Pitt’s softball team was on the verge of pulling off a surprise, leading No. 7 Florida State in the ACC Championship on Saturday, 4-0 late in the game. The win wouldn’t have only given the softball team its first ACC title, but it would have been the first for any sport since the program joined the conference a few years ago. Other teams have won regular season titles but hadn’t yet won a postseason tournament
It was up in the air who would start - junior Sarah Dawson, who started the first two games of the ACC Tournament or senior Kayla Harris. The Panthers (33-18-1) went with Harris and that seemed to be a good decision. Harris did a great job today for the most part, allowing only a single run through six innings. But a three-run walk-off home run by Florida State in the bottom of the seventh with two outs gave the Seminoles a seemingly improbable 5-4 victory.
Overall, it was another slow start offensively for the team. The Panthers had some baserunners but didn’t even get their first hit until the fourth inning where a short rally again fell short. But Pitt couldn’t be held down forever. In the top of the sixth, they finally got things going with a little (okay, a lot of) help from Florida State. With runners on first and second with one out, a passed ball moved the runners over to second and third. Freshman Hunter Levesque hit a bloop single to score the first run. A second would be scored on an errant throw and a passed ball and wild pitch would give the Panthers two more.
Everything went wrong that inning for Florida State. Even the RBI single Pitt managed was really a fluke as it was supposed to be a pitchout and the Seminoles’ pitcher didn’t get the ball far enough outside. Pitt went up 4-0 and with only six outs to go, were poised to win the title.
Despite the lead, Florida State didn’t go away, though. They scored a run in the bottom of the sixth and then Harris allowed a couple of baserunners in the seventh with no outs. Pitt recorded a fly out and then another walk loaded the bases. Olivia Gray fielded a ball to get an out at third, allowing Florida State to score a second run but while getting the second out. Then, with two runners on, the Seminoles hit a home run to win the game and end a pretty crazy game.
The decision to leave Harris in the game will be something manager Holly Aprile replays in her mind a million times - especially if the team doesn’t get an at large NCAA Tournament bid. Harris had held Florida State to only one run in the first six innings but wasn’t dominant, working out a few jams along the way. Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but I think a lot of people were surprised that Dawson wasn’t at least warming up in the seventh after the first two runners got on base with no outs. Aprile surely wanted to show some confidence in her senior and, having started the last two games, maybe Dawson wouldn’t have been at 100%. But it’s clear now that Pitt should probably have gone to her at some point in that final inning.
This isn’t anything anyone wants to hear right now but the game should underscore how good the Panthers are. Sure, the offense struggled quite a bit today and Pitt got a lot of help. But this is now a team that’s beaten a top ten Florida State team once this season, lost a second they should have won, and lost a third by a single run. If Pitt can hang with them, they can hang with practically anyone. There’s some degree of ‘close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades’ here, obviously. But Pitt wasn’t merely close to winning today. This was theirs for the taking.
Talk now turns to the NCAA Tournament. A win would have gotten Pitt an automatic bid but now they have to wait for an at large look. Having Florida State virtually beaten today, I’d argue they should get in despite their RPI of 48. Their schedule was light but that wasn’t particularly their fault as the ACC was down this season. Plus, the Panthers are red hot right now. Coming into today, they had won 12 of their last 13 games. This is a very good team that is probably worthy of a spot in the tournament and they proved that on Saturday, despite the loss.
The Selection Show will be held on Sunday at 10:00 p.m. (?!) EST on ESPN2.