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Virginia Tech Hokies Take on the UNC Tar Heels in a Critical ACC Series: Lose the Series 1-2

The weather is a factor, again, in a major ACC series for the Baseball Hokies. Friday’s game was played early to get it in between rainstorms, and Tech won in a shutout. Double headers have not been kind to the Hokies this season, and without Jack Hurley their offense is misfiring, but pitching is the big headache; it’s brutally inconsistent. GO HOKIES!!!

Jonah Hurney starts Game 3 pitch-by-committee with 2 solid innings
John Schneider - SB Nation

Mother Nature is Dealing Short Hands to the Hokies this Season

This has been a wild and truly damp Spring in Blacksburg, not that we aren’t used to the rain at this time of the year, but the weather has made it difficult for the baseball team to play “normal” weekend series games. This weekend didn’t change that problem, at all. Friday’s game was pushed up from a 7:00 first pitch all the way to 1:00 in the afternoon. The Sunday weather forecast is so bad that, begrudgingly the Hokies and Tar Heels had to arrange for a double-header on Saturday. The original start times for those games were 1:00 and then roughly 4:30-5:50ish, but the weather on Saturday in the Burg managed to brighten up a bit which allowed the move back to 7:00 and some more rest between contests for the players and the support staff. But the unfortunate nature of double-headers remains in place. Most often teams split them and that’s not what Tech needs this weekend.

Before the first game started, the Hokies had rallied up from a 2-8 start to a 10-10 (.500) ACC record. A winning series at home, and a potential sweep would put the Hokies three games up on .500 with one more home series (against Clemson which is also running at right around .500 in the ACC) on Mother’s Day weekend and a regular season finale on the road against Wake Forest (Wake is leading the conference and has only lost a single game at home). For the Wake series the Hokies will be doing well to grab a split and win one game, we’ll be positive, but Wake is currently 22-1 at home, and by the time this is published who knows?

The upshot is that the Hokies need to win every single ACC game left to them, and especially the six remaining at home against the peer record holding Heels and Tigers. Friday, the Hokies looked like they were going to be serious contenders for a high finish in the Coastal division contest (Wake is Atlantic) and make the ACC Tournament. That’s important seeding and early elimination avoidance come the last week of May before the Memorial Day weekend. Virginia Tech got that run off to a great start on Friday.

Hokies vs. Tar Heels - Game 1 - April 28th

Coach Szefc and pitching coach Ryan Fecteau have been working to find a third starting arm for the Hokies for quite a while. While the team has been able to get two quality starters on the bump for each season, often a game during the weekend and the midweek game(s) have been “pitch-by-committee” contests that tend to strain the top end of the bullpen or cause the team to lose games with inexperienced pitchers being pushed on to the field too soon. The transfer portal offered up something, quietly, and sort of unexpectedly this season by the name of Anthony Arguelles (pronounced Ar Gway-ess) for those folks who don’t want to insult the young man. He comes to Tech from Santa Fe, and then Miami - that’s a long trip, but we sure wish that he’d gotten here sooner. Tony has been steadily getting better, and better. He’s been stretching out his inning count each time he takes to the mound, and his pitch control, and approach has been steadily improving.

Well, Friday evening Anthony Arguelles was put on the mound in place of the normal number 1 pitcher Griffin Green for the second time this season. Green’s absence has not been explained fully, to date, but again, the importance of having more than two starting pitchers in the rotation comes roaring home. Friday, Arguelles put up a monster game. He pitched a 7 and 13 inning shutout. There were a couple of dicey innings, and he knuckled down and managed to slam the door before a Tar Heel crossed the plate. It was a grand performance on the mound for the critical 1st game of this series.

Of course, that shutout was not guaranteed as coach Szefc went to the mound in the middle of the top half of the 8th and runners in scoring position and just one out up.

Who was the go-to guy that the Hokies call on, to keep the Heels off the plate this time? Brady Kirtner, that’s who. The situation didn’t look too grand. Arguelles had pitched himself out of a pinch in the top of the 7th by inducing a double play grounder with runners on the corners and one out (almost always a guaranteed run). But it was looking like he was running out of a bit of gas in the 8th and had gone longer than ever before this season, so Coach Szefc made the decision to go to Kirtner and that heavy ball he throws. The relief effort started a bit slowly. Kirtner probably needed a bit more time for warmups in the pen before he took to the bump. There was only a runner on 1st but he already had a 1-0 count up. (This is the second time this season that Szefc has gone out to change pitchers in the middle of an at-bat.)

