What a difference a bit of motivation makes! It seems that the Cal Ripken visit had a bit of lasting effect on the Hokies. It was a much better weekend after Saturday, that’s for sure.
The Hokies took their first ACC series against visiting Pitt after dropping the opening game in a close sort of no offense duel (instead of a real pitchers’ push) in Game 1, to a roaring second, and an absolutely solid third game. The Hokies ended their short home stand with a solid win over not so visiting, visiting Radford. We’ll do the usual game details in a few paragraphs, but this was a critical juncture in the early season. Tech is about to go on the road for an extended long haul and that five-game skid was not the way to pull the wheels up on a flight to the Midwest. The team should be on a bit better emotional and mental plain now. Slumps happen in baseball. When a team has the talent, slumps are usually a self-reinforcing feedback loop of frustration and breakdowns in fundamentals. It’s critical for coaches/managers to step in and break the cycle. Maybe the visit from a baseball Hall of Famer broke that spiral out of control. Maybe it was just the law of averages. I don’t know, but either way the effect was to get three Ws in a row on the board before the long trip to the shores of Lake Michigan.
Hokies vs. Pitt – Friday March 18th - Game 1
Well, this one was a baseball game and not a football score. With the normally roaring Hokie offense, it might have also been a hangover day from Saint Paddy’s celebrations the night before. The game started off in pretty good order. Starting pitcher Griffin Green was managing a reasonably good one hit one run start into the 6th inning. That one run came from Pitt’s batter running into one and putting it over the back wall. For some reason not explicitly said, Green was pulled. He wasn’t visibly struggling so there isn’t any word as to why. It might have been pitch count (86) but that really wasn’t very high for a final inning or two. Then the wheels fell off.
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Pittsburgh Panthers - Game 1
Reliever Brady Kirtner was sent in to clear the bags (he did, just not the way the coaches intended), and promptly gave up a two-run tater that put Pitt on the scoreboard with a tying two. He was immediately pulled. Jonah Hurney took the mound, only to be victimized by a single shot long ball that put Pitt out in front and hung the loss around his neck.
Hokie Pitching for Game 1
|Jonah Hurney (L, 1-1)||1.2||2||2||2||1||3||0||1|
All of that might not have been horrible, a 4-run game isn’t something that can’t be overcome. Unless your offense poops out, and the Hammerin’ Hokies brought their tack hammers to the game instead of the sledges. There was an exception to that with home runs from Nick Holesa and Carson DeMartini, but they were solo shots that did not have anything to do with lines moving. The team only managed to add a single manufactured run in the 8th. There was no late game rally, and the L went up. The reality of Game 1 remained; the Offense stayed pretty much sitting on the bench of the dugout for the duration. The loss was obviously worrisome – pulling pitchers early, etc. It was going to take something to break the cycle, though.
Hokies vs. Pitt – Saturday March 19th – Game 2
Oh, what a difference a pep talk from someone with significant “Pep” can give. The Hokies’ pregame with MLB Iron Man Cal Ripken, Jr. seemed to have some sort of magic spell effect that built over the 8 ½ innings played on Saturday.
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Pittsburgh Panthers - Game 2
The story of this game was the Hammers were out. The reality was that the relief pitching was still struggling. It didn’t matter this time, but it will again, just like in Game 1. It was a long ball festival for the birds this weekend, that’s for sure.
Long Balls Jumping
Doubles: Nick Biddison (1); Jack Hurley (1); Eduardo Malinowski (1); Nick Holesa (2); Carson DeMartini (1)
Dingers: Nick Biddison (1); Jack Hurley (2); Cade Hunter (1); Carson DeMartini (2)
When most of the position players get subbed out you know there was a blow out, either one way or the other. Thankfully, Saturday was the One way.
Hokies Box Score for the Game 2 One Way Slugfest
Starting pitcher Drue Hackenberg (4-0) got credit for the win and went 6 full innings. He did give up four earned runs, but that hardly mattered in the grander scheme of the game.
Hokies vs. Pitt – Sunday March 20th – Game 3 and the Rubber
Nobody is going to dismiss the significance of the Saturday blowout longball fest by the Hokies. It snapped a vicious and potentially dangerous slump, and got the team back on some decent footing by getting an ACC win on the board. That was nice, but the Hokies needed nicer. They needed another ACC win and certainly a series win to top that off. Game 3 proved to be a return to baseball normality on Tech’s terms, thankfully.
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Pittsburgh Panthers - Game 3
The game looked like a run away, and if Pitt had generated a bit more offense when they had the opportunities, it might have been a much closer final score. The Hokies managed to put up enough runs to stretch out a small 2-run lead by the time they were up in the bottom of the 7th. Instead of breaking down, they managed to ice the W cake, though.
Hokie Box Score for Game 3
Though the steady small ball offensive pressure won this one, it took a committee pitching effort to keep the Panthers from crossing the plate more than once on a solo homer. The emergency pitch by committee success is the story of this particular game, not those Hokie Hammers.
