It was a Lock-pick at the Back Door, but Hokies are IN!
The news came on Friday evening, and maybe it buoyed the Hokies’ spirits enough to push to actively make their way into the ACC Tournament, but Louisville dropped the Friday evening contest to FSU, and the Hokies’ magic number was hit. They were in the ACC post season show. Considering the struggles with the weather, the missed game against Duke (in which the Hokies had a real opportunity to win the series) and the constant issues with injuries, pitching problems, and sputtery offense, at times, the season was reasonably successful. No one is going to complain about a team full of freshmen starters managing to grab a 30-win season. SO!!! As they say... in baseball. The regular season is in the books, and the new season starts everything all over again, everyone is 0-0.
Tech gets a 10 seed and Pool C competition for the First Games
The Hokies are seeded 10th, and the names of the pool competition level should look very familiar. Clemson is the highest seed, and Boston College is the middle.
This means that the Hokies are going to have to play some revenge ball to get past Pool C. The record against BC was 1 win and 2 losses, early in the season and with struggling pitching. The Hokies were swept by Clemson with some rather disadvantageous umpiring, and two of three games that were separated by 4 total runs. Both of these teams are beatable, but the Hokies need to balance their lumber and pitching like they just did in the final game of the Wake Forest series.
How Did the Hokies Get Here this Weekend?
Tech was 29 and 19 with a cancelled game on Tuesday, and a seriously aggravating and embarrassing series sweep behind them by the aforementioned Clemson Tigers. They were ranked 10th in the ACC, and on the weak side of the bubble for getting into the top 12 teams of the conference tournament. (Let’s all hold off on any overly optimistic NCAA speculation for now.) The 30-win season and a deep run into the tournament might attract some attention, but crashing out will probably nix any opportunity for an at-large bid to the NCAA. The Hokies have a long slog to get there. And that’s sort of like what happened this weekend. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately oddly enough, the Hokies were scheduled by the monsters who look to destroy all Fighting Gobblers, to play high flying #1 ranked Wake Forest. Look, the prospects for a series win were pretty grim, and the chance to even pull off a split. Well, Tech came to play baseball and gave the Demon Deacons some real scares, until the Hokies pulled off a huge upset win that we’ll cover in a bit.
Game 1 - Hokies vs. Deacons Thursday May 18th.
This game makes you want to cry in frustration at the problems that Virginia Tech has had with their pitching and bull pen this season. Sometimes they are gold, and sometimes things just don’t seem to be going right with someone or everyone and there isn’t enough experienced offense to make up the difference. Drue Hackenberg started on the bump and threw an impressive scoreless 4 innings, while the Hokie offense managed to plate 3 runs the first of which was in the top of the 2nd as a plonked Brody Donay worked his way around the bags, and Chris Cannizzaro executed a perfect safety squeeze bunt. Everyone was safe, and the prospect for scoring more was big, until the next two batters struck out (a serious problem in this series that probably ruined the chances to win either of the first two games).
There was so much promise in this game, that maybe there was a letdown in the middle innings, because Tech gave up 4 runs in the bottom of the 4th, and just couldn’t keep the Deacons from scoring 2 insurance runs, and their batting failed them. The game ended with a decent enough pitching performance, though six runs is a bit much, the Hokies were within three with half the game left, and could never find the range at the plate. Out of 9 batters between the 7th and 9th innings, Tech managed to pop out once. All the rest were strikeouts with no one on and no chance for much of any offensive momentum.
Wake’s magic formula is something that the Hokies just haven’t had much success defending against, consistent small ball. That’s the concept of not wasting out, get men on base any way possible, and hit singles to advance runners on the bases. That’s a huge skill that Coach Szefc emphasizes but it takes a few seasons for players to really get good at it. This season they just weren’t consistent enough at that sort of baseball to win close games, and so Tech dropped a winnable Game 1: 3-6.
Wake vs. Tech - Game 2 - May 19th
The score was similar, but the game was just a bit different, if not equally frustrating because Tech had every opportunity to win this one. Anthony Aguelles started the game for Tech. Anthony has been the clutch substitute starting pitcher for the injured Griffin Green. He’s been putting up solid numbers for just about 4 to 5 innings of work. He’s had a couple of outings that went longer, but he has spent his college career as a reliever, and the jump to starter is a very different physical discipline that he probably needs another season to stretch out and get used to firing off 90-100 pitches in a game. Suffice it to say that he had a reasonable start against Wake on the 19th, but they did manage to tag him for 2 runs in his four innings. Coach Szefc might have considered leaving him a bit longer in the 5th, but he gave up a lead-off single and follow up single. Tech held a 5-2 lead, and the pitching staff was hoping Henry Weycker could notch some outs and limit the damage or clear the bags and get the Hokies back to the on-deck circle. A fielding error scored 2 runs on a sacrifice bunt attempt, and a walk and a passed ball later the Deacons had scored the tying run, before Weycker could register the final outs of the inning.
