Up 3-1 in the top of the eighth inning and with 97 pitches weighing on starting pitcher TJ Zeuch, the Pittsburgh Panthers had to do something they hadn't done since the first game of the series - go to their bullpen.
A bullpen that struggled throughout the season's first couple of weeks was entrusted with what amounted to a save situation. Isaac Mattson got the ball, and the top of the Boston College order stepped up to the dish. And despite getting two outs, the Panther worst nightmare happened, as the Eagles tied the game in the late stages. Two runs crossed the plate, and a 3-3 score went into the bottom of the eighth.
Two quick outs into the eighth, it looked like momentum shifted cleanly to Boston College. Then it disappeared - almost as quickly as it came.
A walk, a balk, and an error in the outfield on a single scored a run, and a second error scored a second run as Pittsburgh reclaimed a two run lead. And even though the Eagles scored one in the top of the ninth, they never got the tying run on base, as the Panthers escaped with a 5-4 victory at Cost Field on Saturday afternoon.
The win gave Pittsburgh (11-9, 4-5 ACC) two on the weekend, clinching the head-to-head series victory. Boston College (13-8, 3-6 ACC), meanwhile, finally returns home this week now with two straight weekend defeats in their conference.
An anticipated duel between Boston College's Jacob Stevens and Pittsburgh's TJ Zeuch developed almost immediately, with the Panther starter striking out two in the first inning to retire the side in order before the Eagle responded by facing the minimum in the bottom. The game remained scoreless through two, despite BC getting runners into scoring position after a lead-off double by Stephen Sauter.
In the top of the third, however, the Eagles broke through against Zeuch. Anthony Maselli drilled a 1-0 pitch over the center field wall, giving BC a 1-0 lead. They would advance Jake Palomaki, who singled following the homer, as far as third with one out, but strikeouts by Sauter and Chris Balogh allowed Pitt to escape relatively unscathed.
Stevens, meanwhile, rolled into the fourth inning with a shutout intact before Pitt got on the board. Stevens walked Charles LeBlanc to start the inning, and he advanced to third when the next hitter, Nick Yarnall, doubled. With two on and nobody out, Alex Kowalczyk grounded a sacrifice, scoring LeBlanc to tie the game at 1-1.
That was all anyone would get off the starting pitchers. The game remained 1-1 into the sixth, where BC lifted Stevens in favor of John Nicklas. The Eagle reliever opened up his appearance with a strikeout, but a walk and stolen base by Yarnall put the go-ahead run in scoring position. That's where Kowalczyk once again delivered, lacing a triple to center to score the runner. David Yanni then hit a sac fly to left to score Kowalczyk, and a quick inning gave the Panthers a 3-1 lead.
Zeuch continued to roll through the seventh, but Pitt's decision to go to Mattson for the eighth cost them after he nearly got out of the inning. Jake Palomaki led off the inning with a single, but Joe Cronin and Donovan Casey produced back-to-back strikeouts for two outs. Sauter walked, keeping hopes alive, and a wild pitch advanced runners into scoring position. A walk by pinch hitter Mitch Bigras loaded the bases, allowing Michael Stream to stroke a single that brought home Palomaki and pinch runner Gian Martellini, tying it up at 3-3.
But the bottom of the inning was a killer for the Eagles. Brian Rapp came on in place of NIcklas and got two quick outs to start the inning, including a strikeout of LeBlanc. But he walked Yarnall, then balked him over to second. After issuing an intentional walk to Kowalczyk, the Eagles went to Justin Dunn, who gave up the single to Yanni to left. While in left, Logan Hoggarth couldn't field the ball cleanly, bringing home Yarnall.
With Kowalczyk now on third, Frank Maldonado chopped one that handcuffed Maselli at third, and the second error of the inning made it 5-3.
BC scored one in the bottom of the ninth against Tyler Garbee, who was entrusted with the save. Johnny Adams doubled to lead off the inning, forcing the Panthers back to their bullpen for Yaya Chentouf. Chentouf recorded back to back groundouts back to the box, but they also advanced Adams to third. After a passed ball scored the runner, Cronin fouled out, ending the threat and the game with a 5-4 defeat for the Eagles.
It was a wild day at the ballpark, highlighted by crafty pitching by both starters, neither of which recorded a decision. Zeuch went seven innings for the Panthers, striking out 11 with masterful control (no walks). He allowed only the one run on the homer, scattering five other hits. He induced eight groundouts over the course of his game.
He was opposed by Stevens, who struck out five and walked three in his five innings. Allowing one run on two hits, the freshman continues a run of dominance to start his collegiate career. In 34 innings pitched, he's only allowed two earned runs for an ERA of 0.53. That has him among the top 10 in the nation to start 2016, and of the group of pitchers who went deep into the year without allowing an earned run, only three still remain (Aaron Phillips of St. Bonaventure, Troy Rallings of Washington, and Bobby Leyman of Brown).
Nicklas allowed two runs in two innings thrown, striking out two and walking one on one hit. Brian Rapp (0-1), who took the loss for BC, walked two in 0.2 innings, striking out one. Only one of Rapp's runs charged was earned.
Justin Dunn pitched the final out, giving up the single that led to the game-winning run, striking out one.
As for the Panthers, Mattson (1-0) recorded the win despite giving up two runs on two hits with two K's and two walks and a wild pitch in one inning of work. Garbee didn't record an out in the one hit allowed, and Chentouf recorded his first save of the year.
At the plate, Palomaki, Cronin, and Strem all had multi-hit games, including a two-RBI day for the centerfielder Strem. Maselli's aforementioned homer was his only hit, but it came in a big spot.
Pitt managed to win the game despite only recording four hits - one apiece from Yarnall, Kowalczyk, Yanni, and Maldonado. BC pitching issued six walks, and two costly errors wound up hurting the Eagles, who at times were the more dominant team but just came up short.
BC is now tasked with rallying after losing their second straight ACC series. They'll return home for their home opener on Tuesday against Connecticut before playing their first home conference series on Saturday against Florida State.