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CBD Column: Pitt Preparing For Next Chapter

Stepping into coach Joe Jordano’s office, you can see that the Pitt Panthers are at a crossroads as a program. On top of his file cabinet stands a plaque that reads “Big East Championship Runner-Up,” a memento from the 2005 season. If you turn to the wall on the far side of the office from the door, you see a picture of Cost Field, Pitt baseball’s brand new facility that sits atop what many familiar with Oakland would call “Cardiac Hill.”

Pitt baseball, led by Jordano, is set to close the book on its Big East tenure and begin ACC play for the 2014 season, a future that is both too far to be fully tangible yet close enough to be entirely relevant. The Panthers, who have been on the rise for some time now, know that it’s time to make the next step so they’re ready to compete in one of the nation’s top conferences.

“We are in the process of transitioning,” Jordano said about the upcoming move the ACC. “As we continue to transition in all phases of our program, I can assure you that we will be prepared for the day that we begin our ACC schedule.”

While the SEC and Pac-12 have gotten most of the love from around college baseball (and rightfully so), the ACC is right up there with the nation’s powers. In last year’s postseason alone, teams from the conference hosted five regionals and put seven total teams in the field. Contrarily, the SEC can count 10 teams in the field if you count Missouri and Texas A&M, and the conference hosted four regionals, and the Pac 12 hosted four while putting five teams in postseason play.

The transition ultimately begins with talent on the team, and there’s no question the Panthers will be able to compete with many teams in the conference. Sophomores Boo Vasquez and Joe Harvey both garnered attention in their respective summer leagues this past year, with Harvey being named ninth-best prospect in the Cal Ripken League and Vasquez being named 55th-best in the Northwoods League.

The team is looking at roster movement in the offseason, though, as the Panthers are looking at likely losing catcher Elvin Soto, Ethan Mildren, Joe Harvey, Rhys Aldenhoven, and Matt Wotherspoon from the pitching staff. The key, though, will be keeping up with recruiting, and Coach Jordano has noticed an upturn in the quality of interested prospects.

“When we announced this class that we just signed, there are two kids from Texas, one player from Phoenix, a couple players from out East, and a player from Virginia,” he said. “We had five or six of them from the top 500, and we’re going to continue to go after the best possible player to fit the needs that we have in that specific year.”

In 2010, the Panthers were placed on a list of “rising programs” by Perfect Game’s Kendall Rogers. Also on that list were Connecticut, who brought South Carolina to the brink of elimination in the postseason, and Oregon, who won the Pac-12 last year. Pitt, though, saw a setback in 2012 as the team went 28-28, but Jordano doesn’t expect that to become a trend with his team. He says that the reason for the off year was from losing six players from the previous season, and that the team turnaround was too much to overcome. Still, though, last season proved that his young team can compete.

“When you dissect the season, 17 games were decided by two runs or less,” he said. “If you look at it from an objective point of view, if we win five or six of those games, we’re in the mid-30s (in wins).”

Jordano also noted what the Panthers have to look forward to starting this upcoming season, finally becoming a fully-funded program. In all of Jordano’s tenure at the University of Pittsburgh, as well as every previous coach in the program, the team had never been fully-funded until Pitt chose to begin its move to the ACC, and that increase in funding should prove to keep the bar high at the highest point in Oakland.

“Our goal every year is to compete for a conference championship and to have an opportunity to play in a regional,” he said.

Jordano couldn’t be happier with the team’s move to one of the nation’s power baseball conferences, and he has the belief that Pitt will be ready to compete. After all, he is already the winningest coach in Pitt baseball history. But even with all of the wins next to his name, his legacy at the University of Pittsburgh will largely be shaped by how he can get the team to compete in the new conference.

“Again, it’s kind of a rebirth, more excitement, more anticipation, and there’s not a coach in the country that would not want to coach in the ACC,” he said. “We’re very excited about it, and we look forward to the challenge.”