Hokie Baseball Recap And Notre Dame Preview

The Hokies defeated Rutgers on Wednesday and head to South Bend to face Notre Dame this weekend. Could this be Tech's first road win of the season?

While Tuesday's matchup against Radford was rescheduled for April 2nd, the Hokies made it four straight by beating Rutgers 6-3 on Wednesday. In doing so they improved to 10-8-1 on the season.

The Rutgers matchup was a pitching circus as eight Hokie slingers saw action on the mound. Luis Collazo started his second game of the season, and continued what has become a tradition for Tech's starters this year: he left the mound early. Collazo threw for 2.2 innings, giving up three hits and three runs. He also had four walks and four strikeouts. These numbers aren't terrible at first glance, but reality hit home for coach Mason in the top of the third inning. With a 5-0 Hokie lead, Collazo walked the first two batters, balked, and walked the third batter, loading the bases. He then curiously tallied back to back caught-looking strikeouts. With a full count, two outs, and the bases loaded, it appeared Collazo would escape the inning. Then disaster struck as Rutgers' DH Lou Clemente destroyed the next pitch for a double which drove in all three base runners. It was enough for Mason to pull the sophomore from Miami in favor of Jon Woodcock. Then the bullpen fiasco began. Woodcock lasted 1.1 innings with a walk, a strikeout, and no hits. Woodcock was replaced by Phil Sciretta who pitched for one inning and tallied two strikeouts and no hits and also received his second win of the season despite facing only three batters. Tanner McIntyre followed Sciretta and continued his recent success by striking out four out of five batters and only allowing one hit through 1.1 innings. McIntyre paved the way for JD Doran, who walked his first batter and was immediately sent to the dugout. Andrew McDonald followed his lead by giving up a hit against his first batter and being pulled as well. Sean Kennedy then entered the game (the 3rd Tech pitcher in the 7th inning alone) and struck out one while allowing no hits through 1.2 innings. Luke Scherzer pitched the final inning and earned his second save of the season. He faced four batters and allowed one walk and no hits.

Tech saw their recent offensive production slip somewhat, but they didn't need to score 11 runs against the Scarlett Knights. Five of the six Hokie runs were scored in the 1st inning. Kyle Wernicki took a lead off walk, Mark Zagunis singled, and Brendon Hayden walked to load the bases. Keselica and Stoffel then hit back to back doubles to drive in a combined four runs. Shortstop Ricky Surum also doubled to bring home Stoffel. Tom Stoffel had the best day by far with a three for three, two RBI performance. Sean Keselica also had two RBIs. Rutgers pitcher Kevin Baxter settled down after that first inning and only allowed two hits and one run over the next five frames.

It was a strange way to use the bullpen and there's no clearcut answer for why Mason used so many pitchers on Wednesday. One plausible reason is that he saw some favorable matchups (or unfavorable) that he wanted to exploit. Another possibility is that he wanted to distribute the work evenly so as not to tire anyone out before the big matchup against Notre Dame this weekend. Either way, the bullpen once again saved the day for the Hokies. Not only that, but they have given up just one run in the last four games. Here's what Mason had to say about that, courtesy of @VT_Baseball: http://instagram.com/p/lv23jpkRPR/

While the bullpen looks like the Red Sox out there, it's still troubling that Tech's starters haven't been able to go deep into games. Eventually that bullpen is going to get tired, and the only way to prevent that is by having a good starting rotation. Without one, the Hokies can't possibly keep this win streak alive. The good news is that it appears that Tanner McIntyre is officially back to his old self. His past two appearances have been dominant, and we should expect to see him back in the starting rotation soon. With both Markey and McIntyre healthy, Tech would only be one proven starter away from having a solid weekend lineup to use during conference play. They will also need a fourth starter in the rotation, but Keselica has shown that he can step up and fill that void. The only question now is who will be slinging the heat on Sundays between Scheetz, McGarity, or Collazo. That is, provided Mason thinks McIntyre is once again fit for duty. You can be sure that as the former pitching coach, Mason will make that call when the time is right.

Notre Dame Preview

The Irish were a solid team last year at 34-24. A loss to Connecticut in the Big East Championship ended up being the only thing keeping them from an NCAA tournament appearance. This season is much different as Notre Dame is currently 7-12. Granted, they haven't played a home game yet as Tech will be the home opener for the Irish. This will be the first matchup between these two teams as members of the ACC. The last time they met was last year in a game which Notre Dame won 3-0. The Irish hold an 8-6 all time series lead over the Hokies.

This team is slightly hard to figure out. They lost to UCLA (the defending national champs) by one run but got swept by Duke and NC State. Here are their stats for this year to paint a clearer picture:

Statistic:

Value:

Rank:

WHIP

1.45

158th

Scoring

3.9 Per Game

239th

On Base Percentage

.322.

239th

Fielding Percentage

.960.

199th

Earned Run Average

3.57

103rd

Batting Average

.234.

255th

Strikeout To Walk Ratio

1.48

218th

Stolen Bases

25

64th

Base On Balls

66

128th

Hits Allowed/9 Innings

8.28

91st

This is not a scary matchup by any means. Their strength, if anything, is their pitching. Tech will probably see a rotation of Robert Youngdahl (1-1), Sean Fitzgerald (2-1), and Nick McCarty (0-4). Youngdahl has an ERA of 2.04, a team best for players who have started at least two games. Fitzgerald is sitting at 2.78, McCarty's ERA is 3.90. Considering Markey has the best ERA among Tech starters at 3.38, and the fact that no other Hokie starter has an ERA below 5.71, and you have to give the starting pitching edge to the Irish. Tech has to hope the bullpen can keep up what they've been doing as of late and balance the scales a little bit. Because right now Mason's bullpen is playing as well as any other bullpen in the country.

Fortunately Notre Dame doesn't hit the ball very well. The team batting average is only .234. Junior outfielder Blaise Lezynski is their best hitter. He is batting .300 on the season, and is the only player on the squad who is hitting .300 or better. They just don't have the weapons. Tech isn't miles beyond them, but a team average of .266 is certainly better. Tech's leading hitters are Tom Stoffel with an average of .354, and Saige Jenco with an average of .351. The Gobblers get the edge here.

It's very worrisome that Saige Jenco didn't play on Wednesday. We can only hope that he was given the day off or ate too many victory Twinkies and will play this weekend. He leads the team in stolen bases (10) and on base percentage (.554). He's also committed only one error all season. Without Jenco, Tech's offense is only fractionally as dangerous.

Analysis

This can't be stressed enough: Tech hasn't won a road game this season (0-5-1). They need to do so this weekend. This is a must win series. If they can continue their recent winning streak by carrying an ACC road series, they will move into mid-tier territory, which would be excellent considering their slow start. It's all going to come down to how well the Hokies play as a team. Tech needs to capitalize against a weak hitting team by having their starters go five or six innings. The bullpen needs to continue to work hard. The batting order needs to score early to give their pitchers some confidence. Notre Dame is very under-rated at this point, and the series will probably be closer than what the stats show. Tech will more than likely get their first road win, but the bigger question is whether or not they can grit their teeth and force themselves to produce multiple wins on the road. Until they do, 1-2 is far more likely than 2-1.

Here is the schedule for this weekend:

Friday - 5:35pm

Saturday - 4:30pm

Sunday - 11:00am

Be sure to come back for the recap of the series and other great Virginia Tech athletics news.

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