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Virginia Tech Hokies Sweep Duke, Win ACC Coastal, Grab #1 Seed in Charlotte

It was a wild weather weekend in Blacksburg, that’s for sure. It was raining baseballs (and softballs too) along with nature providing a few fireworks to delay games, up the humidity, and provide for an extra challenge. But the Hokies overcame all to produce a convincing sweep of the Blue Devils - and head to the ACC Tournament on top. GO HOKIES!!!

#1 Seed Virginia Tech takes on UNC 2nd in ACC Pool Play
John Schneider - SB Nation (File)

With one day of rest after a big Kansas State game (and win) the Hokies hosted the final regular season series against ACC opponent Duke. The Blue Devils haven’t been on the winning side of things this season. They were looking to move the needle somewhere and get some program momentum as the season closed out. Tech also was on a mission. The team had the first opportunity for a 40-win season since 2013. The Hokies also had the possibility of outright winning the ACC Coastal Division regular season championship for the first time since joining the conference. There was one other plus, and that would be earning a number 1 seed in the ACC tournament (sort of the de facto ACC Regular Season Championship).

The series started a day early and the reality of what they were facing was Duke showing up in Blacksburg with serious “ideas” about which team was really better. They came to play and make it an exciting close of the season.

Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Duke Blue Devils - Game 1 - May 19th

Griffin Green did not have the best Thursday. Maybe it was the early start, or maybe it was just “his time”, but there were signs that things were that it was just going to be one of those tough days that challenge every good pitcher. Everybody is absolutely itching to beat you.

You have to know it’s going to be a tough game when the lead-off batter gets a knock on the first pitch. That’s when everyone says...”ruh roh”. That was followed by a deep single to right field on the 2nd pitch that pushed the lead runner to 3rd. With runners on the corners and no outs on the board, the outcome was nearly inevitable. Eventually, the Hokies settled and after eating a run on a contact play out, managed to pile up the final two outs and get out of the inning.

Hokies vs. Blue Devils - Game 1

Team/Inning 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Team/Inning 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Duke 1 2 0 4 2 1 0 0 1 11 15 2
>>Virginia Tech 3 1 0 1 6 1 3 0 X 15 14 2
It was a football score slug fest on Thursday Hokie Sports

The bottom of the 1st showed that the Hokie offense was prepared to give better than it got; but it took two outs to pull that one off. After Biddison and Cross flied out, Tanner Schobel succeeded in missing a fielder with a long double. Jack Hurley singled which evened the game at 1 each. Then, to make it known that the Hokies had brought the big hammer to the field, Cade Hunter blasted the first home run of the game. That was a 2-run lead that didn’t hold up, but it did get some adrenaline pumping in the offense. The Hokies were going to need it.

Duke evened it up in the 2nd, with a two-run two out homer of their own. Tech grabbed a one run lead in the bottom of the inning when Carson Jones crossed the plate on a Nick Biddison ground out contact play.

It was looking really good when, except for an inconsequential double (maybe not, doubles are rarely inconsequential) Green and the team managed to keep the Blue Devils from crossing the plate in the top of the 3rd. But then Duke returned that favor by keeping the Hokies off the bags, entirely in the bottom of the 3rd. It was going to be a real shoving match at 4-3 when the Blue Devils found a bead on the ball in the top of the 4th.

Duke ended Green’s short stint on the mound with a triple, homerun, bunt single to the pitcher combination that seemed to signal that Griffin needed a break and the, now trailing 5-4 Hokies needed a change on the bump. The problem was that the Devils had a bead on Henry Weycker, too. The inning kept going and the runs kept scoring. The 7-4 lead at the end of their half of the inning had left Hokie pitching a bit flummoxed and the offense on warning that there would be no coasting it in for this game. Winning meant finding more hammers and using them.

Carson Jones found his range to lead off the bottom of the 4th with a homer, but Lucas Donlon’s single just resulted in a stranding, and the score stayed in Duke’s favor, this time. Duke added two more to its total in the top of the 5th making the difference four (9 - 5) and the mountain a bit more difficult to climb.

So, the Virginia Tech offense played mountain goat in the bottom of the fifth and exploded for six runs. Instead of sitting down and shrugging off an obvious pitching meltdown loss, the Hokies rose to the challenge to pick up their pitching staff. Sometimes teams need to do that, and this was one of them.