Kirtner ended up walking the batter, but those critical pitches finished his warm-up. Because 1st and 2nd were as far as the Heels got. Kirtner closed the inning out with two swinging strikeouts and nothing crossing the plate, again. Kirtner would manage a three-up-three-down ground out, strikeout, flyout combination to close the game in the top of the 9th which preserved the shutout and the 7 run W by the Hokies.

Great Pitching wasn’t the Entire Story, Either

The Hokies managed some nice offense in this game. There were some struggles with the sticks in the last few games, and the line-up really needed a nudge back to find the hammers and get back to making solid contact with the ball.

The Hokies managed some offense in this game, but with Arguelles and Kirtner tossing a big goose egg to the Heels, it didn’t take much. The Hokies scored three in the 2nd, 2 in the 4th, and 2 in the 8th to mount up a 7-run lead that UNC wasn’t going to be able to touch in this one. (They’d reach out and touch a bunch in the next two though.)

Hokie and Tar Heel Scoring for Game 1

Team Inning Play Description NC VT
Team Inning Play Description NC VT
Virginia Tech 2nd E. Eisert doubled to center field-2 RBI (2-2 SSBBF); C. Martin scored; B. Donay scored. 0 2
Virginia Tech 2nd D. Bryant singled through the right side-RBI (0-0); C. Grady advanced to third; E. Eisert scored. 0 3
Virginia Tech 4th D. Bryant homered to right field-2 RBI (0-0); C. Grady scored. 0 5
Virginia Tech 8th B. Donay homered to right field-RBI (3-1 BBSB). 0 6
Virginia Tech 8th C. Martin homered to right field-RBI (3-2 FBBKBF). 0 7
Totals 0 7
Friday was a good night for the Hokies Hokie Sports/Gobbler Country

Hokes vs. Tar Heels - Game 2 - 2:30 April 29

Well, THAT happened. When you start out going great and the like a wheel that you suddenly realize is losing a bearing, you just watch the smoke and hear the scream hoping that it doesn’t lock up before you get to the shoulder. Only there are no shoulders in baseball, and no crying, either. Though I think there were some tears shed between the 3rd and 4th innings of the game. Heck, the rest of the contest the Hokies were solid, but you don’t give up 12 runs in 2 innings and have a ton of success unless they burn up a bearing, too. They didn’t quite pull it off, so the rubber game meant something bigger in the rapidly cooling evening of English Field.

The emotions were high for this one, both teams are vying for anything that they can get, with the win for Carolina in Game 1, the Hokies’ win/loss ratio had evened back up and the Tar Heels did the same going 10-10. Besides needing the win, both teams had done some ego damage to each other in Games 1 and 2 with the blood already bad between the teams. Remember that Carolina was the team that knocked the Hokies out of the ACC tournament last season, so getting something on them is a major emotional push. The Game 2 pitching meltdown in the 3rd and 4th innings killed the Hokies chances at a win, though. eventually the bull pen did settle down and hold the Heels scoreless for the remainder of the game, but with a huge 12-3 lead, the Hokies, still missing Jack Hurley with a hand injury (a badly bruised finger is the current word), are sputtering a bit on offense (especially in the sustaining momentum category).

Hokies Get Shelled in the 3rd and 4th

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
>>North Carolina 0 0 4 8 0 0 0 0 0 12 14 1
Virginia Tech 3 0 0 0 3 0 0 0 2 8 11 1
Hackenberg, Siverlling, and Dean struggled Hokie Sports/Gobler Country

Hokies vs. Tar Heels - Game 3 - 7:00

The evening cooled a bit from the afternoon, but the pace of the Tar Heels really didn’t. Heel batting had Tech’s number and were punching that button with great gusto throughout the game. It seemed like maybe Jonah Hurney would find a groove and keep the Heels from scoring.

Hurney’s famous follow through
John Schneider - SB Nation

However, as the third inning bloomed, the blossom began to wither. Hurney began to have trouble hitting the strike zone, and eventually had to be pulled. The third inning started the boiling in the Tar Heel offensive engine.