Then the 1st game repeated itself. Another pitchers’ duel developed into the 8th inning, and Wake patiently put together a 2-run inning that the somnambulant Hokie offense couldn’t match as the game closed 5-7. The Hokies put on exactly one single, and Jack Hurley’s homer in the 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, and a walk in the 9th innings. Wake registered 11 strikeouts in those innings. That formula will not win many close games, Tech has to get better plate discipline, or the ACC Tournament is going to be a quick crash out.
The Final Game Redemption on May 20th
Okay, the Hokies were already in the ACC Tournament, but this game meant a couple of things. The first was a chance to beat Wake Forest at home. That feat was done exactly twice this season, Wake is that good. The chance to notch a 30-win season was a good inducement as well. Again, with a decent showing in the ACC Tournament and 30 on the W side of the ledger, there is an outside chance for the Hokies to pile up enough interest to get into the NCAA Tournament as a low seed. There isn’t much in the rumor mill, and there isn’t much surety there, but it is not an unreasonable hope. Of course, miracle ACC Tournament win would automatically qualify Tech, but the chances of that happening are less than me getting the nod as the new pitching coach.
Suffice it to say, that the Hokies finally found their bats, and the extra runs that they scored sure could have been used in the first two games. What Game 3 proved was that the Hokies are a much better team than they looked on the surface and given a more consistent approach at the plate could have won the series if not swept it. That certainly says something for a roster of mostly freshmen and sophomores.
Today, the virtual hammers were out, and the Hokies even managed some small ball control hitting. Maybe the trick is to get them to relax and not worry about things besides the game at hand, dunno. The big lineup change for this game was Gehrig Ebel being put in to catch in place of Brody Donay.
Pitching in this one was a total situational pitch-by-committee effort with Jonah Hurney on the bump for the first inning, and Griffin Steig getting credit for the win by covering the mound for 2 innings while the Hokies grabbed the lead and didn’t let it go.
The Hokies opened the scoring with 2 hit by pitches, 2 singles, a walk, and a sacrifice fly in the top of the 2nd inning plating 4 runs in sorely missed small ball work. The Hokies worked two more runs with more small ball (Where was this in the final innings of the first two games?) in the top of the 3rd. With a 6-0 lead, the Hokies didn’t sit on their laurels. They had lost a 3-run lead in Game 1, and allowed a 2-run lead to evaporate in game 2, so “cruising” wasn’t going to happen. After some batting struggles for the next few innings, Tech exploded on the ball in the top of the 6th with a leadoff home run by Christian Martin, loaded bases on a single by Chris Cannizzaro and a walk each by Lucas Donlon and Garrett Michel. That’s when Carson Jones came to the plate and absolutely creamed the first pitch of the at-bat for a Grand Salami.
The Hokies would load up the bases and score 3 more runs in the top of the 8th inning which really put the game out of reach for the Demon Deacons at 14-5. They’d plate a run in the bottom of the 9th with 2 outs on the board, but that hardly mattered.
Virginia Tech managed to defeat Wake Forest in their house which has only been done 2 other times this season. They were 29 - 2 going into today’s game. If the Hokies had been a bit better at the plate in Games 1 and 2, they’d have made the Deacons’ final tally a still impressive 27-5 but 3 of those Losses would have been to the Hokies. Well, that’s water under the bridge. The season is over, now. The post season begins in 3 days and that’s a whole different situation.
The Hokies end the 2023 regular season with a solid overall record of 30-21, with some close games that could have gone in their direction given a bit more experience and patience at the plate. The good thing was that they defeated the #1 ranked Wake Forest Demon Deacons in their house to close the season on a high note.
Even NCAA Baseball Noticed the Huge Home Upset Put Up by the Hokies. Imagine the reaction if Tech had taken the series, eh?
The Hokies do have it in them to go deep in the ACC Tournament. They can beat both Clemson and Boston College, if they can keep their Game 3 offensive momentum going. Their pitching will continue to be an issue as the game pace picks up, but that will be a problem for all of the teams this late in the year. Suffice it to say that it’s all gravy from here on out, not many folks expected the Hokies to make it into the ACC Tournament after their embarrassingly slow start in the conference. Well, they made it.