PITTSBURGH — What was expected to be a pitchers’ duel between two of the top pitchers in the conference turned out to be an offensive slugfest with Pitt (7-8, 2-2 ACC) pulling off the 12-9 upset against No. 11 North Carolina (11-6, 2-2 ACC) on Friday.
During a back-and-forth affair, the teams finally settled into the seventh inning tied 9-9 when the Panthers scored three runs on a single by freshman Charles LeBlanc in the bottom half that proved to be the game winning hit.
Senior Jordan Frabasilio led off the inning with a single and UNC pitcher Trent Thornton alternated walks and strikeouts to the next four batters, leaving the bases loaded with two outs for Leblanc. With a full-count, all runners took off on the pitch and Leblanc lined it the other way for a bases-clearing single that gave the Panthers a three-run lead they would not give back.
Looking for a two-out rally in the ninth, pinch hitter Joe Dudek walked and Alex Raburn singled to bring the tying run to the plate. Sophomore Matt Pidich, who entered the game with two outs in the eighth, fanned Korey Dunbar for his third strikeout of the game to earn the four out save.
The win gave Pitt its second win in four tries against a team ranked in the top 11 this season. Pitt also opened last weekend by outlasting No. 1 Virginia 1-0. The Panthers are winners of three consecutive games and are 3-0 this year at the Cost.
Leblanc finished the game a perfect 2-for-2 with five runs batted in – three coming off the single and two more on sacrifice flies. He also had a sacrifice bunt on the day. Leblanc is the first Pitt player this season and first since March 18, 2014 to record at least five RBIs in a game.
Redshirt sophomore Jacob Wright also went 2-for-2, reaching base four times, scoring three times and driving one in. Junior Alex Kowalczyk added three RBIs on a double and a sacrifice fly.
Senior Jordan Frabasilio and redshirt freshman Frank Maldonado each homered on the day to fuel the Panthers offense. Frabasilio’s was his fifth of the season, moving him into a tie for third in the conference. Maldonado’s lone hit was his third homer of the season, but extended his hitting streak to a team-best eight games and his reached bases streak to 13.
A week removed from his phenomenal pitching performance against top-ranked Virginia, sophomore T.J. Zeuch battled some control problems early on and eventually settled in. With his pitch count increasing, the towering righty was lifted after just 4.0 innings and turned in seven strikeouts, two walks and gave up three runs – all unearned – on four hits.
Junior Garrett Wrambel (1-0) took over in the seventh during the tie game and earned his first career victory by retiring four of the five batters he faced in 1.1 innings of work. Pidich tossed the last 1.1 innings for the four out save, his second save of the season.
After an empty first inning for both clubs, UNC started the scoring with three runs in the second. Brian Miller led off the inning with a single by the outstretched reach of Frabasilio, then stole second on the next pitch. Following a walk – the second on the day for Zeuch after issuing one in his first 27.1 innings on the season — Landon Lassiter hit a slow chopper to third where junior Ron Sherman ate it up, thinking it was foul. However, the home plate umpire ruled it fair and the error on Sherman loaded the bases. With the extra opportunity, Tyler Ramirez made the Panthers pay with a bases-clearing double off the wall in center field. Zeuch regained some of his control against the next batter, striking him out for his third punch out of the frame.
In the bottom half of the inning, Maldonado got one run back for Pitt when he absolutely crushed an offering from UNC starter Zac Gallen that cleared the wall in left field to make it 3-1.
Pitt continued chipping away at the lead and manufactured another run in the third after Sherman led off the frame with a single through the left side and made his way around the bases on a balk, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly by Leblanc.
The Panthers exploded for six runs in the bottom of the fourth, matching their most runs in an inning this season, and in the process chasing Tar Heels ace Gallen after just 3.2 innings of the season.
Frabasilio started things with a one-out solo blast. It was the second homer of the day for the Panthers against UNC pitching, which entered the game having allowed only two through their first 16 games of the season.
Following Frabasilio’s homer, the next four Pitt batters reached base. Maldonado walked, senior Eric Hess executed a perfect hit-and-run, and Sherman walked to load the bases. After missing an extra base hit by inches down the right field line, Wright dropped in a bloop single in front of center that scored Maldonado from third and gave Pitt the lead.
Leblanc then hit his second sacrifice fly of the day for just the second out of the inning. A walk to Yarnall loaded the bases again and ended Gallen’s day. Trevor Kelley, making his 11th appearance of the season and sixth in a row, came in next and balked in a run before he even threw a pitch to Kowalczyk. Later in the at bat, Kowalczyk ripped a double of the wall in left center to score two more and extend the Pitt lead to 8-3.
UNC got two back in the fifth on a two-run, stand-up double from pinch hitter Adam Pate and added four more in the sixth to go back on top 9-8. With two outs and runners on first and second, Zack Gahagan sent a chopper back up the middle. Both Leblanc and Frabasilio charged toward the ball then backed off at the same time as the ball continued rolling into center and allowed a run to score. The next batter, Skye Bolt, took a pitch way over the right field fence to life the Tar Heels back in front 9-8.
That lead was short-lived, however, as Pitt evened the score 9-9 during the next half inning. The Panthers loaded the bases on a hit by pitch, a single by Leblanc and an error. And for the third time on the day, a sacrifice fly got the job done when Kowalczyk drove a pitch to right to plate Wright.
After shaky outings by redshirt freshman Josh Mitchell and freshman Ryan Campbell, the Panthers turned to Wrambel, who retired all three batters in the seventh in quick order to bring the Pitt bats back up to the plate.
Wrambel came back out for the eighth to record one out before being replaced by lefty specialist senior Nick Parnell, who did his job by striking out Ramirez. Pitt then called on Pidich, who fanned his only batter of the eighth.
Despite going up against the tying run in ninth, Pidich closed the door for his second save in two chances.
Trent Thornton (0-1), who came on in the fifth, suffered the loss as he was responsible for all three runs that Leblanc drove in.