Last season was disappointing for the Pitt Panthers with all the talent they had finishing with a 24-23 overall record and 7-17 in the ACC.
This year the team is hoping to return to their winning form of a few seasons ago when their record was 37-22 and included both their first-ever ACC & NCAA postseason appearances.
The good news for the team is that Pitt will be returning all but one starter from last season, senior first baseman Kaitlin Manuel. This year’s team will consist of a mix of, five seniors, six juniors, five sophomores, three incoming freshmen and one junior transfer.
Hopefully the Panther’s pitching staff will show some improvement with another year of experience under their belt and be able to be more consistent and bring their team ERA down some this season. The staff consist of returning pitchers, Kayla Harris (4.06 ERA, 9-8), Brittany Knight (4.11 ERA 13-12) and Sarah Dawson (4.27 ERA 2-3).
To help shore up their pitching they have added Coastal Carolina transfer Taylor Rahach to their roster. Rahach, a right-handed pitcher, comes to the team after having spent her first two years playing for Coastal Carolina. Rahach started 27 games and played in 42 games during her time with the Chanticleers. In her sophomore year Rahach threw 11 complete games and had five shutouts. She was ranked in the top 10 in the Sun Belt Conference in ERA, opposing batting average, strikeouts and wins.
On the offensive side of things Pitt has several big hitters returning including, Giorgiana Zeremenko (.295 BA, 11 HR, 35 RBIs), Olivia Gray .(290 BA, 7 HR, 25 RBIs), Alexis Solak (.288 BA, 4 HR, 23 RBIs) and McKayla Taylor ( .260 BA, 8 HR, 25 RBIs).
Pitt head coach Holly Aprile has also made several coaching changes for this season with the addition of Amanda Buchholz to the staff. Buchholz, is a former Nebraska softball standout and joining the Panthers as an assistant coach. Buchholz is known for her defensive prowess. The Panthers also added former Kentucky standout and Akron Racers player in the National Pro Fastpitch League, Griffin Joiner, along with volunteer assistant Matthew Alberghini to their coaching staff.
The Panthers got off to a fast start last season 9-0 and a #19 ranking before suffering their first loss of the season to Lipscomb 1-0. After that they advanced to a strong 12-2 record before ACC play got started and things went south for them. It wasn’t until their ninth conference game played that they finally got a win in the ACC against Boston College.
This year the team will open their season with three tournaments before they get started with conference play. Their first trip will be to Fullerton, Calif., to compete in the Titan Classic (Feb. 9-11), hosted by Cal State Fullerton. Other teams scheduled to participate include, Loyola Marymount, Utah State and Rutgers.
After that tourney the team heads to Chapel Hill, N.C. to play in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge (Feb. 16-18) again this year. Last year they went 4-0 in it winning twice over both Nebraska and Northwestern. This season they will face Wisconsin and Illinois in the tourney.
The last tune up before conference play begins will be the Chanticleer Showdown (Feb. 23-25), hosted by Coastal Carolina. In addition to the Chanticleers, Pitt will also play games against, Georgetown and Saint Josephs.
Pitts first conference games will be a three-game series against NC State, March 2nd-4th.
Being a Northern team Pitt won’t see their first home action at Vartabedian Field until March 21st when they’ll face a scrappy Saint Francis (PA) team.
The ACC has several tough teams like Florida State that’s always is competing for titles along with teams on the rise like, North Carolina and Boston College. I look for Pitt to bounce back from last season and improve their play and record.
If a few things, like their pitching hits on all cylinders, this year’s Pitt Panthers should make the NCAA playoffs.