The Week That Could Have Been So Much More
It was a travel week for the Hokie Baseball team, and the road might have been a bit bumpier than they would have liked, especially for their Tuesday road game against our friends and neighbors, the Radford Highlanders.
Normally when you score 8 runs, you’re doing great and the world is cruising for a big ‘W’ for the record books... normally... Tuesday’s game wasn’t particularly normal, I suppose.
Tuesday Game April 18th at Radford
Truth, we aren’t going to go into the gory details on this one because they aren’t particularly pretty for the pitch-by-committee crew. What you should know is that the Hokies beat up on the Highlanders in Blacksburg 17-2 for the first half of their annual two game series. Radford has been struggling this season, and there was very little expectation that a short trip down Prices Fork and Peppers Ferry Roads to US 11, would be any different. It was and in a relatively embarrassing way. While the Hokie lumber showed up, the pitchers must have left their manuals and instruction guides in the clubhouse back in the Burg, because even with Tech jumping out to an early 2 run lead in the 1st, the Highlanders evened it up. The Hokies put 4 up in the 2nd and Radford only put up 2. But that was a major tell. The reality is that the Highlanders shouldn’t have scored any more than a run or so in those innings.
Freshman right hander Tommy Szczepanski gave up 2 runs in the bottom of the 1st and was probably slated to pitch only a single inning to open the game, anyway. Lefty Grant Umberger tossed 12 pitches (with 7 recorded balls) toward home, and never managed an out. He gave up a single and a walk before Coach Szefc had seen enough. Umberger is having some real difficulties getting the ball in the strike zone - more often than not missing between the plate and the left-handed batter’s box. So before there was more of a threat to Umberger and the Hokies, Szefc pulled the trigger on a pitching change, and brought in normally reliable Andrew Sentlinger who managed a double play and a foul out, but not before two runs scored on an error by the first baseman Garrett Michel.
Just Not Getting that Third Out When It’s Critically Needed
The third inning, the Hokies managed two inconsequential singles and left those two stranded for no runs. That wasn’t the case for the Highlanders. The problem that has quietly plagued the Hokies the entire season cropped up in the bottom of the third with ruthless consequences. The Hokies have been pretty good at getting the first two outs of the inning only to have some sort of single or multiple pitching and or fielding breakdowns with two outs (this inning the first error prevented the 2nd out, which illustrates the heart of the problem) up and men on base. The team has just had serious difficulty figuring out how to slam the door on otherwise solid innings. Coach Szefc and crew need to figure out the problem and fix it because playoff time is not time for 2 out defensive collapses. We would see this again several times in the FSU series, and correcting it has to be an absolute priority.
The upshot is that the Highlanders bounced Sentlinger back to the dugout, and then proceeded to ding reliever Griffin Stieg. He was solid but there were more errors, and more problems in the field. As the inning finished, Radford had scored 7 and led the Hokies 11-6. That was all that they needed (they did score 5 more) to win since the Hokie lumber must have jumped on the equipment bus for the airport. Tech only managed two more runs for the remainder of the game, and never got close enough to really threaten.
Besides the four errors, the pitchers hit two batters (why that’s not an error I’ll never know, same with wild pitches of which there was one) Hokies left 17 stranded on the bags. We’ll talk about the implications of the problem at the wrap after the 3rd game of the FSU summary.
Suffice it to say that the Hokies took an embarrassing 8 run loss that they should have never chalked up.
Could This Please Be a Hokie vs. FSU Football Score? Game 1 of the FSU Series was Electric on April 21st:
It really didn’t look like it was starting the way that it finished, that’s for sure. Normal Game 1 starter Griffin Green was not on the bump to open up the game, it was Miami Hurricane Transfer, Senior Right Hander Anthony Arguelles. This season, Tony has been the first long reliever on the mound for the third game of a series, but with something having happened to Green back in the Georgia Tech series, it looks like Coach Szefc had to run with his pitch-by-committee crew for the first contest. That was looking like it was going to be a serious problem when Arguelles gave up 5 runs in the first three innings of the game. Meanwhile, for the first 3rd of the game, Virginia Tech was waving at air, making minimal contact, and only got on base sparingly.
Then the top of the 4th inning rolled around, and two important things happened. First, Arguelles finally started missing Seminole bats. It was really important for him to eat up as many innings as possible because with him in Game 1 he couldn’t be in Game 3. Coach Szefc was going to have to go deep into a shaky bullpen for the series, and Arguelles had a challenge laid in his lap to deal with. Well, Tony dealt.
First the Tech Offense finally figured out where the ball was and started making contact. The top of the 4th inning. They also found some luck as Miami made critical errors. By the end of their half of the 4th, Tech had crossed the plate five times, evened up the score, and gave Arguelles the breathing room that he needed to get a few more quality innings in. He obliged the rescue by his teammates with three innings of goose eggs hung on the scoreboard.
Tech’s offense took advantage and pushed ahead by 4 runs 9-4 as the critical 6th inning closed, The Hokies weren’t out of danger, but they had definitely breathed some life into their starting pitcher, and also ignited a spark in their offense (with the streaky ups and downs of baseball maybe a bit too much spark - could have used a few of those 24 runs on Sunday).
The end result was a runaway 24-run effort by the Hokies with some serious firepower happening. Here are some of the scoring highlights for the Hokies:
At the Plate
Doubles: Jack Hurley (1), David Bryant (1)
Triples: David Bryant (1)
Home Runs: Carson Jones (1 - 2 RBI), Brody Donay (2 - 6 RBI), David Bryant (1 - 3 RBI)
Sacrifice Flies: Christian Martin (1)
On the Bags
Steals: Carson Jones (2), Carson DeMartini (2)
*From Hokie Sports
Big things to note:
- David Bryant hit for the 2nd cycle for Tech this season.
2. Hokies Scored a Program Record ACC Runs
3. Tied Clemson for the Most Runs Against the Seminoles in their Program History
4. Brody Donay was in Beast Mode
@BrodyDonay set a rookie season high with during last night's 24-9 win against Florida State.— Virginia Tech Baseball (@HokiesBaseball) April 22, 2023
Including him, the bottom three spots in Tech's lineup accounted for on Friday.#Hokies ⚾️ pic.twitter.com/CDgQCXlRDA
The Seminoles would make a comeback attempt in the late innings of the game, but the Hokies just kept pouring it on and slammed the door shut with a huge 8 run top of the 9th that only meant pride for having tried for FSU.
The Hokies made up for the bitter pill they swallowed on Tuesday against the Highlanders:
Game 2 - April 22nd was a Different Contest and Pitching Gold by Drue Hackenberg
Well, in the great sine curve of baseball momentum, there are all sorts of games and all sorts of wins and losses, often there can be three totally different games in a series. This time, the Hokies would take to the field with tired arms and legs, and maybe a bit too much in the way of swelled heads. Well, at least Drue Hackenberg’s head wasn’t all pumped up with 24 run ego juice.
The Hack attack hadn’t really been in effect this season. Hackenberg has been sort of sneaking up on the dominance that he had last season, and even with a few quality starts under his belt, Drue’s W-L total was 3-4 at the beginning of the contest. It was also obvious that Hack had to pull off a deep run into the game because of the stress on the Tech Bullpen, which has been a problem of inconsistency all season for the Hokies. There probably wasn’t much for the coaches to “hack over” with Drue. He needed a quality start, and it needed to be deep into the game, period.
Well, Hackenberg did them one better, well actually about 20 or so pitches better because at 116 pitches, Drue Hackenberg threw his first complete game and Tech’s first since 2019. Not only that but he struck out 12 and the Hokies held the Seminoles to three runs. They needed to, because the Noles pitching staff was holding Tech to small ball for the entire game, too. They managed 11 hits against Hackenberg, but few built any serious momentum, and those were only single runs in the 2nd, 5th and 9th. Hack was pitching strikes, pitching to contact, and getting outs when necessary. The Seminoles only managed a single multi-base hit (a double) for the entire game.
There weren’t a ton of big hits on either side, but Tech managed 4 innings of single runs vs. Florida State’s 3. It was a small ball contest, and the Hokies managed a rarity for them, a disciplined effort that kept up steady pressure and dealt singles worked walks. Tech did strand 10, and that’s an issue, again. But it was their first series win in 13 years against FSU, and it was also a classic baseball game, close to the very end requiring every inning and every ounce of effort and concentration to hang on for the win.
Game 3 - April 23, and an Early Start and a Reverse Finish of Game 2
You could tell that the Hokie offense was running low on steam. Even Jack Hurley was given a seat in the dugout, and the Hokie Hammer just sort of never appeared. The Hokies once again left double digit numbers of runners on the bags with 12 stranded. There were more than a few opportunities to push past the 3-3 and 4-3 first two-thirds totals but the Hokies just seemed to run out of patience at the plate even getting runners in scoring position with no outs generated not one single run. There seemed to be a lack of plate patience and concentration that the coaches will have to work through before JMU shows up at English Field on Tuesday afternoon.
The pitchers did a good enough job for the offense to put more than three runners across the plate. Neither team scored after the 4th inning, and that was enough for the Seminoles to grab a split and snuff out the possibility of an embarrassing home sweep by the Hokies. The major Hokie item to note was the 2-out rally problem bit the Hokies in the bottom of the 1st inning, and the bottom of the 4th. Those two runs were the winning difference and getting the Hokies to slam the door shut on an inning with 2 outs up is going to make a difference in their post season opportunities and potential success if they get there.
So, the Road Trip Was a 2-2 Wash, EXCEPT
The Virginia Tech Hokies are now 23-14 overall, but more importantly, they have finally gotten to .500 at 10-10 in the ACC. Like we said, JMU is coming down I-81 to play Tech at home in Atlantic Union Bank Park. This is an important game for the non-conference record, and it certainly is because Tech has certainly put up two Tuesday Turkey’s in a row. It would really be good to have a solid mid-week outing before the Carolina Tar Heels show up for next weekend. He Heels are just behind the Hokies at 9-10 in the ACC and 25-15 overall. These are two very evenly matched teams, and these series is going to be critical to ACC Tournament qualification and seeding.
There are 17 games left in the season, and only 9 ACC games are scheduled. That includes the UNC games, then Clemson comes to Blacksburg for the Home ACC finale, before the last ACC series of the season against powerhouse Wake Forest. The non-conference schedule includes a home and away against Marshall, a three-game series against Bowling Green (home), a revenge match against Liberty in Lynchburg and another JMU game (in Harrisonburg). You’d have thought most of those would have been in the beginning of the season, but the schedulers are sometimes inscrutable.