The Hokies took a seven game win streak and a seriously changed attitude to Atlanta on Friday. Virginia Tech opened the 2020 ACC season against “The Other ACC Tech” in a series of games that even though the result was a 2-1 series loss, showed that this season’s Hokies are definitely not last season’s team.
Game 1 - Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets - Friday March 6.
Starting pitcher Chris Gerard put up another quality start for the Hokies in Game 1 of the series. There is little doubt that the Jackets were slightly stunned as Gerard pitched 5 2/3ds of quality ball. The Jackets only managed one run on 7 hits. Gerard notched 6 strike outs.
Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech - Game 1
The Hokies relievers (Jaison Heard, Peyton Alford, and Zach Brzykcy) managed to keep the Jackets in check at 3 to 1 in favor of the Hokies. Unfortunately, it wasn’t over. Reliever Nathan Starliper, who had successfully closed out a sticky pinch at the end of the 8th, got in a bit of his own pickle giving up a single and a double. With the tying run in scoring position, Hokies Matthew Siverling and Peter Sakellaris just couldn’t slam the door, and the Jackets walked off the Hokies 4 to 3.
The Hokie offense for the game was competent but all of the three runs were manufactured of singles, stolen bases, and small ball. This isn’t bad, but not having insurance in the final three innings didn’t help much, either. The Hokies only managed five scattered hits and 2 RBI for the game.
Game 2 - Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets - Saturday March 7.
So, Saturday Georgia Tech was just recovering from the Friday scare, and was again faced by a very determined Hokie baseball team. This time, Hokie starter Anthony Simonelli took to the mound and proceeded to throw his own gem. Reliever Henry Weycker combined with Simonelli to give the Hokies a slim 5-3 lead by the bottom of the 8th inning. This time normally shutdown Zach Brzykcy (L, 0-1) gave up the go ahead run, and Peyton Alford couldn’t get the door closed before the Yellow Jackets tacked on an insurance run for a 4 run 8th inning rally.
Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech - Game 2
The Hokies did score five runs in this one, but their top of the 9th effort to get back the two lead runs just didn’t materialize as no one connected with a ball in the top of the final inning, and one walk doesn’t score any runs without little league style error sequences.
Tech did manage to grab nine hits, but only one was for multiple bases. Nick Biddison hit a double. Hokie base running has remained really aggressive, with Nick Biddison, Carson Taylor, Cade Hunter, and Fritz Genther each stole a bag.
Game 3 - Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets - Sunday March 8.
Sunday is getaway day. It’s also time to assess the situation and in the case of the Hokies, figure out why full game leads were evaporating in late innings. Baseball is, more often than not, all about close games. Winning and losing is often a matter of one or two runs per game; maybe one out or one strike in a critical inning. The conversation is often what one thing could have been done to tighten up the effort and make that one or two run difference.
Well, the Hokies managed that one run, this time. Starter Ian Seymour managed a decent 6 inning, 5 hit, 3 run effort to give Virginia Tech a good foundation. Seymour highlighted the quality start with a 14 strikeout effort in this one. The major issue was that the three earned runs posted on Seymour were also barely matched by the Hokie offense. As Seymour’s pitch count pushed over 100, Coach Szefc went to the bull pen to try to keep the game in reach. As Seymour sat on the bench in the end of the 6th, the Hokies trailed Georgia Tech by one run; 3-2. The 7th inning saw an offensive explosion by the Hokies.
Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech - Game 3
The extra base hit sticks were finally found, and it was none too late. Virginia Tech crossed the plate four times in their half of the 7th, grabbing a three run lead. Carson Taylor, Spencer Palmer, and Tanner Thomas combined for a double, a single, and a triple to set up and drive in the four 7th inning runs for the Hokies. It was up to the bull pen to close the door, and therein was the nub of the issue for the last several seasons. The Hokie relief crew is still struggling a bit. Matthew Siverling was sent in to start the bottom of the 7th. He pitched 1 and 1/3rd, but unfortunately gave up 3 runs for those four outs. The Hokies faced another late inning bull pen meltdown, and another possible exhausting close loss. This time it took Coach Szefc and crew an extra inning to find that magic single run. This time Jaison Heard, Noah Johnson, Peter Sakellaris, and Nathan Starliper (W, 1-0) combined to keep the Yellow Jackets from crossing the plate again in the bottom of the 9th and 10th.
