Today we address the reality of how difficult the task ahead of the Hammerin' Hokies is this year in their attempt to repeat as invitees to the NCAA Baseball tournament this May. Last year's Hokies managed a 40-22 overall record on the strength of a 35-19 regular season that had them finish 20-5 outside of conference play and a respectable 15-14 in ACC play.
Here is the conversation:
Flyers 13: Looking at last year's schedule, VT earned an NCAA regional on the strength of a 35-19 regular season record and by making their way to the ACC Tournament title game, winning 3 of 4. VT was 20-5 outside the conference. I hate to be pessimistic, but in order to match last season's mark out of conference, the Hokies would need to go undefeated thru the rest of non-conference play as they have already lost 3 games on the field, and one more (Toledo) to weather.
Beginning this week, almost all of those games will be Tuesday/Wednesday affairs, jammed between the ACC's weekend dates. I was thinking VT needs to win at least 17 or 18 of the 23 out of conference dates, and then finish .500 in conference play to even entertain the thought of playing beyond the ACC tournament. Which would leave them at 33-20 and an outside shot at a #2 seed at someone's regional. Is losing just two of those remaining non-conference dates doable without using guys from the weekend rotation? What did you have as your magic number?
Jacob Emert: It is unfair and unrealistic to expect this year's team to be able to match the success of the 2013 Tech squad. That team had 6 players drafted and 2 more sign professional contracts after the draft. Furthermore, this year's team has 2 (!!) seniors, and one is a starter (Brad Markey) who will pitch once a week. With a team this young and experienced, expectations must be real. Coach Pat Mason said youth won't be an excuse for poor play. There is no way it won't be a factor though. There is no way it can't be with a team that starts so many freshmen and sophomores.
Winning every weekday (non-conference) game from here on out is unrealistic, especially with a team that has as many question marks as this one does. Mason and the Hokies are trying to figure out who they have and where are the pieces of the puzzle fit in. Thus far, it looks like Brad Markey and Sean Keselica will be weekend starters, and the third spot may go to either Kit Scheetz or Aaron McGarity. Whomever of the two doesn't start on the weekday may become the regular weekday starter, but there are certain weeks where that formula won't work out because they have multiple weekday games.
Because the Hokies non-conference opponents aren't overly impressive, I don't think there will any game where they don't stand a chance. It will all be a factor of who performs in the moment, especially in the bullpen. This weekend two relievers made four-pitch appearances (the bad kind). Jon Woodcock and Mack Krupp both faced one batter, walked him, and were pulled (Woodcock on Fri. night, Krupp on Sunday). Mason says he isn't concerned yet, but there are a lot of unknowns in that bullpen.
By my count the Hokies have 14 more out-of-conference games. I could realistically see them going 10-4 or 11-3 in those games to finish non-conference play 16-7 or 17-6.
Flyers 13: Oh no, I didn't want to give the impression that I thought we could match last year! It was more me paying the ACC schedule the respect it deserves, and mapping out enough non-conference wins so that if we manage to approach our best ACC season we might have an outside shot at a tourney bid. The ACC is so well-respected that finishing .500 is pretty much worth a bid, sometimes even for teams finishing right below (see Miami's 14-16 mark last year).
VT's best finish in the ACC was in 2010 at 16-14, and almost matched by last year's 15-14. So, even our best teams are challenged to win half their games. VT is a combined 65-134 since 2005 against the historical ACC opponents on our schedule this year, including a horrendous 1-24 vs UNC (with a current 19 game losing streak). And that doesn't count the losing marks against Notre Dame and Pitt from our time in the Big East.
What do you think a good finish would be this year in the ACC? 12-18? 10-20? I just can't see us getting to .500 in the league. Even Duke and Maryland, the weakest teams, have had mixed success against the Hokies. I am going to say I think we go 11-19 in the league, and like you 17-6 out of the conference for a respectable 28-25 mark, and maybe it'll just be enough to get into the field of 10 in the ACC tourney. Who knows, if we throw Markey and Scherzer til their arms fall off we might stand a fighting chance!
Jacob Emert: After finishing 15-14 in conference last year and losing all the talent that it did, I think it's only realistic to think the team will finish somewhere around 12-18, 13-17, like you said. Just a dozen or so (leaving this vague b/c i don't know when this will get published) games into the season, we're already seeing that pitching - both starters and relievers - will be inconsistent. That, coupled with not having a senior position player and a brutal road schedule, the Hokies will need to play nearly flawlessly to take 2 out of 3 any given weekend.
Thanks once again to Jacob for his time and input. He covers most home games and can be found on Twitter @JacobEmert. We hope to check back in with him soon as the Hokies get a few more games under their belt. After yesterday's 7-0 loss to visiting William & Mary, and a humbling trip to Clemson scheduled this weekend, we will undoubtedly have more to talk about.