No. 7 Pitt outlasts No. 13 Georgia Tech in five-set thriller

PITTSBURGH — Pitt No. 7 and Georgia Tech No. 13 battled it out in a five-set thriller at the Petersen Events Center on Wednesday. Pitt fell two sets to one, but a strong fourth set and multiple comebacks in the fifth set propelled them to an important win over Georgia Tech.

The Panthers’ win (26-3 agg, 16-1 ACC) is their second this season against the Yellow Jackets (19-7 agg, 12-5 ACC), who they defeated away in October. It is also the third straight win over the Yellow Jackets for the Panthers since November 2021. It improves the Panthers’ record against the Yellow Jackets to 12-2 since joining the ACC in 2013. The Panthers also finish with a 5: 2 record against top 25 opponents this year, including three wins against top 10 teams.

“Really pleased it was a close game,” said Panthers head coach Dan Fisher after the win. “I was secretly hoping it would be a five-setter just because I know how tough the NCAA tournament is and how many similar environments we’re going to experience tonight. It felt like a big game.”

Georgia Tech led Pitt early in the first set, even building a five-point lead 14-9. Pitt responded with a 6-1 scoring run to tie the set at 15.

Both teams traded points before the Panthers started a 6-0 run to take a 23-18 lead before eventually winning the opener 25-21.

Pitt and Georgia Tech fought back and forth in the second set. Pitt managed to forge a 15-12 lead, but Georgia Tech scored six of the nine points to take it to 18.

The Yellow Vests took a slight 22-21 lead before scoring three of the last four points and winning the second set 25-22.

The Panthers looked set to take a 2-1 lead in the match as they forged a 17-13, 20-15 lead in the third set.

Georgia Tech responded with a 6-0 goal run to take a 21-20 lead. Pitt connected it with 23, but Georgia Tech senior outside hitter Julia Bergmann made two straight kills to win the third set.

When the Panthers were down a set, they had to react strongly to stay in the match. They started off great with leads of 7-3, 10-5 and 16-13 throughout the fourth set.

The Yellow Jackets came back and tied the set at 16 and both teams traded points until they tied it at 19.

Pitt then managed to take control of the set, thanks in large part to graduating lawsuit Courtney Buzzerio. She had three kills and a block assist, helping her team win the fourth set 25-22 and finish the match 2-2.

Georgia Tech played great early in the fifth set, leading 3-0, 6-2, 10-5. Pitt hit back, taking advantage of four straight points and three straight kills from redshirt junior outside hitter Valeria Vasquez Gomez to take the lead to 10 -9 to shorten.

The Yellow Jackets once again extended their lead to 13-10 and the Panthers found themselves in a difficult situation. The Panthers scored four straight points after a kill by Vasquez Gomez, two attacking errors by the Yellow Jackets and an ace of service by second setter Rachel Fairbanks to take a 14-13 lead.

Georgia Tech fought back four straight as Pitt set the point to keep him at 17. Fairbanks and senior center blocker Chiamaka Nwokolo made back-to-back blocks on the next two points to take the set 19-17 for Pitt and the match as well.

“In a lot of ways Georgia Tech outplayed us, but we had just enough guts to find a way to win. I just want to congratulate them on a great season. I wish them all the best for the tournament. We put them on to make a deep run. Mostly just proud that our team finds a way in difficult moments.”

Pitt played this match in front of the largest crowd of the season at the Petersen Events Center of 3,556. Fisher credits them for creating a great atmosphere for the team and playing a big part late with their support, even when Pitt fell behind in the fifth set.

“Biggest crowd of the season, which means a lot to these players,” Fisher said. “The crowd definitely helped us win the fifth set. You could feel their energy.”

Vasquez Gomez played one of the best games of her career as a Panther. She led the Panthers with a career-high 22 kills in an impressive .347 hitting, second best on the team. She also finished second with 14 digs on defense.

Buzzerio also played a solid game for Pitt, finishing second on the team with 20 kills at .340 hits, which was third best. She also finished third with a total of three blocks

Sophomore sweeper/defender Emmy Klika played much of the game in place of starter senior sweeper/defender Ashley Browske. She made some key digs throughout the game, particularly in the fifth set, and tied Pitt for first place with 17 overall.

Sophomore setter Fairbanks led Pitt in the win over Georgia Tech with 39 assists, the second-best for her in 2022. She also finished second with graduate middle blocker Serena Gray for a total of 5 blocks.

Nwokolo led the Panthers with a .389 batting average and six total blocks against the Yellow Jackets. Senior setter Lexis Akeo also provided 17 assists, the second-best for the Panthers.

Pitt wraps up her regular season schedule with a game against Boston College on Saturday, November 26 at 1 p.m