Oh can baseball be a weird sort of sport. There’s hot and cold, warm and tepid... all in a few weeks of effort. Just ask the Washington Nationals how the first 1/3rd of the 2019 season was going, and more than a few of us fans. The World Series pennant and hat that my wife bought me for that season was testament to the fact that Yogi Berra was a pure prophet of baseball (maybe some life lessons, too... but baseball most certainly).
The truth is that the flight to Pittsburgh might have been a real struggle to maintain any focus. The Hokies had struggled over the last five games, and their nice bumper of games over the .500 mark in the ACC was gone at (5 - 6) and their overall gap above .500 was in real jeopardy, too.
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Pittsburgh Panthers - Game 1: 5 - 1 Hokies
So it’s always good to get a jump on things when you are playing baseball. The team that scores first can very often be the team that wins the game. Well, in the pros. Collegiate level pitching is not professional level; not yet at any rate. There are some pitchers on college mounds who can hit the low 90’s with a fastball, though. The big issue is usually the number of pitches that they can throw, and their experience with dealing, especially in pressure situations. Left-handed starter Peyton Alford is a senior with a consistent performance level (career .411 ERA isn’t too shabby in college). This season he’s 1-1 with a couple of quality starts, and Friday was definitely one of them. Alford went 6 full innings, was tagged for only 4 hits and 1 run. The bull pen might be a bit shaky this season, but one of the better relievers has been Freshman lefty Matthew Siverling whose only appearance in a Loss was the disappointing showing by the staff for the UNCG game. Today, Pitt got three full innings of Siverling’s best, which amounted to a few scattered hits and exactly ZERO runs scored.
Hokies vs. Pitt: Game 1
|>> Virginia Tech||0||0||2||0||0||0||1||2||0||5||8||0|
Hey, don’t forget about the offense. Offense is good, and in college baseball, since pitching is rarely Clayton Kershaw or Stephen Strasburg level stuff, college baseball offense is critical to winning games. Tech got more than enough O with five runs plated.
It was a Gavin Cross and Jack Hurley sort of day. Cross’s two RBI double in the top of the 3rd broke the scoring ice, and then plated himself later in the game with a dinger in the top of the 7th. Hurley would grab an RBI double, and Cross would net an RBI sacrifice fly to push the game out of reach for the Panthers.
Game 1 Batting Highlights
Doubles: Jack Hurley (1); Tanner Schobel (1); Gavin Cross (1)
Taters: Gavin Cross (1)
Sacrifice Grounders: Fritz Genther (1)
Sac Flies: Gavin Cross (1)
It always is good to get that first win on the road in the first game. It really sets the tone for the series and puts the home team on notice that you came to play ball, not bask or wallow in the past. Baseball is always played for the here and now. What happened yesterday was yesterday; win the game today.
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Pittsburgh Panthers - Game 2: 8 - 4 Hokies
Well, Saturday might have been a bit of a shaking wake up for Pitt. They were ranked in a bunch of different services, and certainly ahead of the suddenly struggling Hokies. Saturday was a chance to get that one back and then send the Hokies back on the short end of a split series.
Hokie Starting Pitcher Anthony Simonelli (W, 2-0) was determined to tell the Panthers “no dice”. He pitched 5 full innings and gave up only one run. Things were getting a little near the end of his limits as the bottom of the 6th stared so Jaison Heard was sent in to grind out some innings. He did just that until he seemed to hit his limits in the bottom of the 9th. Before the first out was registered in the inning he was tagged for 4 hits and 3 runs. Junior Lefty Reliever Shane Connolly was sent in to stop the rally and slam the door, by striking out three of the last four batters for his 5th save of the season.
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Pittsburgh Panthers: Game 2
BUT the Hokies found their bats in the last four innings, and their 8 total runs by the top of the 9th meant that the Pitt 3 run bottom of the 9th rally went for naught. The offensive box score is telling for this one.
Hokies Game 2 Lineup Statistics
The Hokie offense took this one on Coach Szefc’s small ball game. There weren’t any home runs in this one. It was getting knocks, getting on base, walking, stealing bases, getting something that allowed the guy on base to cross the plate. Good old fashioned baseball, the kind of stuff that you normally see in the heat of mid summer.
Hokie Game 2 Scoring Highlights
Working the Sticks
Doubles: Jack Hurley (1); Tanner Schobel (1); Cade Swisher (1)
Sac Flies: Kevin Madden (1); Carson Jones (1)
On the Bags
Swipes: Cade Swisher (1); Kevin Madden (1)
Plonks: Tanner Schobel (1)
The net effect of the offensive and defensive efforts was a critically important series win, and the opportunity to really get a solid road victory backed up with a broom. The Hokies were looking to sweep an away series and that would attract attention. And it would also go a long way to getting some serious momentum back after their rough patch.
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Pittsburgh Panthers - Game 3: 8 - 4 Hokies
No, I didn’t make a copy and paste error. There were quite a few things that made game 3 very similar to game four but one was the only ND for a starter in the series, since Pitt managed to tie it at 4 in the bottom of the 7th inning.
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Pittsburgh Panthers: Game 3
It seems that Matthew Siverling might be the bane of Pittsburgh after this weekend. After Sane Connolly’s solid start; he managed to keep Pitt limited to a single run in the first inning, the bottom of the 7th didn’t start out so well. Connolly managed to get himself in a pickle and gave up two runs with runners on base and too few outs. That late in the game will almost always result in the pitcher being pulled, and instead of going for someone else, Coach Szefc went straight to Siverling. The one run (charged to Connolly) eventually scored, but Siverling closed out the inning on the 4-4 tie. He then pitched a two inning shutout that didn’t net him the Save, he grabbed a win; because... late inning Hokie Offense happened.
The Hokies scored 2 runs in the top of the 8th, and 2 more insurance runs in the top of the 9th. It was a classic small ball work for runs and take advantage of fielding mistakes and plonks. The 8th inning double by Fritz Genther was responsible for 2 critical runs and putting the Hokies back out in front for good. Jack Hurley managed a single in the top of the 9th that scored Genther and Dayne Leonard to seal the deal. Pitt never managed to come back against Siverling.
The Sweep was complete, and the Hokies are back above .500 at 8 wins and 6 losses. Their overall record is now 12 - 8. There won’t be a Tuesday non-conference single game matchup this week. Boston College is coming to Blacksburg on Thursday for an unusual Thursday, Friday, Saturday series. The Hokies should be feeling better about themselves after this impressive sweep of a ranked team, in their house. But, not too much better. It is baseball, remember?