The Huge Pile of Hammerin’ Hokie Homers for Game 1

At the Plate

Doubles: Nick Biddison (1); Tanner Schobel (1); Jack Hurley (1)

Home Runs: Nick Biddison (1); Tanner Schobel (1); Cade Hunter (1); Eduardo Malinowski (1); Carson Jones (2)

Sacrifices: Carson DeMartini (1); Gavin Cross (1)

On the Bases

Picked Off: Jack Hurley (1)

The Blue Devils challenged a couple of times during the contest, but only managed another 2 runs on their total. Tech kept steady pressure on the accelerator; just staying a step ahead of Duke. As the game went into the final three innings the momentum had carried the Hokies to a 15 - 11 win in a classic slug fest.

Hokies Box Score for Game 1

Position Player At Bats Runs Hits RBI Walks KOs Stranded
Position Player At Bats Runs Hits RBI Walks KOs Stranded
RF Nick Biddison 5 2 2 3 0 0 0
CF Gavin Cross 3 0 0 1 1 0 1
SS Tanner Schobel 4 3 2 2 1 0 2
LF Jack Hurley 5 2 3 1 0 0 0
C Cade Hunter 4 2 2 3 1 1 0
2B Eduardo Malinowski 5 1 1 3 0 2 0
DH Carson Jones 5 3 3 2 0 1 1
1B Lucas Donlon 3 1 1 0 1 0 0
3B Carson DeMartini 3 1 0 0 0 0 0
TOTALS 37 15 14 15 4 4 4
Hokie 5th inning might be one for their record books Hokie Sports

It’s important to note some really key, clutch performances in tough games, and the players who stand out for this contest were Carson Jones, Eduardo Malinowski, and Tanner Schobel all with homeruns (Jones had 2), piles of RBIs and 2 long balls each. There really needs to be a hat tip to the often-struggling Hokie Bull Pen. With short rest and a long series ahead, the relievers needed to keep some level of control and patience facing a lineup that had a bead on the ball. Weycker got the credit for the win. Graham Firoved and Jonah Hurney kept the Blue Devils from passing the Hokies’ run total for the remainder of their stints on the mound. Sometimes, in baseball, success is limiting the damage and allowing your offense to pick up the team. This was one of those time. The Hokies managed a critical series opening win, instead of having to dig themselves out of a hole in the series.

Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Duke Blue Devils - Game 2 - May 20th

So, I’ll break the third wall, here. I went to the game with my wife and a friend. We sat three rows back from the right-hand batter’s box. Other than recordings, I hadn’t seen Drue Hackenberg pitch, live, this season and being down that close was absolutely amazing. This young man is a Freshman. He’s got an absolute cannon for an arm. Unfortunately no one hooked up the radar gun to measure pitch speed, but that young man’s ball moves out!

Game 2 started a bit past 7:00 and the stands were surprisingly full of students along with family and townies. Nearly 1,400 folks in a game past the end of the semester and in competition with the softball regionals going on over by McCombas is a great turn-out. Hackenberg and crew did not disappoint them, either.

I do have to make one observation about Duke’s pitcher. I don’t usually spend a whole lot of time writing about specific opposition players, but sometimes excellence has to be noted even if it’s in opposition. Duke’s Game 2 starting pitcher, Jonathan Santucci, is someone that pro baseball fans will be seeing in the future. He’s going to show up on some big-league roster in the next decade. His record, this season doesn’t show it - but that’s partly his offense’s fault- but he’s got a nice fastball for which he had good control last evening. That set up what was either a wicked slider or a really nasty change-up (without a speed reading it’s hard to tell). In either case it was a bait and switch ball that netted him five strikeouts and certainly more than a few ground outs. Some pro scout, somewhere, is going to notice.

Okay, now that my omage to baseball and collegial magnanimity is complete, on to the Hokies winning this one in a walk-away. The game didn’t start out as a sure thing, though. I mentioned the Duke starting pitcher for a reason. Until the top of the 7th inning, this contest was a classic pitchers’ duel. It took until the bottom of the third before either team generated more than Nick Biddison’s lead-off single in the 1st. Even with Carson DeMartini’s solo homerun in the bottom of the 3rd inning, it looked like it was going to be the exact opposite of Thursday’s game with the football score.

Hokies vs. Blue Devils - Game 2 - Classic Baseball Played Well

Team/Inning 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Team/Inning 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Duke 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 2 1
>>Virginia Tech 0 0 1 0 0 0 2 3 X 6 7 0
This looks more like a college baseball score Hokie Sports

There just wasn’t any offensive excitement until the bottom of the 6th when the Hokies managed to find the range on Santucci’s pitching and his control seemed to flee as he threw one away and then walked Jack Hurley. Duke’s coach had enough and pulled his starter for a reliever, who, ignoring Hurley’s ambush steal of 2nd, struck Eduardo Malinowski out to end the inning. No runs scored, but it seems that the Hokies had ditched their batting spaghetti for actual bats.

