The Hokies had an Interesting Week of Baseball and Weather
There are 9 innings in a game, and sometimes more. There are a total of 27 outs for each team, and what happens between those outs can be something huge, or inconsequential. Tech wins three in three different ways, but mother nature always wins when she wants to. The Hokies penultimate homestand ends with solid pitching and some interesting hammer action as bench players take to the field, and the Hokies play yet another doubleheader.
The Away and Home Chopped in Half by the Weather
The week started off with a whimper as the Tuesday contest in Huntington, West Virginia was cancelled due to the wild and crazy weather going on in the Ohio Valley. It was to be a two game Away and Home series that didn’t turn out the way that the teams planned. The weather prediction for the Wednesday contest in Blacksburg was excellent, though so it being a non-conference game the teams agreed to just play the single game in Blacksburg. As an aside, it still makes me wonder why the ACC didn’t have the teams make up the third Duke contest during a week since a win could determine post season chances. Okay, back to the Marshall “series”.
Hokies vs. Marshall - Wednesday, May 3rd
Well, the Thundering Herd didn’t travel all the way to Blacksburg to surrender, that’s for sure. They brought some pitching, and they certainly managed to put a rally challenge on the field on Tuesday afternoon. It was a classic baseball game on Tuesday, and those seem to be rare beasts of late for the Hokies.
Tuesdays are always pitch-by-committee games, and it was going to be a challenge to the bull pen to play two mid-week games back-to-back. The Wednesday contest certainly took the pressure off of the sputtering bullpen’s shoulders and brightened the possibility for a positive win. The pen had a positive start. Griffin Stieg and Andrew Sentlinger put up a solid 5 1⁄3 innings of shutout baseball to keep the Herd from crossing the plate until late in the game. The unusually long 8th inning presented a bit of a challenge to the staff, though. We’ll talk about the Hokies’ at-bats in a minute, but we need to note that Marshall nearly closed the gap in the 8th inning and Andrew Exum pulled off a quality credited “save” since the run differential was chopped to 2 by the Herd in that consequential inning.
The Good News was that the Hokies Grabbed a W
The other news was that the Hokie bats were just as puzzled by Marshall pitching as they were with the Hokie starters. It’s baseball, and sometimes the pitching is great, and the sticks are broken. There were times in this game where the Hokies were looking like they were missing the ball, bats, holes, and opportunities.
The first inning, the Hokies had 2 runners in scoring position after a Carson Jones walk and a double by Carson DeMartini, but then two strikeouts cancelled the scoring opportunity. A three up three down 2nd and 3rd innings looked like the Hokies were making contact but just not finding holes in the Herd defense. A bit of a break came in the 4th inning, though. As the Hokie pitching staff hung up another goose egg, the bats finally found a bit of empty space for the ball to land, untouched. Brody Donay homered (massive thump, btw - check the stats on the Twitter link) where the big boys hit the ball, over the 400 ft mark in center field.
Garrett Michel worked a one out walk, and Christian Martin doubled him over to third base. Clay Grady managed a deep fly for a sacrifice that sent Michel home. The Hokies had finally broken the ice, but the lake froze over again and not much else happened until the flurry of activity from both teams around the 7th and 8th innings.
The Hokies stranded two in the 6th, and it looked like Marshall was finally figuring out something and making contact. The bottom of the 7th rolled up, and the Hokies’ 2 run lead was looking a bit shaky. The pitchers were getting pushed beyond their normal pitch counts, and some offense was needed to relieve the pressure on them. Sam Tackett (Where has he been all season? You have to wonder.) led off the inning with a single and Carson Jones promptly drove him in with a home run to left field. (Someone refs the “Holy Hand Grenade” routine from Monty Python just for kicks.)
The final Hokie run of the game would come from Christian DeMartini who worked a walk, turned it into third base with a failed pickoff attempt, and scored on a Brody Donay sacrifice fly. The Hokie bats went to sleep, again for the bottom of the 8th, but we know the rest of the story from the Hokie pitchers and Exum’s big save.
It was a win so no one is complaining, but there was a bit concern to be had going into the weekend with Tech’s hammers being so frustratingly quiet for so long.
No Baseball Friday... Shoot...
