No one expected the Virginia Tech Hokies to do much of anything big this season. They were going to finish 6th in the Coastal, bomb out of the ACC Tournament and go home to figure it out for next year. The Pitt/JMU weekend and Tuesday road trip in mid-March had everyone convinced. Except John Szefc (who knew what sort of players he had), and the Hokies themselves... maybe after a little pep talk from MLB Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. but they figured it out and it just took the other folks a while to, as well.
The Hokies defied that prediction and it kept defying it all the way to the end of the 9th inning in Game 1 of pool play for the ACC Tournament. Clemson was a pretty good team this season, it had a decent enough record and performance to net some juicy player awards but it just didn’t muscle its way into the best seeding. The Tigers needed some more wins, but they had an offense that could really scare shaky pitching.
The Hokies, saving their star starters for the stretch run past the pool, put a “pitch-by-committee” staff together from the bull pen. Of course, Coach Szefc and his staff needed to be mindful that his relievers couldn’t pitch too much, either. That meant no one was going to spend too much time on the mound, and everyone had to keep the potent Clemson offense off the bags. The field had to eliminate any mistakes, and the bats had to work. Well, the Hokies didn’t bring their bats... They brought their Hammers.
A Downpour - Of Taters
The Hokies started the first inning off (Why the #1 seed was the “visiting” team is not in my scope of understanding, but okay it’s Carolina... and you have to give a 12th seed something.) with a series of low contact plays, a steal, two walks and a single to grab a single run lead in the 1st. Ryan Metz, in his collegiate swan song stretch, started off on the bump and hung a goose egg three up three down in the bottom of the inning. And the Hokies were off and running.
Hokies vs. Tigers Game 1 of Pool Play - 2022 ACC Tournament
The top of the second resulted in 2 more manufactured runs for the Hokies. This time Carson Jones walked and advanced to 2nd on a fielding error that left both him and Lucas Donlon on base. Nick Biddison rapped a double into left field that scored Jones, and then Donlon scored from third on a contact play by Gavin Cross.
The bottom of the 2nd things got a bit close. The Tigers do have some offensive chops and grabbed a leadoff single from Metz on the first pitch of their half of the inning. That’s usually a big “ruh-roh”. And the next batter ran into a cement mixer of a pitch after two straight balls. Clemson’s players circled the bags, and Metz needed to figure it out. He did give up an inconsequential single but knuckled down and managed to get the rest of the Clemson batters to sky out at various distances. That’s baseball. Sometimes they just run into them.
Well, it was no big problem because the Hokie offense was in a real mood to protect their pitching staff this game. The top of the third kind of didn’t look like that, though. It started out with a pretty mundane, fly out, single, fly out series that hung two outs on the board. If everyone hadn’t noticed, though that meant nothing much to the Hokies; except maybe that sacrifices were right out. After Malinowski’s fly out. Carson Jones came back to the plate for his second bite at the apple. He worked a 7-pitch at bat into a cement mixer pitch of his own, and he took it downtown to grab 2-RBI and the Hammerin’ Time competition was on.
Lucas Donlon and Carson DeMartini ignored both the 2-out scoreboard. Lucas worked a walk, and Carson punched a single into center field. Then leadoff batter Nick Biddison restarted the merry-go-round by blasting a three-run shot over the right field wall. Gavin Cross came to the plate with the notion that he didn’t want to be left out of the Tater Parade so obliged that urge by launching one over the left-center wall where the big boys hit them. Not to be outdone and really wanting to play with the sledge, Tanner Schobel took the second pitch of his at-bat into left field and over the wall. The Hokies had plated 7 runs and managed to bat around the lineup.
Hokie Box Score for the Clemson Game
It was an entire season in an inning. Clemson never got closer than four runs and the Hokies kept their foot on the accelerator all the way to the end. Both Biddison and Jones would hit a dinger more, each. It was an absolute offensive explosion that basically ended the game before the 50+ minute rain delay in the late innings.
The Hokies play UNC this evening at 7:00pm. It will be a more difficult win, so the Hokies need to beat the sine curve of up and down to grab this one. The semifinals on Saturday await with a win.