Sometimes we have non-conference matchups that go from fairly easy matchups, and then devolve into accidental rivalries or sine curve weaving problematic matchups. VCU started off as one of those supposed cupcake mid-week game or two opportunities to go to the deep bench and exercise the bullpen. Well, that managed to develop into one of those cage matches where a non-football school can step up and make a serious dent in a higher division school. The last set of games between the Hokies and the Rams, in the early Spring of a transitional 2014 season resulted in two L’s on that season’s continued disappointment (21-31-1).
The Hokies really wanted to put a pair of ‘W’s on these renewed matchup. But only managed a 1 and 1 split with the Rams. This season the 2 teams aren’t splitting locations. There was nearly a month between the two games in 2014, this time the Rams came to Blacksburg, and they were loaded for turkey. There was going to be nothing “easy” in these two mid-week games.
Game 1: Virginia Tech vs. VCU - 10-9
Tuesday’s opening contest started off with the usual feeling out the pitching and figuring out how the field played. No baseball purist is going to be happy with the all turf English Field. The only dirt is on the mound, and the only chance to have something akin to a natural surface to play on is when a foul ball soars into the left field gallery and doesn’t hit a concrete stoop. Who knows, maybe one day some magic “real baseball fairy” will bless us with actual dirt in the baselines and at home plate. For now.. it’s carpet and still weird.
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Virginia Commonwealth Rams: Game 1
|>> Virginia Tech||0||2||4||1||0||2||0||0||1||10||15||2|
Well, all that clean artificial turf and little rubber pellets didn’t managed to slow down the Rams much in the top of the 2nd. Mid-week games are usually bullpen pitch by committee deals, and Hokies reliever Ryan Okuda was on the mound to start what is usually hoped to be something on the order of 9 outs and maybe 40 pitches. The first inning looked a little bit hopeful, though a walk and a single got those “ruh roh” butterflies going. Then the 2nd inning struck with a vengeance. It started out with a ground out... good okay... one out on the boards, and not too many pitches on the chart. Then a solid double and two singles scored a run for the Rams. Okuda lost control, plonked a batter and loaded the bases. He was pulled for Xander Hamilton who promptly gave up a grand salami, making the Rams score a baseball frightening 5 runs. Hamilton eventually knuckled down and got the side out.
The Tech offense seemed to finally get it’s stitchery together. There was a first inning flurry that died before anything crossed the plate. It was looking grim in the 2nd when the first two batters fanned, and with 2 outs on up and another round of shaky Hokie pitching about to face going to the mound on an offensive goose egg; Cade Hunter rapped a single into right field. Lucas Donlon did the big fake dig in, shouldered his bat, and put a two run tater over the left field wall. The 5 Ram runs were nibbled down to 3, and things were looking a tad bitt better.
The Rams stretched their lead back to 5 runs with a flurry of activity against Ryan Metz who was put in to replace Hamilton. The Hokies finally got out of that half of the 3rd, and really needed to generate something, anything to get back into some sort of reasonable rally range. The bottom of the 3rd would be the first big push that told the Hokies that they had a chance to get this game back. First baseman TJ Rumfield worked a walk to lead off the 3rd. Getting the lead-off on the bags is almost always a good thing. Tanner Schobel lined out BUT the Hokies were really beginning to make meaningful contact. Kevin Madden singled, followed by Cade Swisher’s thumping double. That scored TJ from second. Then Jonah Seagears managed to work a walk. Speed on the bags is always a good thing and so are full bases with only 1 out up. Cade Hunter worked an RBI walk, and the Rams pulled their pitcher. The difference went back to 3 runs, and the Hokie line was moving with the tying runs on the bases. Two more runs scored on a goofed up fielder’s choice throwing error gig tripped off by Lucas Donlon. The inning ended with a fly out by Jack Hurley but not before the Hokies had gotten 4 across the plate and were only one run behind the Rams.
The Hokies took to the field in the top of the 4th, hoping that they could gab a clean frame from the Rams, and get back on offense. It was hoped reliever Peter Sakellaris could work a goose egg. Unfortunately the Rams figured him out pretty quickly and put up a fierce rally that would cost a run before it was put to sleep courtesy of Hokies’ reliever Noah Johnson. It was a bit nip and tuck and Johnson did plonk a batter and lose one run, but eventually managed to get control and get out of the inning.
The Hokies managed to get the difference back to 2 in the bottom of the inning with a flurry of manufacture activity. TJ Rumfield managed to get a knock, then was pushed to 2nd and then 3rd by a walk and a single by Tanner Schobel and Kevin Madden respectively. Jonah Seagears managed to reach on a fielding error by the Rams shortstop, and Rumfield grabbed home for the lone run in the inning, but the Hokies still had life. They just needed some pitching to stop the constant dripping of turkey blood in the top of each inning.
Coach Szefc evidently saw something in Noah Johnson’s recovery at the end of the top of the 4th, so Johnson stayed in. It turned out to be tonic, because Johnson managed 3 strikeouts and an inconsequential single in the top of the 5th. Unfortunately Tech’s offense pooped out in the bottom of the fifth. Everyone made contact... to someone of the other team, and no one made a bag. Johnson took to the mound in the top of the 6th, and managed an 8 pitch strikeout fight to open. He ate a single, but the next batter lined out to right field and a double play developed as the ball was relayed into Rumfield for the 3rd out.
