Updated: Feb 23
"The long-awaited first pitch" is a broadcaster cliché brought out at the start of every baseball season. Usually it's just a reference to what feels like a long offseason. But this time, there was a genuine relief when the ball left the pitcher's hand for the fist time. The college baseball offseason was amongst the longest in sports with just 20 games or so logged last year. After that, time slowed to a near standstill during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Enter the Snowbird Baseball Classic A way to finally, in some small way, return to a sense of normalcy with the Coronavirus still raging. A little escapism, and a chance to just play some ball. And sure, getting out of the Indiana and Pittsburgh weather didn't hurt the Sycamores or the Panthers.
The weirdness remained. A tournament with nearly 10 teams a year ago became a three game set between two squads. But it was still great for everyone involved to be back on the field. And the Sycamores of Indiana State took advantage right away. A brilliant first game from two ISU pitchers shaped the story on the first day, with Geremy Guerrero and Connor Fenlong combined to complete shutdown the Panthers right out of the gate. Max Wright had a home run in the second at-bat of the day that would prove to be the decisive swing.
Head coach Mike Bell and the Panthers weren't going to let that happen a second time. At first, it seemed like Indiana State would be able to utilize the confidence gained by an Opening Day win. They got out first, but this time the Panther offense would not stay quiet. Nico Popa, the Pittsburgh native and face of this Panther program, got going:
The Sycamores held the line though. The pitching continued to dictate the action, aided by some tremendous defense all over the infield.
But the Panthers were prowling. The offensive firepower was simply too much for Indiana State. The middle innings proved to be the swing point, as Pitt exploded on the third time through the order. An 8-2 victory followed, and set up the rubber match on Sunday to decide the first series of the year.
On the first two days, even with the big win Saturday, the Panthers had left way more runners in scoring position then they would've liked. It was a major reason for the loss on Friday, and continued even on day two. Everything changed on getaway day. It was Indiana State controlling the early action in the series, until it wasn't. Pitt completely flipped every established script, getting out a step early.
The Panthers prowled, and never looked back. 10 runs later, and Pittsburgh looked like the team that is hoping to compete in one of the top conferences in the country. Nearly everyone in the order got off to a hot start in sunny Florida, and set the tone for the year. Pitt remains in Florida for their games the next few weeks as they take on Jacksonville and Florida State. Meanwhile, Indiana State got really valuable reps against a Power Five team while even taking a win and battling tight for another half a game. Most importantly, we got to play baseball. Safely, securely, and enjoyably. That was the most important thing.