In the mean time, all of that work manufacturing runs over the last few games seemed to come in handy for the Hokies. In the top of the 10th, reserve Center Fielder Brennan Reback rapped a single to get on the bags. Reserve DH Cade Hunter hit into a fielder’s choice, but the GT shortstop tossed the ball away allowing Reback to reach 2nd base, anyway. With a runner in scoring position, Coach Szefc called for a double steal. Both runners advanced, thus eliminating a double play and offering a contact opportunity for a run to score on a ground ball. From a batting perspective, Fritz Genther and Nick Biddison both struck out, but in the middle of all of that batting misfortune, the Georgia Tech pitcher tossed one into the hinterlands allowing Reback to score from third. That put our Tech up one run, and Nathan Starliper kept the Jackets from crossing the plate in the bottom of the 10th.
All in all the first weekend of the ACC might just have put the league on notice that the Hokies aren’t going easily into the night. They are going to battle to the end, and grab what they can, when they can. Gone are the easy wins against these John Szefc coached Hokies.
Hokies vs. William & Mary Tribe - Tuesday March 10.
No one is going to write home to mother about the weather in Blacksburg, yesterday. It was cool (at least it wasn’t cold), and the drizzle was often interrupted by bouts of rain. The wind certainly didn’t cooperate and stayed an 8 to 15 mph presence for the entire game. That’s Blacksburg in late winter/early spring, and it certainly doesn’t intimidate Hokies. It wasn’t a particularly big factor, on Tuesday, either.
Tech started Ryan Okuda (W, 2-0) on the mound. Ryan has worked his way into a reliable starter. That presence has given Virginia Tech an impressive four pitcher starting rotation that covers most series and single weekday game schedules. The Hokies pitching started smoothly enough on Tuesday. Neither team did much in their first inning efforts. Tech broke the ice in the bottom of the 2nd, with some good old fashioned small ball and base running by Cade Hunter (interesting when your catcher is swiping bags) and Brennan Reback. The run didn’t last long, though. The Tribe tagged Okuda with a tater in the top of the 3rd, and evened it up going into the bottom of the inning.
The Tech scoring merry-go-round started with a single by Gavin Cross. Then Carson Taylor smashed a double into right center to break the tie as Cross er.. um.. crossed the plate. Actually it got so busy that Gavin Cross was only the 2nd out in the inning, after the team batted around. It would get nearly half way around again, Carson Taylor would get a second hit (this time a single) and then score with an emphatic Kevin Madden 2 run homer. By the end of the parade, the Hokies had scored 10 runs and batted around by four.
Hokies vs. Tribe - Tuesday March 10
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There was one sort of bane of Ryan Okuda’s existence on Tuesday. William & Mary’s first baseman T. Solomon seemed to have a bead on Ryan and drilled two homers off of him. The Tribe just managed two more runs. The Hokies again put up big totals in their halves of the 5th and 6th, with an additional run tacked on in the bottom of the 8th. The game was never in doubt after that emphatic 10 run inning in the 3rd, though.
The end numbers are still a little bit hard to digest. There were just a bewildering number of singles, and doubles in the contest. Nick Biddison (1), Carson Taylor (2), Carson Jones (1), Cade Hunter (1), and Jason Rooks (2) all hit doubles. Nearly everyone got a hit, and of the two players that didn’t manage to connect, one Tanner Thomas still managed to draw a walk and score a run. Gavin Cross and Cade Hunter both swiped bags.
It just looked like an offensive party that most of us in baseball fandom will often wish wasn’t so much of a party and those hits were spread across a few more games. But the big win was tonic. That sealed a .500 record over the last 4 games. It reclaimed a bit of momentum from what was a close run tension filled weekend. Tech remains undefeated at home, though (7-0).
The Hokies are playing again this evening. The George Mason Patriots are here from NOVA, and it looks like another family feud will ensue as Hokies and Patriots share family ties, and geographical home locations.
We’ll do a one off summary of the game, tomorrow.
Things are really looking good for this year’s Hokie baseball team. Even with the 2 losses, there is more than enough fight in this team to eventually convert those one win 2 loss ACC series into two win and one loss efforts.