The Hammerin' Hokies wrapped up their tournament in Baton Rouge with a 1-1 record for the weekend, a 2-2 record overall, and a mixed bag of feelings. The Toledo game scheduled for Sunday was canceled due to weather, so those of you who predicted one win in the weekend poll can pat yourselves on the back. If you had questions about this team before the tournament, you probably still have them. All we really learned is that for right now, Patrick Mason's squad lies somewhere between one of the best teams in college baseball, and one of the worst.
Tech kicked off the tournament in front of 7,500 or so though 11,000+ tickets were sold) against second ranked LSU on Friday. The undefeated Tigers showed their stripes in a 9-0 blowout in which Tech only managed two hits Iboth from pinch-hitters). Senior Brad Markey (L, 1-1) got the start for the Hokies. His counterpart was the always impressive Aaron Nola (W, 2-0) for LSU. Markey probably wishes he had this one back as he faced 16 batters over the course of 2.1 innings. In that span he allowed six hits, seven runs, and a home run (Sean McMullen). In his defense, only one of those seven runs was actually earned. The senior gunslinger had a nice first inning, forcing two groundouts and one pop fly, but in the 2nd and 3rd the wheels really came off. LSU hit and anything and everything that came their way. Sophomore shortstop Matt Dauby also committed two fielding errors, allowing the batter to reach first on both occasions. After going down 7-0 with a Tyler Moore single, Mason pulled Markey in favor of Sophomore lefty Sean Kennedy. Kennedy started strong but allowed two earned runs in the bottom of the 4th after walking three batters. Mason sent sophomore Jon Woodcock to the mound at the start of the 5th. Woodcock had the best pitching performance for Tech. He netted three stikeouts and two walks through three innings, allowing just two hits and no runs in the process. Freshman Luke Scherzer (no relation to Matt Scherzer as far as I know) relieved Woodcock in the 8th and retired three straight batters, throwing four strikes in six pitches.
By contrast, LSU's pitching was unstoppable. The junior right hander Nola allowed no hits and only one walk through seven near-perfect innings. He faced 23 batters and struck out eight. More impressive was the fact that he kept the Hokie batters off balance, and seemed to only get better as the game went on. Tech's hitters simply couldn't get their bats on the ball. Nola's no-hitter was only stopped when coach Paul Mainieri finally pulled him in the 8th after throwing 85 pitches. Alden Cartwright entered the game for LSU, and with him came Tech's first hit of the night from freshman Tom Stoffel. Alex Perez added another hit off of Zac Person in the 9th.
It was a game where nothing went right for the Hokies. Tech's pitchers looked timid throwing to the LSU bats, and the Hokie batters couldn't find an answer for Nola. Even more disconcerting were the three errors committed in the field, the single walk taken by the hitters, and the overall lack of defensive play. All that said, it's difficult to evaluate the team after a 9-0 loss to the second best team in baseball. The Tigers are a tournament team and they played like one on Friday. But if Tech wants to compete in the ACC, they need to force teams to beat them with their talent alone by avoiding costly errors and timidness on the field.
Fortunately for Tech, they bounced back on Saturday with an 8-2 win against Texas Southern. Freshman lefty Kit Scheetz got the start and struck out five while allowing 2 runs off of five hits and one walk through five innings. Freshman Aaron McGarity added two strikeouts while allowing five hits through four innings.
The true story of Saturday was the Hokies' offense. Four of Tech's batters had two hits and Mark Zagunis had four RBIs in the win, forcing Tigers' pitcher Felix Gomez to take the loss. Gomez allowed eight hits and seven earned runs through four innings. Tech also had five walks, but stranded nine base runners over the course of the game. The Hokies' 10 hits, seven RBIs and only three strikeouts were a nice way to bounce back, albeit against a non-tournament team. If Tech wants to a have a strong season they will need to find ways to create offense against superior competition. Despite a well executed game, Tech still had two errors and left much to be desired in the fielding department.
Patrick Mason's squad has created a dichotomy of sorts so far this season. They have been beaten soundly by tough competition (LSU, the Citadel) and crushed weaker opponents (Delaware, Texas Southern). It's still early, but at this point Tech has fallen somewhere into the middle of the college baseball world. The pitchers haven't thrown with confidence against smart hitters, the bats haven't connected against strong pitchers, and the fielding has been prone to errors. But in the midst of all this, we see a lot of potential. There are players on this team who will be household names in 2-3 years. The young pitchers in particular have shown a lot of promise. It will take some time, but this team will have an opportunity to be very good.
Special thanks to Pod Katt (@valleyshook), of LSU's SBNation site for providing us with pictures from the tournament. Stay tuned for a preview of Tech's home opener against Radford on Tuesday.
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