After a relatively routine Hackenberg goose-egg in top of the 7th, and a stretch, the Hokie O showed up at the plate. Cade Hunter worked a six-pitch at-bat into a nice single. Connor Hartigan unfortunately struck out, but up pops none other than Carson Jones (who is turning into a tater maker) to thrill the somnambulant crowd with a blast in right field in the vicinity of the visitor’s bull pen. That two-run shot gave Hokie pitching a touch of breathing room; but the scoring ended there on two very long fly outs by DeMartini and Biddison.

Game 2 Scoring Summary

Team Inning Play Description DU VT
Team Inning Play Description DU VT
Virginia Tech 3rd C. DeMartini homered to left field- RBI (0-0). 0 1
Virginia Tech 7th C. Jones homered to right field- 2 RBI (2-1 FBB)- C. Hunter scored. 0 3
Duke 8th Schreck-R flied out to cf- SF- RBI (3-2 BFBFBF)- Hoyle-W scored. 1 3
Virginia Tech 8th E. Malinowsk doubled to left center- RBI (2-1 BBK)- J. Hurley advanced to third- T. Schobel scored- unearned. 1 4
Virginia Tech 8th C. Hartigan singled up the middle- 2 RBI (0-0)- E. Malinowsk scored- unearned- J. Hurley scored- unearned. 1 6
It was a pitchers’ duel until late Hokie Sports

Looking at the Offensive notes:

At the Plate

Two Baggers: Eduardo Malinowski (1)

Taters: Carson Jones (1); Carson DeMartini (1)

On the Bases

Really Difficult to Describe Steals: Jack Hurley (1)

Duke tried to make it look interesting in the top of the 8th. Hackenberg was pulled as it was obvious that he was running out of a bit of steam. He walked the lead-off batter, and then hit the 2nd one. The pitch was way inside, and it looked like the coaching staff was signaling that it wasn’t even close to the right pitch. With no outs on the board, they did what the entire crowd knew needed to be done. They pulled Hackenberg before he got into too much more trouble. He was relieved by the Hokies best Bull Pen artist, Kiernan Higgins.

Drue received a standing ovation from the crowd. It was magnificent (Yes, I will use that word. The young man is a freshman!) season. Hackenberg’s final big stats were nothing short of amazing. He had a 10-1 record (which is often unfair because the offense has to contribute to those), but more telling is his ERA was an absolutely miniscule 2.44. The most important statistic for most modern baseball folks is the pitcher’s WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched). Hackenberg’s was a tiny 1.11.

Hokie Pitching for Game 2

Player Innings Knocks Plates Earned Plates Walks Fans Wild Stuff Plonks
Player Innings Knocks Plates Earned Plates Walks Fans Wild Stuff Plonks
Drue Hackenberg (W 10-1) 7 2 1 1 3 7 1 1
Kiernan Higgins (S 5) 2 0 0 0 0 2 0 0
TOTALS 2 1 1 3 9 1 1
The Hackenberg, Higgins combination is premium stuff Hokie Sports

The only pitching statistic line that was better than Hackenberg’s was Kiernan Higgins’s. Higgins had a 2.05 ERA (for a reliever that’s absolutely astounding) and also managed a 1.10 WHIP. He had 2 wins in relief and five saves. He also had no blown saves. It was a special regular season for both hurlers.

It was a solid baseball win. The Hokies had won the series, but there remained one more challenge left; sweep it, and nail down the #1 seed in the ACC Tournament.

Virginia Tech Hokies vs. Duke Blue Devils - Game 3 - May 21st

Game 3 started on Saturday in what looked like a beautiful low 80’s late Spring day in Blacksburg. The softball regionals were going on, and the baseball game was not high on the attendee list of things to do. You’d think. There were still a shade over 1,200 folks who showed up for the final game of the season. A good deal of them were probably friends and family of the players, specifically the Seniors. It was time to note and thank those young men who would be departing at the end of the season, for their new lives in either baseball or other endeavors. Senior “Night” is always special for any of us who have had high school or college students participating in spectator events (high school football, band, and dance team for me...) It certainly isn’t a day that the team wants to drop a game. The Seniors want that last home win to savor, and the underclassmen want to give them a send off and set the stage for the next Senior class.

What you can’t count on, though, is the weather. There was an hour and a half (or so) weather delay as a New River Valley thunderbumper rolled through Blacksburg dumping buckets of rain in places and offering up a natural fireworks display of lightning and thunder. That event probably changed the pitching effort and stats a bit. With that long a wait, no starter is going to take the mound, again. Nature might have robbed Jordan Geber of a W, but I don’t think that he minded at all. The Graduate student capped an excellent season with an impressive start and limited what would normally be a piece-work pitch-by-committee effort into two roughly half-game sessions with Graham Firoved. (Baseball really needs some sort of statistical rule that awards split wins in that situation.)