Hokie Pitching for Game 3
|Player||Innings||Knocks||Plates||Earned Plates||Walks||Fans||Wild Stuff||Plonks|
|Player||Innings||Knocks||Plates||Earned Plates||Walks||Fans||Wild Stuff||Plonks|
|Henry Weycker (W, 3-0)||3.1||2||1||1||2||1||0||0|
Ryan Okuda was up on the mound for the start, and put up a nice 2 inning goose egg with no perceived problems and certainly no one on base due to freebies that suggested any problems. Then the top of the 3rd rolled around, and Tech had a one run lead for what looked like the healthy start of a pitchers’ duel. No such luck for Ryan, though. He lost control from the start of the inning, hitting a batter on the first pitch, and then walking the second on a six pitches. Coach Szefc had seen enough so with the tying run on 2nd, and a series win at stake, out came Okuda to work with the pitching staff, and in came Graham Firoved. Okay folks, baseball note here, it’s not a great sign for the future of the game if you sub out your starter after only two full innings. Most teams generally lose in those situations. It was a risk, but something was amiss with Okuda (he seems to be struggling of late) so risk management says it’s better to try a long reliever than suffer a full meltdown. Tech needed this win badly.
The bet didn’t start off with a happy moment. Firoved six pitched his first batter on to full bases and the cringes started. Then he turned it around and hung a goose egg for the inning by striking out three in a row. The first one was a nail biting nine pitch plate battle, and Firoved accelerated in confidence to blow the last batter off the plate in three consecutive pitches.
Firoved lasted until the 4th when he was pulled with two outs and loaded bags after walking the bases loaded. Henry Weycker, who received credit for the win, came in to save the inning and the single run 1-0 lead by getting one of Pitt’s most dangerous batters to ground out to first.
The Hokie offense, somnambulant to this point, managed a double, single combination run between Tanner Schobel and Eduardo Malinowski to give Weycker a bit more breathing room. The Hokie offensive wakeup was slow, though. Weycker kept Pitt from crossing the plate until the top of the 7th when that batter, Kyle Hess, ran into one for a solo shot downtown. Coach Szefc seemed to accept that as a “baseball thing” and kept Weycker on the mound until he walked the Pitt 8th inning lead-off and it was obvious that it was “time”. Kiernan Higgins was brought in to close the door. He got into a pinch or two and plonked a batter (oops) but a late inning Hokie scoring explosion sent the score to 7-1 by the top of the 9th, and there was little chance of the Panthers coming back.
At the Plate
Two-baggers: Tanner Schobel (1); Eduardo Malinowski (1); Cade Hunter (1); Nick Holesa (1)
Dingers: Nick Biddison (1); Conor Hartigan (1)
On the Bags
Steals: Eduardo Malinowski (1)
All in all, it was a solid performance by the Tech offense, matched with a brave effort by the Tech bull pen. Holding a team to a single run in that situation is a real effort that deserves some praise.
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Radford Highlanders – March 22 – Tuesday Game
As we’ve said before, Tuesday mid-week games are usually the type of contest that could be a stretched series of home and away, or a one off of a close by team (either on an extended road trip, or close program). Well, there is no closer university program than our brothers and sisters of the New River Valley, the Radford Highlanders. Look, Radford and Tech have been family since Radford was founded as an All-women’s teaching college. There are probably more marriages and degrees shared between Hokies and Highlanders than years of ill will between us and UVA. When the trip is made down or up Pepper’s Ferry and Prices Fork Roads, it’s not an away game, ever. The fact that Radford roots for the Hokies for football, certainly doesn’t mean that in competing sports that they roll over and play patsy. When the Highlander baseball and softball teams show up in Blacksburg, they mean business. This time the Highlanders made sure that they announced their presence. They jumped out to a two-run lead and knocked starting pitcher, Jackson Ritchey, off of the mound in the first inning.
Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Radford Highlanders - Tuesday Game
The Hokie offense responded by a steadily manufacturing runs, one run and one inning at a time, until they took the lead in the bottom of the 3rd. Meanwhile, Ryan Kennedy had managed to get the pitching situation under control and even with some pinchy moments, managed to keep a goose egg hung for his four full innings on the mound. He was also credited with the win. The difference in the game was that Highlanders managed 10 hits to match the Hokies; but the Hokie D managed to keep them from crossing the plate each time that Radford threatened.
Virginia Tech maintained steady offensive pressure finally had its effects on the Highlander relief staff, and the Hokies accelerated away in the final innings. The offense wasn’t the dropping bombs sort of affair that Saturday wrung out of the Panthers, but it certainly was steady and consistent. The bench played some quite a few innings, and the pitch by committee game ended up to the good.
Highlights At the Plate
Doubles: Tanner Schobel (1); Conor Hartigan (1); Carson DeMartini (1)
Triples: Gavin Cross (1)
Home Runs: Sam Tackett (1)
Sacrifice Flies: Tanner Schobel (1); Sam Tackett (1)
It was a nice way to end a short stint at home before the Hokies get on an airplane to head to South Bend to face the Golden Domers in their house. Getting one of those will be a good thing, so the three wins in a row will definitely help the situation.