Tech Baseball To Host Tournament This Weekend

Pod Katt (@valleyshook) of LSU's SBNation site.

The Hokies will play UMass-Lowell and Cincinnati in a round robin this weekend. Who has the edge? Read all about it.

This weekend the Hokies' baseball team will host the Virginia Tech Tournament. The event is a round robin that also welcomes Cincinnati and UMass-Lowell. If you decide to head out to English field, the temperature is going to be 40 and sunny on Friday, with the weather warming up and becoming cloudy by Sunday, when temperatures are slated to reach 60.

Here is the schedule for the weekend:

Friday, the 28th: Noon – UMass Lowell vs Cincinnati, 4pm – VT vs Cincinnati (ESPN3)

Saturday: 11am – UMass Lowell vs Cincinnati, 2pm – VT vs UMass Lowell

Sunday: 11am – VT vs UMass Lowell, 2pm – VT vs Cincinnati (ESPN3)

Let's dive right in and take an in depth look at the teams.

Virginia Tech

When we last checked in on the host team they were preparing to play a decent Radford team in Tech's home opener. The Hokies pounded their way to a 6-1 victory over the Highlanders as they found offense early and kept the Radford bats at bay. Junior 1st baseman Sean Keselica started on the mound for Tech. This isn't entirely unusual as Keselica started four games last year, posting a 2-1 record and a 4.55 ERA. Keselica faced 16 batters in four innings of work. He struck out four batters and only allowed three hits in what amounted to a very nice performance. He was relieved by sophomore Luis Collazo who added two strikeouts in two innings. Tanner McIntyre entered the game in the 7th inning and allowed three hits and the Highlander's lone run through 1.2 innings of work. Finally, Sean Kennedy closed out the game with two strikeouts. There are a lot of questions surrounding the Hokies' pitching rotation right now. McIntyre, who is normally a starter, made a brief appearance in a relief role. Has he fully recovered from his injury? Is he still in the rotation? His only two outings on the season obviously did not go as he intended, and it's unclear as to whether his appearance on Tuesday means he has been momentarily relegated to the bullpen or if Mason simply wanted to get him some reps before the tournament, without tiring him out. Only time will tell.

While Tech's pitching was good, their hitting was even better. In the bottom of the 1st with one out, Junior Brendon Hayden declared the scoreboard open for business with a grand slam and the Hokies' first home run of the season. This was just the spark Tech needed as they finished the day with nine hits and scored six total runs. Tom Stoffel and Ryan Tufts also registered RBIs, and the Hokies took an astounding seven walks. Unfortunately Tech also stranded nine base runners in the win.

It was a much needed victory for coach Mason, but problems still remain. Tech committed three errors on Tuesday, bringing their total to eight in only five games. While hitting was inevitably going to be a concern, fielding problems have become a glaring statistic. If the 3-2 Hokies are going to compete this weekend they will need to fix some of these problems.

Cincinnati

If you aren't familiar with this team, they are responsible for this:

Bearcats Baseball Post Game Shenanigans (via CincinnatiBearcats)


New Hokie athletic director Whit Babcock came to Blacksburg from Cincinnati, but was not involved in the scheduling as this game has been scheduled since October. Tech and Cincinnati have met 51 times, but not since 1991 when the Bearcats left the Metro conference. Tech has won nine out of the last ten, and leads the series 37-14. Cincinnati is 2-3 on the season with two losses to Elon and a 6-5 loss to Radford only a week ago. Their wins came against Wake Forest and Missouri.

The Bearcats' 2013 campaign left much to be desired. They finished 9th out of 11 teams with a 24-32 overall record, and missed a Big East tournament berth by three games.

Here's the 2013 Big East final standings:

Team:

Overall Record:

Conference Record:

Louisville-x

51-14

20-4

Pittsburgh

42-17

18-6

Seton Hall

37-19

18-6

South Florida

36-22

17-7

Rutgers

28-30

14-10

St. John's

23-35

.10-14.

Notre Dame

34-24

.10-14.

Connecticut-x

35-28

.9-15.

Cincinnati

24-32

.6-18.

Georgetown

25-28

.5-19.

Villanova

14-39

.5-19.

X = NCAA tournament team

If you look at their stats from last year, their struggles quickly become apparent:

Statistic Measured:

Score:

Rank:

WHIP

1.54

207th

Batting Average

.271.

157th

Earned Run Average

4.6

179th

Fielding Percentage

.953.

273rd

Scoring

5.4/game

120th (Tie)

On Base Percentage

.366.

90th

Base On Balls

.238.

55th

Slugging Percentage

.364.

162nd

Stolen Bases

103

22nd

Hits Allowed/9 Innings

9.69

178th

Pitching and fielding have been problems for this team. It appears that they have improved so far this year, giving up 20 runs in five games while scoring 25. However, they have had trouble pulling out wins. The Bearcats lost their three games by a total margin of four runs. This team could easily be 5-0 right now. Junior Matt Ring has been their go to guy on the mound this year. He is 1-0 in two starts with a 2.08 ERA. Opponents are only hitting .239 against him. The rest of the rotation hasn't fared very well, with the other starters possessing ERAs above seven. When Ring doesn't start, Cincinnati will have to find other ways to win the game.