Hokies vs. Blue Devils - Game 3

Team/Inning 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Team/Inning 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Duke 0 1 0 1 0 0 0 0 0 2 3 1
>>Virginia Tech 3 0 1 0 0 0 3 0 X 7 9 1
ACC Coastal Champs! #1 Seed in the Tournament! Hokie Sports

This contest ended up a baseball game, but frankly, wasn’t in much doubt from the first pitch and hit by the Hokies, until the very last out. By the rain delay, the Blue Devils never got closer than 2 runs. After the delay, Firoved was pitching flame and had no interest in coming close to losing. He never needed any of the three insurance runs that the Hokie offense put on the board. The only base runner charged to Firoved in that last 4 and 2/3rds was a walk issued after play resumed with 1 out up in the top of the 5th inning. There was another base runner on via an error in the field in the top of the 8th. Other than those two, no Blue Devil touched and stayed on a base for the remainder of the game.

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
Jordan Geber 4.1 3 2 2 1 6 0 0
Graham Firoved (W 3-0) 4.2 0 0 0 1 3 0 0
TOTALS 3 2 2 2 9 0 0
A rain delay only changed who got the W Hokie Sports

On the offensive side of things, it was the Hammerin’ Hokies doing their thing with the sledge in front of the 3rd base dugout. Nick Biddison, Tanner Schobel, and Jack Hurley all blasted solo shots in the bottom of the first to open the scoring for the game. Duke never got up off that emphatic start.

Some Offensive Highlights

The Massive List of Dingers: Nick Biddison (1); Tanner Schobel (1); Jack Hurley (1); Eduardo Malinowski (1); Carson Jones (1)

Some Action on the Bags

Thievery: Nick Biddison (1)

Too Slow on the Steal: Carson Jones (1)

Plonked Twice!: Carson Jones (2)

Duke did score a run in the top of the 2nd off of two doubles, but Eduardo Malinowski put one over the wall in deep left center field to stretch the lead to 4 - 1. Duke would run into a Geber pitch in the top of the 4th but that ended their offensive hopes for the game.

Nothing much happened after the restart of the game, until the bottom of the 7th inning, when Tanner Schobel led off with a single, and then Cade Hunter got on with another knock. We all know that there is no quit in this team, and with two outs hung on the board, the Hokies’ Carson Jones hit the ball over the wall in right field to put three runs on the board. That three-run blast ended the scoring, and Firoved ended the game.

The Hokies worked a baseball miracle for the regular season in 2022.

As the 1st Season has Ended and the 2nd Begins

So, even though there wasn’t a huge urgency, there was certainly the record need to win this one. The sweep would be pure emotional lift and momentum into the ACC Tournament. A win would slam the door, however. Tech has never won anything much other than a big pooh-pooh from the media analysts. There was a bit of success in the early and mid ACC days, but of late the Hokies weren’t known as any sort of baseball power in the conference.

In fact, D1Baseball picked Tech to be dead last in the Coastal for the season. That end of 2021 season skid seemed to convince writers and analysts that it would be more of the same for 2022. It’s so nice to see the “experts” proven absolutely and positively WRONG!

Coaching Makes All the Difference

Coach John Szefc took a struggling program on a very steady consistent trip through the process of learning to win baseball games, again. No matter where this goes from here, and we want it to go all the way to the end with the Hokies on top, the patience and attention to detail that Szefc has brought to the program is amazing. Finding him and getting him to come to Blacksburg is a major accomplishment for AD Whit Babcock who was personally dedicated to elevating the baseball program to “ACC leading quality”.

The players deserve a bunch of the credit. They hit a bad skid in the beginning of the season against Pitt and JMU. Mid-March was promising to be the proof in the predictions. Then leadership took over. Coach Szefc called in some baseball pep talking from the Baltimore Oriole Ironman Cal Ripken, Jr. Something magic happened to mix with Szefc’s excellence in coaching. The Hokies’ baseball season went from “Oh No!” to “Oh Yeah!!!” in one weekend. They never looked back and never listened to the critics.

On to the ACC and into the Pool

Now it’s on to Charlotte as the top seed in the ACC Tournament. In the weird world of college baseball, they have to play a pool round where they first face the Clemson Tigers on Thursday May 26th, and then Carolina, again, on May 27th. The two top teams of the pool play for the semi-finals on the 28th, and then the finals on the 29th. Frankly, it should have been a three-game series between the winner of the Coastal as home team, and the winner of the Atlantic as the visitor, in Blacksburg, but umpteen chances make things a bit ridiculous.

See you on the other side. Hopefully we’ll have lots to write about.

Suffice it to say, and as always!