It looked hopeful with DeMartini’s home run in the bottom of the first.
John Schneider - SB Nation

Tech was struggling to put any runs on the board, and slowly the Heels were gaining offensive momentum as Tech pitching started to struggle more. Some of that heat started in the bottom of the first. The blood boiled over in the first third as the Hokies’ Carson DeMartini drove a solo shot deep over the wall and the Carolina catcher took offense to the celebration, the benches nearly emptied and truthfully the umpires were extremely forebearant in not ejecting the catcher and possibly DeMartini. A wild walk situation in the bottom of the 3rd would pit the two against each other, again. It seemed that both coaches needed to get with their players and cool things off or bench them - but losing DeMartini with Hurley out would be a major offensive hit.

Hokie pitching was having difficulty finding a strike zone big enough to register consistent strike rhythm to get Carolina batters to swing at out pitches. The problem with the game pace, rhythm and approach remained the Hokies’ inconsistency on the mound. It’s important to note that the team has been struggling to win close games, and Carolina matching and passing the Hokies, even by one run, made things difficult for the entire game.

By the end of the 6th, the Hokies were in the bottom of a very deep 8-3 hole and generating no sustained offensive momentum at all. Most of their good hits or worked walks were coming with 2 outs on the board, and the results were stranded runners and hacked at-bats. As the bottom of the 7th rolled around, Carolina had scored in every inning since the scoreless 2nd and seemed to screw the lid shut with a three-run homer in their half of the 6th and another run on a steady offensive manufacture in the top of the 7th.

Someone found the rally caps for the Hokies in the bottom of the 7th inning, though. Chris Cannizzaro worked an at-bat to grab a solid single that looked like a line drive but finally got down just inside the hole between second and the shortstop. DeMartini, who seemed to be the only Hokie with power blasted a 390+ foot home run to right center field that just cleared the wall but still drove in two runs. But the rally fizzled with 2 plated. The Hokies still trailed 5-9 as the final strike out was registered and the crowd quieted down.

As we always say, Yogi Berra is a prophet, and something stirred in the Virginia Tech luck box because after giving up a run in the top of the 8th, the Hokies loaded the bases with some small ball action, and started plating runs, the first came on a walk to Cannizarro, the second on a contact groundout by Carson DeMartini, but that put an out up on the board and emptied 2nd base on the force out at 2nd. But the out train drained as Brody Donay, representing the tying run, swung out of his shoes to strike out for the close of the inning and only two runs plated. Tech’s problems sustaining active offense persist...

Hokies were within reach by the top of the 9th

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
>>North Carolina 0 0 1 2 2 3 1 1 3 13 11 0
Virginia Tech 1 0 1 0 1 0 2 2 0 7 9 1
But the pitching staff couldn’t hold Hokie Sports/Gobbler Country

HOWEVER! - A polite But, here

The offense did score 7 runs, and right up until the top of the 9th inning, the Hokies had managed to keep enough sputtering offense going to be within 3 runs and a possible walk off situation as that critical half of the inning started. But.. but.. but..

The pitching couldn’t keep the Tar Heels, from scoring every inning after the first two. Frankly, if your team scores 8 and 7 runs, you should be winning the baseball game comfortably. The Saturday pitching performance for the Hokies was disappointing to say the least. There were lots of control issues, the umpire’s strike zone took away Drue Hackenberg’s best pitches in Game 2, but the ump was pretty consistent in Game 3, and it was a chronic problem hitting the strike zone for the Hokies for the entire game. When they did hit it, it was like driving a cement mixer to the plate. Sometimes it seemed like the Heels were jumping all over every pitch in the strike zone and laying off every out pitch like they were using “the Force” or something.

Suffice it to say, the Hokies have to get better on the bump or the season is going to come to a crashing halt after the ACC tournament. That is IF they even make the tournament.
There are six conference games left with three against #2 Wake Forest to close the season in Durham. Right now, it’s not looking so good.

For the next two weeks, the Hokies are zigzagging around the non-conference games that should have been played in the begging of the season. This week they play two games, one in Huntington and one home against Marshall. The weekend is set for Bowling Green to visit Blacksburg. There will be a visit to Lynchburg and then to Harrisonburg before the end of the season, too. There is still a bunch of baseball to be played and the Hokies’ overall record can still improve greatly. It’s just that the ACC and any post season play will be on the line for the entire remainder of the season.

Time to be Positive There are lots of good things about this team, and 2024 is going to be even better as Freshmen have a season of experience under their belts, and sophomores become the team leaders.

As Always,