College Baseball Daily continues our series of interviews with coaches from across the country today with Pittsburgh head coach Joe Jordano who is entering his 14th season in charge of the Pittsburgh program where he has a 366-310-2 record. Last season, the Panthers went 38-18 while going 18-8 in the Big East conference.
CBD: Pittsburgh is coming off a 38-18 overall record and an 18-8 mark in Big East conference play narrowly missing out on an NCAA tourney bid. What are your expectations heading into 2011 and will be your biggest challenges to this year’s squad?
JJ: Last season was a solid year for us. I believe to a man, we were all disappointed that we did not get a NCAA bid. We had some great players and some veteran’s that did an outstanding job for us. I feel we can follow last season with another solid campaign in 2011. There are some big, big holes to fill especially on the left side of the infield and behind the plate. I am very confident that Kevan Smith will do a great job behind the dish, but we will have two new players on the left side. Joe Leonard was a very special player for us. He practically played every inning of every game in his career. He made plays that were incredible – Joe cannot be replaced. Additionally, Dan Lopez at short and Corey Brownsten at catcher played extremely well last year. We are going to have to replace a significant portion of our offense this season that those three guys produced. Each of our returner’s have to step up and contribute. I believe our biggest challenge is to meet an expectation we have set for ourselves and acknowledge what we accomplished last year and use that to assist us entering this season. We have a solid schedule put together and the Conference is strong again so we have a lot of work to do to meet expectations.
CBD: Corey Baker and Matt Iannazzo are the top two returning starting pitchers from last year’s squad in which the Panthers bring back 11 out of 12 pitchers. How do you see the weekend rotation setting up for the opening weekend?
JJ: I would say Corey and Nazzo will be one and two entering the opening weekend. We have some very talented younger arms we brought in this year which will significantly improve our depth from last year. Additionally, Ray Black is developing very well and we may attempt to have him ready as a starter by conference play. David Kaye is also returning after surgery a year ago. I also believe our new pitching coach Tom Lipari is doing an outstanding job developing the staff.
CBD: Two-way player Joe Leonard left the program after the season after one of the best seasons in the history of the program. What player on the current squad could rise up to Leonard’s level at the plate? On the mound?
JJ: I don’t think we can replace Joe. We just need a few guys to take a piece of it and step up. Joe was a very special player and he will undoubtedly be missed.
CBD: David Chester had a solid season in 2010 hitting .332 with 15 homers and 65 RBI. What makes him such a force at the plate?
JJ: David is a very hard-working, determined player. He takes pride in his offense and works at it every day. He is physically strong and pretty quick for a big guy. He is a tough out.
JJ: I believe that the freshman that impressed me were Ethan Mildren and Casey Roche on the bump and Derek Wilson at short. I believe those guys have a good chance to see significant playing time. We also had several other first year players perform well that will also contribute this season. It is a solid freshman class
CBD: Last season, three Big East squads qualified for the NCAA Tourney with UConn and Louisville hosting regionals. This season we see four teams ranked in the preseason poll released by Collegiate Baseball News with St. John’s, Louisville, and Uconn joining the Panthers in the poll. Who do you expect to be the biggest challenger to win the conference this season?
JJ: Being one of the veteran coaches in this league, I see each weekend as a huge challenge. There is not a lot of difference from the top to the bottom in this Conference. Any team can beat any other team on any given day. It is a dog fight each series. I honestly believe there is no slam dunk favorite this year. It is going to be a very challenging season.
CBD: Pitt is taking part in the Big Ten/Big East challenge for the second straight season. The Panthers will face in the tourney playing Illinois, Iowa, and Purdue. How important is this early season tournament to your RPI and other non-conference matchups?
JJ: This is our first year in the challenge and we really look forward to playing those great Big Ten teams. I know our club is fired up to play and we know we are going to be facing some very well-coached, athletic teams.
JJ: The new Petersen Sports Complex is going to be great. As you know, Trees Field was not a good facility. But what is even more special is that we will be able to practice at consistent times on a game ready field. At Trees, we would have to schedule our practice around both soccer teams – who used the outfield for practice- and the band. We would practice at 6am one day and 8pm the next. It was tough for 13 years, but we managed. Can’t wait to open the new place up!
CBD: This season we will see a new bat standard go into effect. Has your squad had a chance to try out these new bats and if so, what are your thoughts on them?
JJ: I believe the bats are fair. I know that the new standard will have an effect on offensive numbers without question. I also believe that the inner half of the zone will be an area that pitcher’s will return to rather than pounding away. Good hitters will still hit – I believe the most impact will be with the average hitter – the cheap hit will be disappearing and the emphasis will be on making plays defensively. At the end of the season, it will, be interesting to see how much of a difference the new standard made on the game.
CBD: Would you be in favor of going to a NCAA tournament format with each round being a series, as opposed to four-team regionals?
JJ: I would just like to get there!
College Baseball Daily would like to thank Coach Jordano for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us. Special thanks to Mendy Nestor of Pittsburgh Media Relations for setting up the interview and sending us the photos. If any other SID’s or coaches would like to be featured in a future interview feel free to send me an email.