 9 batter Evan Oswald, bringing up the top of the Panthers’ order and eventually giving RBI opportunities to their middle-of-the-order hitters.
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"We were persistent," WSU outfielder Garrett Bayliff said. "We had a good comeback in the eighth and I kind of thought we had the momentum and then we go out there and hit the first guy. It’s tough when the leadoff guy gets on, but that’s no excuse. They got some timely hits."
WSU was mostly stymied by Mildren, Pitt’s 6-foot-4 junior right-hander and a projected 2013 major league draft pick. The had five hits against Mildren during the first three innings, including a first-inning homer by Casey Gillaspie that matched Pitt’s two early runs, but Mildren shut them down from there.
In innings 4 through 7, WSU managed only a walk against Mildren while striking out five times and getting two balls out of the infield.
Mildren had eight strikeouts and a walk. He was approaching the mid 90s with his fastball early, but when his velocity dipped later in his outing he began relying more on his late-breaking curveball.
"Their starting pitcher threw 110 pitches," Stephenson said. "It seems, of course, that we can’t get ours ready to throw that many pitches. But he really pitched well — he threw his breaking ball down and over the plate, and that’s where you have to throw it to get people to swing and get them out and get a lot of strikeouts."
WSU’s pitchers didn’t experience similar consistency. Elam, in an unfamiliar situation, struggled the second and third time through the Panthers’ order. At one point, Elam went to full counts to three of four batters, and Stephenson said he left Elam in one batter too long.
That was an easy case of hindsight because Elam’s last hitter, Casey Roche, drove in the tiebreaking run in the fifth. Stephenson said Elam’s last intrasquad outing lasted 65 pitches, and he threw 76 Friday.
Another pitcher in uncharted territory was also battered by the Panthers. Albert Minnis, a former starter, entered with a runner on in the ninth. He struck out Stephen Vranka, who failed to execute a sacrifice bunt, but then allowed three straight hits.
"We didn’t pitch very well today overall," Stephenson said. "I won’t say it’s about an adjustment from the bullpen to a starting role or back the other way. It’s pitching. We didn’t pitch very well, and because we didn’t pitch very well, they hit very well. And because they pitched so well, we didn’t hit very well. That’s the way I see it."
WSU found success against Pitt’s relievers, partly thanks two a pair of eighth-inning walks. Mucha, who struck out in each of his first three plate appearance, slapped a single to left field to score a pair. Dayne Parker grounded out to end the inning, and Pitt cashed in on its opportunities in the ninth.
"We were definitely ready," Bayliff said. "We’ve been busting our (butts) to get ready for the game. We were maybe a little more jittery to start the game and they came out with all cylinders popping. What you saw today offensively was not what we can do — we can do a whole lot more."
E — Mucha. LOB — Pittsburgh 9, WSU 7. 2B — Vranka. 3B — Soto. HR — Gillaspie (1). SB — Lardo (1)7, Bobbit (1). CS — Vranka.
|Wilt W,1-0||1 1/3||2||0||0||0||1||0;00|
|McGreevy L, 0-1||2||2||2||2||0||0||9.00|
HBP — Oswald (by McGreevy). Umpires — home, Kevin Raine; first, Conan Strobel; third, Charlie Clemons. T — 2:45. A — 2,436.