May 26—After recording the final out of Pitt’s 5-3 victory against North Carolina Tuesday night in the ACC Tournament, Jordan McCrum allowed himself a celebratory shout before putting a finger to his lips.
The Pitt relief pitcher’s intent was to quiet the pro-North Carolina crowd, but he had already done that by throwing the final two innings and earning the save — his sixth — for the 10th-seeded Panthers in an upset of No. 6 North Carolina (26-25) at Truist Field in Charlotte, N.C.
Pitt (23-19) made only its second all-time appearance in the ACC Tournament after reaching the semifinals in 2018. The Panthers will play No. 3-seeded N.C. State (28-15) on Thursday. The winner will claim Pool C and advance to a semifinal game at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The Panthers, who were ranked as high as No. 14 in the nation earlier this season, were idle for 2 1/2 weeks due to covid concerns and took a seven-game losing streak into Tuesday’s game.
But coach Mike Bell said the strength of the ACC — more than the idle stretch — was to blame for his team’s 2-8 record to end the regular season.
“I thought our guys were really good coming out of it,” Bell said. “Our first practice, there was great energy.”
Yet, he admitted the team’s flow was disrupted by the pause.
“This is something no team has had to go through until this year,” he said. “If you look at all the teams that had to pause at some point or another, they didn’t come out of it too sexy.”
Three of the losses were to N.C. State on May 14-16 by scores of 3-2, 9-7 and 10-3 at Pitt’s Charles L. Cost Field.
Against the Tar Heels on Tuesday, Pitt never trailed, jumped out to a 3-0 lead and increased it to 5-2 on Ron Washington Jr.’s two-run homer, his eighth of the season, in the eighth inning.
“I felt like he hit the ball in the other state, it went so far,” Bell said of the 406-foot shot.
“He has the ability to impact the baseball and impact the game. When you’re sitting in the other dugout, you have got to make sure you make quality pitches against him. There aren’t a lot of ballparks that can hold what he can do.”
Mitch Myers started for Pitt and struck out five in 4 2/3 innings. Chase Smith and McCrum followed, limiting North Carolina to one hit in 4 1/3 innings and helping Pitt improve to 18-0 when leading after seven innings.
The Tar Heels loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth and scored one run on a ground out by Tomas Frick. McCrum retired designated hitter Max Riemer on a called 3-2 strike to end the threat.
McCrum walked Angel Zarate in the ninth but struck out Justice Thompson and got a fly out to left field from Caleb Roberts to end the game.
Bell hasn’t decided on a starting pitcher Thursday, but he said he’s leaning toward Matt Gilbertson.
He said he won’t evaluate his team’s performance until the season is over.
“We know we have a very tough task Thursday against N.C. State,” he said.
But he added, “It’s probably more about what we go out and do. We know if we play good baseball, whether it’s pitching and defense, whether it’s timely hitting, we feel like we can compete with anybody.
“We’re going to strap it up, play a little baseball and see what we can do.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .