The stands and even the cheap seats were packed for the Hokies’ first scheduled game of the NCAA Blacksburg Regional Playoff Tournament Round. The Hokies were facing a foe from earlier in the season, the Wright State Raiders. The original series might have been a warning to the fans, that the Raiders were no push-over opponent. No one making the tournament really is, but Wright State delivered the Hokies’ first ‘L’ of the season in game one of the March 4-6 series, and even though the 3rd game was a tech runaway, all of the contests were heavy on the offensive side of things.
It Was Thrilling No Matter What
The weather was absolutely beautiful in Blacksburg on Friday evening. It was lightly breezy and even a touch on the cool side as temps hovered in the low 70’s. The game started off as the sun just began its downward path to toward the Allegany Mountains, and the Hokies immediately jumped out to a hopeful and dominant five run lead by the end of the third as the game proceeded on a fairly brisk pace.
The Hokies struck first in their half of the opening inning. Leadoff batter Nick Biddison was plonked on Wright State’s third pitch. Gavin Cross might have taken some offense, and might not have, but he certainly took the ball downtown over the scoreboard for a two-run towering shot that gave him a chance to play with the sledge.
It seemed starting pitcher Drue Hackenberg had this one in his back pocket. So, it seemed from the zeroes in the Raiders’ halves of those innings.
Hokies vs. Raiders - Game 1 of the Blacksburg Regionals
But the early tallies and play by play analysis show that Wright State might have found an angle on things in the top of the 2nd. The first inning double strikeout and flyout combination didn’t happen, and the Raiders managed two knocks and lots of contact in their half of the 2nd.
The Hokies picked up the small ball base running game in the bottom of the 2nd to add two more runs. After a strikeout by Carson Johnes, Lucas Donlon worked a walk. Carson DeMartini fouled out and it looked a bit like the inning would stall out, but this season Tech hasn’t been too intimidated by having two outs hung on the scoreboard. So, the top of the order put away the hammers and brought out the small ball/base running action. Biddison singled putting Donlon in scoring position. Then Gavin Cross singled which scored Donlon. Then there was a bit of Coach Szefc cheekiness on the bags. The double steal was put on, and with Biddison on third and Cross on first, there was a bit of confusion sown. A review ensued and Cross who had been called out at 2nd was called safe. Of course, that meant that Nick Biddison got credit for stealing home! That’s the third time this season that the Hokies have stolen home plate. John Szefc might have a calm taciturn looking exterior, with his 1965 flattop sartorial splendor on display when his cap comes off... but in there is a baseball wild child, willing to take chances and push the envelope...
The top of the third was three up, and three down for them, and then Catcher Cade Hunter decided that he wanted a go at the sledge, too. Though the Hokies didn’t do much else the run solidified an already big lead. The Hokies were up 5-0 and the game was well in hand after the opening 3, right?
Wright State was having none of the Hokies’ attitude and the 4th inning marked a real turn of pitching events for the middle third of the game. The inning opened up with a leadoff single by Wright State (ruh-roh!). Then another knock followed, promptly by another knock, bases loaded, no outs hung, and Hackenberg struggling to miss bats. It was five singles in a row for them, and some serious worry for the Hokies. Eventually Drue would get some control back, and work a four-pitch swinging strikeout, and then induce a ground ball that ended the inning in a double play. That was small recompense, though. Wright State had broken their scoring drought, and also found the range on Hokie pitching.
The Hokies’ offense in the 4th, was a tepid two inconsequential singles, and some of that famous baseball rally in-game momentum was swinging decidedly in the Raiders’ direction as the 5th inning stared.
They picked up their newfound understanding of Hack, by working a leadoff walk (ugh!!) Then the Hokies had a complete fielding breakdown that turned a potential double-play ground ball to 3rd into an embarrassing series of throwing and base coverage errors that put runners on 2nd and 3rd. The ensuing double plated two RBI. After it was obvious that Hackenberg needed to be rescued, Henry Weycker, normally lights out, issued a walk. The Raiders loaded the bags on an unusual Catcher’s Interference call. For whatever reason, probably situational pitching, Weycker was replaced by relieving ace Graham Firoved. The fifth and tying run scored on a fly out and an appealed tag up error failed review. Firoved closed out the inning with two straight strikeouts, but the damage was done, and the Raiders were tied with the Hokies as the Birds came up to the plate.
