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Duquesne University
Pitcher's big-league effort lifts Duquesne past Pitt, 2-1

Wednesday, May 07, 2003

By Ray Fittipaldo, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Duquesne baseball coach Mike Wilson has known Chris Lewis for a long time. A senior pitcher for the Dukes, Lewis grew up with Wilson's son, Josh, an infielder in the Florida Marlins' organization, and played on the 1998 PIAA Class AAA championship team at Mt. Lebanon High School.

Lewis was a position player for the Blue Devils and a spot starter behind Wilson and Kevin Ferris. He has been used exclusively as a pitcher in his four seasons with the Dukes and entered yesterday's game against Pitt at PNC Park with a losing record and a lifetime ERA over 7.00.

In what was likely his final game as a college player, Lewis pitched the game of his life -- a 2-1 victory against the Panthers. Lewis, who entered the game with an 0-2 record and a 13.79 ERA this season, pitched a five-hit complete game. The run he allowed came in the third inning.

"That's the best I've ever seen him pitch," Wilson said.

Lewis, an education major, gave up student teaching to play baseball this spring. His senior season was not going the way he had planned. But Wilson decided to give him the start yesterday after he volunteered to pitch an intrasquad game last week to help the team out.

"It's kind of nice to go out with a bang," Lewis said. "We knew we'd be playing [at PNC Park] for a while now. I kind of wanted to be ready."

The Dukes scored the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning when freshman Steve Maioli beat pitcher Brian Jacobsen to first base with a headfirst slide for an infield single that scored junior Dan Schwartzbauer from second base with two outs.

The Dukes (24-23) were coming off two one-run victories last weekend against Xavier that clinched the school's first berth in the Atlantic 10 tournament. The Dukes joined the Atlantic 10 for baseball in 1981. The top six teams in the league qualify for the tournament.

The Dukes had been close to qualifying the past few seasons but had always come up short.

"It's going to mean a lot for our program," said Wilson, the Dukes' coach since 1994. "We've been trying for six years now. In four of those years, we came up one game short. It's kind of been the luck of the draw. Now I think next year's team will expect to get there. And once you're there, it's so much easier to get back."

The Dukes are led by a strong pitching rotation that includes sophomore Bob Reifschneider (6-4, 3.97 ERA), freshman Adam Haun (4-4, 4.22 ERA) and senior Jim Popp (6-3, 4.65 ERA). The offense boasts a trio of seniors: Chad Williams (.398, 23 RBIs), who tied the score with a solo home run in the seventh inning yesterday; Sean Wilson (.357, 30 RBIs) and Andy Gallina (.313, 50 RBIs).

They play an important two-game Atlantic 10 series this weekend at home against nationally ranked Richmond. The Dukes can be anywhere from the No. 3 seed in the tournament to the No. 6 seed.

The Panthers (33-17) also are enjoying a successful season but need a strong finish to qualify for the Big East Conference tournament for the first time since 2000. They need to win two of three or sweep a weekend series against Virginia Tech and then probably sweep a three-game series at Connecticut to qualify.

The Panthers have been besieged by injuries and are redshirting three starters. Coach Joe Jordano is hoping junior infielder Tom Cashman, who has missed the past four games with an ankle injury, can be ready to play against Virginia Tech.

Despite that, Jordano has the Panthers on pace for the second-most victories in a season and has the program back on track after posting one winning season in five years from 1997-2001. After Pitt went 18-27 in 2001, Jordano guided it to a 36-16-1 record last season.

"If you look at the progress we've had from day one, it's been pretty special," said Jordano, in his sixth season as head coach. "The last three of four years we've won 30-plus games. We have some hurdles to overcome on a daily basis, but we're attracting quality players. We've upgraded our schedule, and my guys are playing. Here we are with my No. 1 pitcher, P.J. Hiser, out, three other starters who are redshirting, and we're sitting at 33-17 and 10-10 in the conference. I feel good about the progress of the program. Now we just have to get over the hump."

Ray Fittipaldo can be reached at rfittipaldo@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1230.

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