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New Look Panthers

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The University of Pittsburgh has established itself as a power on the gridiron and on the court. But, diamonds are becoming the Panthers' best friend, too.

Like its basketball and football counterparts, Pitt's baseball team is challenging for a Big East championship.

The Panthers are enjoying a breakout season this year. The team sits atop the Big East and NCAA rankings in a handful of team statistical categories, including batting average, scoring, fielding percentage and doubles per game.

Coach Joe Jordano's troops were busy rewriting their record book, too, as the squad established school bests in hits, batting average, RBIs, doubles, triples and runs scored. In addition, the squad rattled off a program-best 11-game winning streak.

"We've been on a great run. It's been an awesome year, especially for the older guys who have been here a while. It's the most success we have had," said Pitt junior pitcher Corey Baker. "We've been playing great as a team. We've been riding high all year. It's been really fun with everyone playing together.

"We've be playing really good defense. That's what coach Jordano has preached since I've been around. Obviously, our offensive is really powerful. We can put up huge numbers at any time," he continued. "We have been pitching well, too. We have done some really good things on the mound. I think we are a really well-rounded team."

The Panthers' successful season gained nationwide recognition as they broke into many national rankings in May, including their first-ever appearance in the Baseball America Top 25 poll. Pitt climbed as high as No. 20.

Not bad for a team that was slotted ninth in the Big East preseason poll.

"Before the season started, no one gave us credit. Our success is a credit to us for all the work we put in during the offseason. Just to get to this point is a testament to everything we've done so far," said Pitt junior outfielder John Schultz. "Going into the season, everyone on the team pretty much agreed we'd make the Big East tourney. One thing we haven't done as a team is win a Big East championship. That goal hasn't changed. We've received a lot of attention nationally. It's nice, but it doesn't really change what the goals are."

Pitt had a chance to achieve its goal at the Big East tournament May 26-30 and advance to the NCAA tournament.

"It feels good to qualify for the tournament, but we don't want to be happy with making it. We want to win it and keep going further," said junior third baseman/closer Joe Leonard, a Connellsville native. "We're excited where we are and how we are playing. We beat some really good teams. We feel, as a team, that we can beat anyone. So far, it's really successful."

Pitt's baseball program got a boost to ensure it can continue its success into the future with the unveiling of plans for a new baseball stadium to replace antiquated Trees Field. The Panthers will move into their new park at the Petersen Sports Complex next spring. The facility will provide state-of-the-art homes for the Panthers' baseball, softball and men's and women's soccer teams.

"Without question, I think it will put our program into a totally different category," Jordano said. "It's already positively affected recruiting. We signed a class this fall that is as good as any we have ever signed. Also, I think the new stadium will make baseball a spectator sport at Pitt. I think people will want to come and watch a game and be part of a great atmosphere.

"The upgrades are dramatic. The new facility is a thousand percent better situation than we are currently in now. It's going to be fantastic. I can't wait to get on it," he continued. "I think it's going to be an exciting time for our program and I look forward to being a part of it."

The players are pumped up about their new home, too.

"It's pretty exciting. We kind of walk by it every day on the way to our field now. It's been pretty cool over the past year to watch it go up. The new complex is really coming along," Baker said. "We are really grateful to Petersens for donating to Pitt and helping to make it a reality. I can't wait to play that first game on the field. It gives the team a lift. It's going to be one of the best facilities around.

"Nationally, our football and basketball programs are recognized every year and they play in great complexes. It's nice to see Pitt, as a school, rewarding us. We're doing good things on the field. It's nice to see we get that recognition as a program and definitely puts us on that top level," he continued. "Something like that leads to success for a long time. We'll be able to bring in top players year after year. Hopefully, the program is at the top for a long time with a facility like that."

Leonard agrees.

"It's exciting. Next year is going to be good for our team. Everyone is excited to get on the field. I think that's a big help; we'll be able to bring in a lot more talent because of the new stadium. We'll have more fans there, too, and I think that will help out a lot of with recruiting. This program has been successful and it's really exciting to see us keep improving."
 

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