Hokie Small Ball Merry-Go-Round
Look some things put out fires, and other times they fan the flames. Tech was faced with a make-or-break half of the 5th. Jack Hurley made an emphatic statement by opening the half inning with a first pitch leadoff single. Cade Hunter used his catcher’s eye to work a six-pitch full count walk. Eddie Malinowski played the Mighty Casey, but Carson Jones picked him up by doubling which scored Hurley - breaking the tie. Then something sort of “Szefc-ie” happened, again. With runners on 2nd and 3rd and one out on the board, what does the HC call? Swing away? Load ‘em up by working a walk? Nah! None of that was particularly “fun” now was it. Lucas Donlon comes up to the plate, and on the 2nd pitch squares to bunt. So, Coach Taciturn calls a Squeeze play and Donnie executes it to perfection. The ball was picked up by the pitcher leaving everyone in no man’s land while Lucas hauled up the 1st base line and though they called it a fielder’s choice, no out was registered. What happens next has all of us small ball old school baseball fans smiling. Big hitter Carson DeMartini comes to the plate looking like he’s swinging away by hacking at a first pitch. BUT NO! The Hokies do it again! For the second time, the Birds catch the Raiders off guard. DeMartini lays down a perfect saftey squeeze bunt up the first base line and past the pitcher where no play can be made anywhere. Carson gets credit for an RBI single and Carson Jones crosses the plate. Who said baseball is boring?
Things got weird on the next play where Nick Biddison worked a long count into a single, Lucas Donlon was held up at 3rd because the throw in had gotten to the catcher. Then the Raiders had their opportunity to do weird stuff on defense. Carson DeMartini had rounded 2nd and was nearly to 3rd. OOPS!!! With the Raider catcher standing just off the 3rd base line on the infield, DeMartini - batting helmet in hand and golden locks flying... hot footed it back to 2nd (What to do with the helmet?). The catcher, distracted by Carson’s sartorial perfection, or something, threw the ball into right field. Donlon waited about a tenth of a second and headed home. DeMartini would end up on 3rd after a wild pitch from the Wright State reliever. Gavin Cross plated him with a single to end the Hokie scoring run at 5, but that meant it was 10-5 and the Hokies finally had this one in the bag... Right? Yes?
I looked at my watch, and the 5th inning had lasted just short of an hour. You’d have thought everyone was pretty gassed and ready just to coast it on in, but that wasn’t the case, at all. Wright State meant business. They had defeated us early in the season and knew that if they could just keep up the pressure that the Hokies would eat another “L” from them. Firoved started the inning with two massively long at bats that resulted in a walk and a single. Jonah Hurney just couldn’t find the sights and ended up giving up a walk, a double, and in came reliever Christian Worley. He had to eat one inherited run and one earned plated on him, but Worley seemed to find the key. He finally closed the door on the Raiders in the top of the 6th and would remain in the game for three more full innings. He would end up with the best stats of the evening for the Hokies. The Raiders did score one more run, but the 5th inning five run rally was exactly one run more than they needed to grab this one and advance to the next bracket level.
Hokie Offensive Box Score for Game 1
Except the Hokies Weren’t Finished With Offense Yet
The bottom of the 7th, Tech grabbed a bit of a breather by working a manufactured run on a sacrifice fly by Jack Hurley - which scored Nick Biddison. With Worley managing to hang eggs up on the scoreboard, the Hokies lit up the bottom of the eighth inning with repeated doubles by Malinowski, Jones, DeMartini, and Cross. In the middle there, Nick Biddison hit a single that effectively became a double on the throw. The Hokies put 4 runs up, and essentially finally ended the game with a 7-run lead; 15-8.
Big Offensive Highlights for the Hokies
Of Note: The offensive player of the game has to be Nick Biddison. He went 5 for 5, four runs, and 1 RBI.
At the Plate
Doubles: Gavin Cross (1); Eduardo Malinowski (1); Carson Jones (2); Carson DeMartini (1)
Home Runs: Gavin Cross (1); Cade Hunter (1)
Sacrifices: Jack Hurley (1)
On the Bases
Steals: Nick Biddison (3); Gavin Cross (1)
Hit by Pitch: Nick Biddison (1); Cade Hunter (1)
Defensive Fielding issues that might have been some nerves, but really need to be cleaned up because there were runs involved, eventually.
Errors: Cade Hunter (1); Carson DeMartini (1)
The Raiders weren’t done yet, but their final kick was just a single manufactured run against a combination of Worley and senior reliever Ryan Metz. It was of no real consequence. the Hokies won, hung their name on the bracket marker and hopefully aren’t finished making Hokie History.