Virginia Tech Hokies vs. James Madison Dukes - Game 2 - April 27th
Well, Blacksburg had some fireworks at Atlantic Union Park last evening. It was the baseball equivalent of a shootout over at English Field, and no one’s pitching staff seemed to have the magic formula for missing bats or keeping bunches of runs from happening.
The game started at 7pm instead of the scheduled 6. It was a chilly and windy evening in Blacksburg as the sun set and the twilight made things difficult for the fielders until the sun finally quit.
It was a pitch by committee game, and the Dukes had already proven that they could play ball. Tech’s visit to Harrisonburg put a definite point on a particularly tough weekend and pushed an early season skid to four games, back in mid-March. The team would recover in the 2nd game of the Pitt series - snapping the skid at five games, but the loss to the Dukes was largely unforeseen and one of the Hokies’ 2022 low points.
Hokies vs. Dukes - Game 2 of the Home and Home Series
Today the Sticks had to be Really Good
The 2nd game of the split series was the exact opposite of the 5-2 loss on the Ides of March. Ironically, it was the exact same run differential though. It’s just that the bats ruled on this one, and the teams scored 19 runs and 22 hits between them.
Tech’s offense had to work steadily to keep ahead of the Dukes. Tech started the scoring with a Jack Hurley lead-off double in the bottom of the 2nd, and then follow-up knocks by Connor Hartigan (another double), plating Hurley, and Carson DeMartini wrapping a single to score Hartigan.
Madison was having none of it and came roaring back in the top of the 3rd with some disappointing pitching by Tech and two pitching changes in the inning. Brady Kirtner finally managed the last two outs of the inning, but not before the Dukes took the lead with three runs. The bottom of the 3rd looked promising for the Hokies before the inning fizzled with two KOs.
Kirtner would manage to keep the Dukes from crossing the plate in the top of the 4th, and then the Hokies found their sticks to put up a four run bottom of the third that included a little bit of everything in the offensive drawer. Tech added a single run in the bottom of the 5th while Kirtner maintained the goose egg for the Dukes. That seemed like a reasonable difference of four runs in the middle of the game. Time to cruise in and lock up the club house, right? Wrong.
Kirtner was pulled after giving up a lead-off single in the top of the 6th. Maybe that wasn’t such a good move. Who knows why, really but given what happened it might have been the better choice to let Kirtner work it out a bit. Ryan Kennedy had seemingly stopped the bleeding by grabbing two strikeouts, but he also gave up a single, and the two-out struggles of the bull pen came back to haunt the Hokies. Jonah Hurney was sent in to try for that final out, but it didn’t come until he gave up three. Hurney would eventually settle down and then get the credit for the win, but the Dukes had succeeded in tying the game when that four run buffer was looking like the end. (Que baseball great and philosophy’s gem stone, Yogi Berra.) The Dukes had other “ideas”.
The Hokies would take the lead again in the bottom of the inning with a sac fly by Lucas Donlon that scored Cade Hunter who opened the inning with a single.
At the Plate
Doubles: Tanner Schobel (1); Jack Hurley (2); Conor Hartigan (1); Carson DeMartini (1); Christian Martin (1)
Sac Flies: Nick Biddison (1); Lucas Donlon (1)
On the Bags
Thefts: Nick Biddison (1); Carson DeMartini (1)
Nabbed: Christian Martin (1)
Plonked: Cade Hunter (1)
That didn’t last, though. JMU got a player on third with 1 out on the board, and that’s dangerous because the 2nd out contact play scored the runner and reknotted the game, this time at 8, and LATE (top of the 7th), too!
Tech used the 7th inning stretch to find their multiple run inning bats. They waited until they had two outs up on the scoreboard, though. There was a Jack Hurley double that plated Tanner Schobel. The Dukes intentionally walked Cade Hunter, and paid for it. Their catcher developed a hole in his glove, so Hunter was standing on second and Hurley on 3rd. That presented Connor Hartigan with a fat opportunity for 2 RBI. He rapped a single deep enough to score both runners, and pushed the total runs for the Hokies to 11.
Hurney managed to keep the goose egg up for the top of the 8th inning, and received the obligatory pat on the rump for the top of the 9th. Christian Worley was called in to close the door on the Dukes’ attempt to rally in the top of the final inning. He pretty emphatically slammed the door shut with two KOs and a fly ball. One of those strikeouts was to end the game on three pitches.
Hokie Offensive Numbers for the JMU Game
The Bull Pen Issues Continue
The win was a good one, especially as the team travels to Hooville this weekend to face UVA in an ACC away series that has potentially serious consequences, and could either be a momentum booster or a pin that dumps the bag.
That brings up a looming issue that is going to potentially cause some serious problems as the ACC and NCAA tournaments near. This team has the offense to be truly great. Names like Gavin Cross, Jack Hurley, and Tanner Schobel are getting noticed.
On the defensive side, there are some bright notes. Someone at the next level is also going to notice the fact that there are two star starting pitchers, one of which, Drue Hackenberg, is going to be fished heavily by the pros after the season ends.
Hokie Bull Pen is Still Struggling
|Jonah Hurney (W, 3-1)||2.1||3||1||1||2||0||0||0|
|Christian Worley (S, 1)||1||0||0||0||0||2||0||0|
The Final Stretch is Here and There is One Thing to Fix
The problem for Coach Szefc this season is depth at pitching, however. There are a few reliable relievers who can close the door without giving up too much, but the job of the closer is to slam the door, not struggle to close it. Szefc needs to find two more starting pitchers (or one more and a few multiple inning relievers who can handle a pitch-by-committee with minimal opposition offense happening). He also really needs bull pen that doesn’t struggle when put on the mound.
Without a pitcher for Sundays and a shaky committee for Tuesdays, the tournaments are going to be rough sledding. There is little time between games, and the competition is top notch, not mid-grade.
The coaching staff is going to have to do some uncomfortable grading and weeding in the next three weeks. The close of the season is going to be a serious challenge. We have 11th ranked UVA, then a visit to Huntington, WV to complete the Marshall series.
After that, the Hokies come home to stay until the tournaments arrive. They face three games series against non-conference Villanova, and two more ACC series against Louisville and Duke to end the season. Sprinkled in the mix are Tuesday games against Liberty and Kansas State.
It’s going to be a really high end close to the season.
In Tribute and Memorium
There was a somber note in the air last evening, as the Hokies paid tribute to a sister of the diamond. The team had a moment of silence in remembrance of JMU Softball catcher Lauren Bernett who apparently committed suicide on April 26th. We are all greatly saddened by the loss of this young lady, and of all of these young people who are giving up hope and ending their own lives in such despair.