The Hokies needed to get the offense working again, they were still down 2 and it was the last 3rd of the game. Again, lead-off batters getting on to the bases is so, critical, and again TJ Rumfield’s stick made some magic. He rapped a double into right center and then scored on Tanner Schobel’s single. Schobel would score to tie the game at 9 a piece when Cade Swisher singled. There were a couple of wasted opportunities to go ahead left on the bags, but the Hokies had finally caught the Rams. Now it was time for the lockdown and who could manufacture a score to win the game.
Long List of Hokie Pitching for VCU Game 1
|Matthew Siverling*(W, 2-0)||1||0||0||0||1||2||0|
It was all up to Graham Firoved and Matthew Siverling to keep the goose eggs on the board for the Rams in the 7th, 8th, and 9th innings. Firoved managed a 3 up 3 down 7th, and after a scary double and some wild stuff managed to clear the bags for the top of the 8th. Siverling managed to get a ground out and two KOs after an initial walk, in the top of the 9th. The Hokie offense had also sort of taken a break during those two innings. But this was poetry beyond the regular backyard pitchback dreams of slamming the door or hitting that walk off homer. Either way, in the lights of a beautiful cool late winter Blacksburg evening, the Hokies had put themselves in the position of closing the game before the 3rd out of the bottom of the 9th.
Guess what? The magic happened. Gavin Cross worked a lead off walk. (I said, they always pay for lead off walks.) Cross was then balked over to 2nd base, and the dangerous TJ Rumfield was intentionally walked. The winning run was in scoring position, and the excitement was building. There were probably a few seconds of breath holding as Tanner Schobel’s deep fly looked good and then ended up in a glove. One out and two on was every baseball fan’s thought... Then the Rams’ pitcher threw up a wild one, and Tanner Schobel hot footed it to third base. Runners on the corners with one out. We are talking clutch batting scary here. Hit a limp grounder and it’s a double play and extra innings. Hit a fly too short - or pop it up, and nothing happens. Kevin Madden’s answer to all of that was to hit that clutch 1 ball and 2 strike single into mid-left field. WALK OFF!!! as Tanner Schobel crossed the plate laying his helmet on the turf and running to celebrate a huge comeback win in classic baseball clutch style.
Game 2: Virginia Tech vs. VCU - 7-10
Well we think that we have successfully identified the hole in the 2021 Hokie roster; the bullpen. Midweek games are almost always handled by the bullpen with a pitch by committee relay of 2 to 3 innings per pitcher, and that often means the games can be unusual. There can be team pitching duels, total blow outs, and slugfests as the quality of the early pitching is often not as good as the final inning work.
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Virginia Commonwealth Rams: Game 2
Well, Virginia Tech’s pitching didn’t settle down until the final 3 innings in the first game, and it certainly didn’t have a tremendous response in the 2nd, either. The difference in game 1 was a determined offense scoring enough to win by one run after trailing the entire game. Well, Tech slightly spoiled that look in Game 2, by jumping out ahead in the first inning, by scoring a run on a rally.. but there was an ominous sign. They left the bases loaded and with some more disciplined hitting might have plated a few more runs. In the end, the Hokies paid for what they didn’t buy in the first inning.
Only Ryan Metz managed to pitch more than one inning plus an out or two, but gave up three runs for the 3 1/3rd innings pitched. Nolan Wilson and Jonah Hurney managed to close out the game with 1 1⁄3 and 1 innings respectively but the damage was done, and the Tech offense, though scoring 7 runs, just could not keep up with the Rams’ scoring pace. Jackson Ritchey, the starter, was tagged for the loss because he was tagged with 3 runs and Tech never regained the lead to save him the L with an ND.
The offensive box scores weren’t embarrassing, at all. On a normal day with decent pitching and defense 7 runs is usually more than enough plate action to win a game. When the pitching staff does a chain meltdown, that really doesn’t happen, though.
Virginia Tech Lineup States for Game 2
|Player||At Bats||Runs||Hits||RBI||Walks||Strike Outs||Stranded|
|Player||At Bats||Runs||Hits||RBI||Walks||Strike Outs||Stranded|
|> Carson Jones||1||0||0||0||0||1||0|
|> Cade Hunter||2||0||1||0||0||0||0|
We’ll end this wrap with the player highlights for the game.
Doubles: Tanner Schobel (2); Fritz Genther (1)
Triples: Gavin Cross (1)
Sac Flies: Lucas Donlon (1)
On the Bags
Theivery: Gavin Cross (2)
More holes in gloves?: Fritz Genther (1)
Lessons to Learn
As Vince Lombardi once said, “a tie is like kissing your sister...” The walk off for Game 1 was exciting and fun, but evidently set a pattern and highlighted an uncomfortable reality with his pitching staff. His bullpen is inexperienced and struggling. Hey, didn’t the Nationals have a problem like that in the 2019 season?
Now that the season is underway, and we have a solid look at what we are looking at for the long stretch, it’s going to be time for that big Roster Review article that I’ve been putting off. I wanted to see, because there were a concerning number of Freshman labels in the chart (that bull pen staff). We’ll talk about it some more this weekend. They say that non-conference mid-week games are for sorting out issues, getting experience to your bench, and working the bull pen staff. There is a whole lot of working to be going on... that’s for sure.
Florida State comes a calling on Friday March 12th. We’ll see about getting to a game on Sunday.