There was no joy in Mudville (Hey, if the Hokie Twitter feed can reference “The Holy Grail” I can take a pick from the great “Casey at the Bat”.) The visiting Bowling Green Falcons - perhaps the Bowling Browns? didn’t show up for baseball until Saturday morning. Another double-header presented itself to the Hokies, and that was worrisome for the obvious reasons that the Hokies have not fared well in the double-header deal this season, and someone from the stats department needs to find out if they have played a record number this year. A split wouldn’t be a wipe out, but a sweep of the series and the chance at reaching 30 wins would be a really positive buoy to the late prospects moving into the critical trip to Lynchburg (for some revenge). Then the final ACC home stand against the surging Clemson Tigers would loom without jeopardizing an otherwise excellent season. Baseball is a momentum sport, and it’s been difficult getting consistent traction this year with weather cancellations, double-headers, and unfortunate injuries plaguing the team. If the Hokies win at Libert, the team will still have to beat Clemson at least once or at JMU to reach 30 wins before heading to Durham.
Hokies vs. Falcons - Game 1 - Saturday 3:00
It almost seemed like the Hokies were going to pick up where they left off on Wednesday. The pitching was outstanding, and the offense, nozzomush. The big, pleasant surprise of the pitching staff for 2023 has been the addition of Anthony Arguelles. Tony started on the bump for Game 1, after coming off of a huge shutout performance the prior weekend against UNC. Arguelles is a transfer from Miami and had only been a reliever to this point in his college career. With the injury loss of Griffin Green, Coach Szefc desperately needed a starting pitcher. It would have been really sweet to have had him as the third starting arm that the team has needed for many seasons, but this time the Hokies just needed a new starter. Anthony A seems to have filled that need very well.
The Hokies needed every single goose egg that Arguelles managed. Tony eventually gave up a single run - though unearned- and relievers Jonah Hurney and Brady Kirtner were needed to close out the rallying Falcons in the 7th and 8th innings. But the save opportunity disappeared for the final pitcher Peter Sakellaris because of a sudden appearance of the missing Hokie offense in the bottom of the 8th inning.
BOOM!!! BOOM!!!! and more BOOM!!!
The Hokie offense was nearly as spare as the Bowling Green O throughout most of the game. The Hokies clung to a razor thin single run in the game off of a homer from Carson Jones as the lead-off batter in the bottom of the 1st inning.
No one would score another run until the bottom of the 6th, when the Hokies finally managed to get someone to cross the plate more than once. David Bryant worked a walk to lead off the inning (lead off walks are always a serious problem). Carson Jones singled, and then Chris Cannizzaro got plonked to load the bases. Carson DeMartini managed a sac fly to score Bryant from third, Then Brody Donay ripped a single that became a “double” and pushed Jones across the plate for the final run of the inning. Unfortunately, Garrett Michel grounded into a double play that ended the effort, but there was some breathing room as the final third of the game got underway.
That belt would tighten appreciably, though as the Falcons managed to plate a run on Arguelles (it was unearned, but since the driver was a deep triple there was a 2nd run to keep off the plate), and Coach Szefc called in Jonah Hurney to close out the inning and limit the potential damage to the single run. Hurney induced a fly ball and the inning closed. Tech’s two-out closing problems continue, though. (Fortunately, those problems are often balanced by Tech’s two-out rallies on offense.)
The 8th inning would start with an unfortunate lead-off walk by Hurney - never a good thing... ever... and a throwing error would set up a second run for the Falcons with no one down in the inning. With runners on 1st and the tying run on 2nd, Coach Szefc pulled the plug on Hurney, and sent in Brady Kirtner to get something moving in the door slam. Kirtner struck out the first batter and induced a double play ball to end the inning without the Falcons either tying it up or taking the lead.
The Hokies’ half of the inning started out with slim hope and ended in an offensive explosion at the plate. First, Carson Jones (that name just kept popping up this past weekend and his hits just kept flying over the wall or into gaps) hit his second home run on the third pitch of the at-bat to put some breathing room on the slim lead.
The Falcons changed pitchers, and immediately regretted it. Chris Cannizzaro singled, and then ended up on third base after two wild pitches. Carson DeMartini promptly doubled and Cannizzaro waltzed across the plate to put more insurance on that lead.
