PITTSBURGH – It was an inauspicious start for the No. 17 Panthers on Tuesday afternoon.
Senior starting pitcher Chris Gomez climbed the mound less than 24 hours removed from a nightmare appearance against Notre Dame in which he faced just two batters, but did not record an out and gave up two runs. Gomez appeared to be in for another long afternoon against West Virginia after letting up a run on three hits in the top of the first.
But Gomez maintained his composure. The veteran right-hander didn’t just survive a rough first inning to extend his appearance on Tuesday against West Virginia, he completely scrapped head coach Mike Bell’s game plan.
Bell had only planned to throw Gomez for about three innings on Tuesday, but as he began to find a groove and cruise through the middle innings, Bell let the seasoned veteran roll.
“Yesterday was a situation where not a lot of people are going to have a high rate of success,” Bell said. “I knew he was going to pitch today … and the idea was to use a lot of guys today. But Chris changed our mind on that because he got into a rhythm today. What I really thought was going to be three innings from him turned into a beautiful, seven-inning performance.”
Gomez’s seven innings of one-run pitching powered Pitt (14-10 overall, 9-9 ACC) to a 5-1 win over rival West Virginia (11-12 overall, 3-3 Big 12) in the 201st edition of the Backyard Brawl. The Mountaineers jumped out to an early lead, but the Panther offense responded quickly to bury their rivals and earn a mid-week win.
Gomez said that the rough outing on Monday actually helped him on Tuesday. He was able to identify mistakes from the day before and avoided repeating them the next day.
“Yesterday was more of a tough situation,” Gomez said. “It didn’t go my way, so that night I had to just forget about it since I had to start tomorrow. Yesterday was a learning experience, but I brought it and used it today. Once I got a groove going, I noticed all my mistakes and started to capitalize.”
The Panthers responded to the Mountaineers’ early strike — an RBI single off the bat with a four-run bottom of the third. Junior designated hitter Kyle Hess started the rally with an opposite-field home run, a solo shot, that clanged off the scoreboard in left field.
Then, junior left fielder Ron Washington Jr. doubled and senior second baseman David Yanni singled. That brought junior first baseman Bryce Hulett to the plate with runners on first and third and one out. Hulett proceeded to drop a double into the right-center field gap, scoring both Washington and Yanni and giving the Panthers a 3-1 lead.
They would add one more run on an infield single from freshman catcher Jackson Phinney to make it 4-1. Pitt scored once more in the seventh on a mammoth home run from Yanni, but it was the crooked number they posted in the third that proved to be a game-winning moment.
The third inning against West Virginia marked the first time since March 28 against Virginia Tech that the Panthers had scored more than two runs in an inning. Clutch hitting had been hard to comeby for the Panthers over the past two weeks, but the four spot up in Tuesday’s third inning provided relief from recent struggles.
“I think anytime you win, it adds confidence to your guys,” Bell said. “The two at-bats where David Yanni went the other way electrified this team … But I think even they’ll tell you, we had 11guys left 11 guys on base. We had more opportunities that we left out there.”
Other offensive standouts included junior third baseman Sky Duff for Pitt, who went 3-5 while also returning to the defensive lineup after an extended stint as a designated hitter, and senior catcher Paul McIntosh for WVU, who recorded a pair of hits in four at-bats.
WVU starter Carlson Reed lasted 2 1/3 innings, giving up four earned runs on five hits while walking three and striking out three. Relievers Zach Ottinger, Noah Shorts, Jake Carr, Madison Jeffrey and Jacob Watters combined to allow just one run across 5 2/3 innings out of the Mountaineers bullpen.
The loss was WVU’s third in a row as the Mountaineers will move on to start a three-game weekend series at Baylor on Friday.