When the Virginia Tech baseball team lost 5-2 to Connecticut in their opening game of the Blacksburg Regional on Friday, not many gave them much of a chance to make it out of the tournament and advance to the Super Regionals. After all, to advance Tech would have to beat three tournament-caliber teams a combined four times without suffering a loss.
While they did not reach their goal, they made it past the halfway mark, turning it on late against Coastal Carolina on Saturday, winning 9-1 and then exacting revenge on UConn Sunday afternoon 3-1, putting them in a two-game (if necessary) final with Oklahoma. As the tournament is double-elimination format, and the Sooners were the undefeated, Tech would have to best the team with one of the best pitching staffs in the nation twice in a row. And despite the fact that Tech lost 10-4, they held a shutout until a four-run (two unearned) sixth inning that saw all the momentum shift from the Hokies to the Sooners because of poor fielding/decision-making by Tech and great plays by the Sooners.
Not to be that guy that just arbitrarily says "it was closer than the box score" to serve his team's reputation. The Hokies dominated this game until the sixth, failed to extend their 2-0 lead due to baserunning mistakes and suspect calls and then after getting back within one run in the bottom of the sixth to make it 4-3, allowed a six-run ninth inning to the Sooners when they had all but given up. So yes, this was a close game that was closer than it looked. If you don't believe me, go back and watch it.
While it appeared like Oklahoma was the better team, the Hokies played extremely well early on, especially in the field, helping starter Eddie Campbell's cause whenever he did need a pick me up. Campbell was dominant through five innings, but his stuff began to flatten out and hang out over the plate in the sixth. His line still was not bad, as he went 5 and 2/3 innings while only allowing 5 hits, 2 earned runs and 2 walks and striking out 4.
Offensively, while the Hokies saw more pitches and had the same number of walks and hits, they stranded 9 runners and had three runners thrown out in scoring position, two at home. Another recent trend that reared its head was the Hokies' inability to play error-free baseball, committing 4 errors to Oklahoma's 1, which was one of the major differences in this game.
While watching some of the games over the last two weeks was frustrating and even maddening, the Hokies showed they can hang with the nation's elite, winning 40 games on the year, sweeping their pool in the ACC Tournament, earning their first spot in the ACC Championship game and ultimately hosting their own Regional for the first time in school history. They also showed us flashes of what this program could be in the coming years. So all hope is not lost. Tech will be back again in baseball, and no doubt due in part to these pioneers who have helped to forge the way for the program's future.
Here's a list of the players who made the All-Tournament team:
So six #Hokies make the all-tournament team (shouldn't it be all-regional?): Pinder, Rash, Zagunis, Horan, Burke and Wernicki. Good job guys— GobblerCountry.com (@gobblercountry) June 3, 2013
Below is a game-by-game review of each one of the other games from this weekend (and a link to the first UConn game played on Friday)
Friday May 31, 2013 (1) Virginia Tech 2 vs. (4) Connecticut 5
Saturday June 1, 2013 (1) Virginia Tech 9 vs. (3) Coastal Carolina 1
Like I said above, the Hokies didn't turn it on against Coastal Carolina until late, allowing the Chanticleers (again, yes, this is real) to hang around despite shutout baseball by Devin Burke for 8 and 1/3 innings. In fact, despite scoring 9 runs, the Hokies left 10 runners on base for the game as well. They also continued their disturbing inability to hit with runners in scoring position, going 0-4 before plating their first run in the sixth on a Mark Zagunis single. Buoyed by Burke's performance, however, Tech began to show flashes of the offensive might that got them there.
The score would stay 1-0 until the top of the seventh inning when Andrew Rash led off the frame with a solo home run to make it 2-0. Then later in the inning Chad Morgan scored an unearned run off of an Alex Perez sac bunt to make it 3-0. In the eighth, Chad Pinder added a solo shot of his own to make it 5-0. But it wasn't until the ninth (as Tech was the away team for this contest) that the Hokies ran away with this one, on the strength of six-straight batters reaching base and nine total batters in the inning. That gave the Hokies a 9-0 lead before Coastal Carolina star center fielder Jacob May homered in the bottom of the ninth to take away Burke's shutout bid. Burke, however, collected the two remaining outs and finished with a complete game, giving up only 5 hits and 2 walks while striking out 2.
Sunday June 2, 2013 (1) Virginia Tech 3 vs. (4) Connecticut 1
Unlike their other games in this tournament, this one was a pitcher's duel, with the Hokies' starter Brad Markey coming out on top. Both pitchers went 5 and 1/3 inning, but Markey allowed only 1 run on 1 hit and 1 walk while striking out 1, allowing the Hokies to take the lead and add an insurance run before the Huskies even scored.
Tech scored the first run of the game (an unearned run) in the second inning on a fielder's choice that allowed Chad Morgan to reach and Tyler Horan to score. They then added to that lead in the fourth when Rash doubled home Horan to give Tech a 2-0 advantage. UConn got one back in the fifth on a crazy sequence that, well, looked like this (and just like the guys from Amazin' Avenue say, click on the image to embiggen):
Tech put it away though in the ninth when Sean Keselica reached on a fielder's choice, scoring Logan Bible from third. And Clark Labitan made sure the margin stayed as he pitched a beautiful 3 and 2/3 inning save, striking out 4 and only allowing 2 hits.
For everything your heart desires and MORE regarding Virginia Tech baseball, including final analysis of the season, MLB Draft previews, Hokies in the Minor Leagues features and interviews with former players, stayed tuned to Gobbler Country, your #1 Virginia Tech sports source.