On the offensive side, the Bearcats are a decent hitting team, with five players hitting above .350 so far this year. Sophomore outfielder Will Drake has been their most dangerous weapon. He's batting .400 with eight hits in 20 at bats. But it's what Cincinnati does without the bats that makes them a dangerous team. They like to manufacture offense by being smart both at the plate and on the bases. In only five games the Bearcats have eight players who have stolen a base. As a team they are eight for eleven in stolen base attempts. Their quickness is the enemy of any team. They back that up with 19 walks this year. But Tech has surprisingly been even better. The Hokies are 10 for 11 in stolen bases with Saige Jenco stealing six on his own. We could end up seeing a battle of small ball. Regardless of whether or not they hit the ball, this is one of the fastest teams in college baseball as well as one of the smartest at the plate, and if Tech wants to win both games they are going to have to stay on their toes.

Who has the edge: VT vs Cincinnati

Pitching

Cincinnati has one proven starter this year, while Tech has two who have shown promise this season in Brad Markey and Kit Scheetz. Matt Ring gets the nod when it comes to a head to head matchup based on how well he has done so far (albeit very early in the season), but when it comes to the overall pitching staff Tech has more options and a crafty bullpen.

Edge: Hokies

Offense

The Bearcats have been doing fine in the hitting department, but are even more impressive away from the bats. Tech is still finding ways to replace the three power hitters they lost last year, although they have hit the ball very well their past two games. There is no substitute for good base running, and as good as Cincinnati has been at small ball, Tech has been even better with their 25 walks and 10 stolen bases.

Edge: Hokies

Fielding

Both teams have struggled in the field. Cincinnati has seven errors in five games, which is right on par with the Hokies. This one is going to be close. The Hokies had two errors at Shortstop vs LSU, made a change, and suffered three more there vs Radford. The early going is often tough on middle infielders as the ground has yet to soften.

Edge: Even

These two games are going to come down to how the Hokies respond to the Bearcats' offense. If Tech can hold the Cincinnati runners at first base then they should win both contests. If the visiting team keeps advancing the base runners then it could be a long weekend for Tech. Don't even think about pulling out the whole, "But Radford beat them and we beat Radford" argument. Cincinnati beat Missouri 11-5. Missouri beat Radford by a whopping score of 15-3. In baseball, anything can happen. The Hokies have the home field advantage and should win at least one of the two games aginst the Bearcats. If Tech can keep their recent hitting streak going they will have a good chance to win both contests.

UMass Lowell

This is UMass-Lowell's first season in Division One baseball. The River Hawks previously played in Division Two as a member of the Northeast 10 baseball conference. They recently joined the America East conference, home to the University of Maine and college baseball powerhouse Stony Brook, and are picked to finish dead last. UMass-Lowell finished the 2013 season with a 30-19 overall record, and are 2-1 so far this season. Their wins included a 14-3 beatdown of Temple and a victory over Rider. Their lone loss is also to Rider.

It's difficult to gauge a team who has been in Division One for less than a month, even if they have had 18 players taken in the MLB draft over the years. Their pitching staff has a combined 5.63 ERA so far this season. Christian Lavoie had the best outing of the group with a 1.69 ERA through 5.1 innings. Their rotation has been competent through three games, allowing nine runs. Their fielding has also been strong with a fielding percentage of .99 and they have only committed one error.

At the plate, the River Hawks are batting .271 as a team with two players hitting above .400. Right fielder Ian Strom has been their best hitter so far. He's batting .455 and was named America East Rookie of the Week on Tuesday. UMass-Lowell also has seven walks and six stolen bases in only three games.

Weekend Analysis

Having a wildcard like UMass-Lowell in the tournament really shakes up any possible predictions. They have performed well so far but without a full season under their belts it's too hard to say how good or bad they really are. If you go by history, the new kid on the block in Division One athletics rarely jumps in and steals the show. Becoming a good program takes time, and moving from Division Two to Division One is like taking the Gwinnett Braves and sending them to the NL East. They are obviously ready to compete, but can they get a win on the road against two established programs? Tradition would indicate that the River Hawks should leave the tournament without a win, but they already have two wins against D-1 opponents and they will be motivated to prove they belong. I think Umass-Lowell is going to steal one.

Cincinnati is a stingy team that's built for speed. They are going to wreak absolute havoc on the basepaths. A team like the Bearcats should win at least one game and is well poised to win two or three. The Hokies are the home team and the host often does quite well in these round robins. Tech should win at least two games. If coach Mason can pull all the pieces together, the Hokies have the best chance at three victories or even running the table for a perfect 4-0.

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