Brody Donay legged out a throwing error to end up on first without the out registering. That put DeMartini on third base with no outs on the board. Lucas Donlon (another 2022 star who sort of disappeared in 2023) singled for an RBI. Donay went to second, and then scored on Christian Martin’s single. Clay Grady registered the first out for the Hokies on a fielder’s choice to home plate tagging out Donlon who got the sign to try to score on the contact play. Tech still had two on base with only one out registered. Sam Tacket was subbed in to pinch hit for Eddie Eisert and promptly singled to load up the bases. At this point the score was 7-2, and this late in the contest a five-run insurance policy isn’t a bad set of circumstances; especially when the Hokies opened their half of the frame ahead by a slim single run.
It looked like the door was going to close on the inning when David Bryant hung the 2nd out on the board with a fly ball that was deep enough to score Martin and the order turned over to Carson Jones. Well, Jones was defying the odds all weekend, and Saturday afternoon was no exception. He promptly singled which reloaded the bases and started the Hokies’ second trip downt he lineup for the inning. So, Cannizzaro, who had already registered a knock, did it again, scoring Grady and running the score up to 9 runs. The big thunder this time wasn’t the weather. Carson DeMartini wasn’t done for the afternoon.
He took the first pitch of his at-bat over the left field wall for a Grand Salami. The bases cleared, and Brody Donay ended the Falcons’ agony with a swinging strike out.
The ending score was 13-2 after Sakellaris cancelled out the Bowling Green lead-off single with a double play ball, and induced a final ground out to stop the bleeding and get the team into the clubhouse for a bit of rest before the evening contest at 7:00 PM.
Just to give you a flavor of all of the offensive action, here are the stats highlights from Hokie Sports on the scoring, remembering that almost all of it happened in that wild 8th inning. If you look closely, it’s a game where singles played the biggest part when it counted.
At the Plate
Two Baggers: DeMartini, Carson (1)
Taters: Jones, Carson (2 - 2 solo shots); DeMartini, Carson (1 - Grand Slam)
Sacrifice Flies: DeMartini, Carson (1); Bryant, David (1)
On the Bags
Plonked: Cannizzaro, Chris (1)
Hokies vs. Falcons - Game 2 - Saturday 7:00
So, after some family obligations, it was an evening trip to the ballpark in my Hokie gear to just be a fan and enjoy a lovely Spring evening watching my favorite baseball team. As we settled into our seats and did a little food consuming. I had one of those killer footlong corn dogs that they have, and my wife gnoshed on a huge pretzel, we waited for her collogues/work friends to show up and talked about the building crowd and how many people were beginning to show up. There were certainly loads of kids running around the grass and block cheap seats. (Non-conference games are free, so all the seats were cheap, but it’s best to let the young ‘uns blow off steam and chase foul balls over behind the third base dugout.)
It was a grand and beautiful evening for baseball in Blacksburg. The crowd ended up not being too big. Hey, it’s exam week and those things are given on Saturday, too. But I think that the official 910 in attendance might be a bit light. More folks filtered in for the middle innings, before filtering out when the game got out of hand and other evening activities beckoned.
There were only a few lineup changes from the first game. Coach Szefc decided to start Sam Tackett in Right Field, and Gehrig Ebel behind the dish. Sam would get a bit of a charge in the game that made the crowd roar flashing some leather and speed in the outfield. Ebel caught a solid game, and the Hokies lost nothing on either offense or defense for the sub ins.
Drue Hackenberg got the call to start on the mound. Hack’s last outing was a bit of a disaster. So, the pitching staff was looking for him to get a clean, quality start and work smoothly through the Falcon order. Hackenberg ended up with a 6-inning quality start, with 5 inconsequential hits, being controlled by 9 strikeouts and no walks issued. He registered a goose egg for every inning on the bump and that’s about all you can ask. It was a solid recovery and the win boosted him back to .500 for the season at (5-5). After Hack left in transition to the 7th the ball was handed to Matthew Siverling, who tossed one inning and put a zero on the board. Coach Szefc closed the game (which was far out of reach by the 8th) with Freshman righty Tommy Szczepanski (and yes, I copied and pasted the name). It wasn’t a save but managed to close the door on a late game attempt by the Falcons to kill the skunk by getting the final out with a fanning of Bowling Green’s last batter and fading hopes to erase the zero.
Both Sine Curves Met in Positive Territory on Saturday Evening, Again
This game was another blend of the pitching keeping the other guy from scoring, and the offense leading the way and eventually blowing the doors off. It just didn’t all happen in one late inning like it did in Game 1 of the D-H.
The Hokies just rolled up a complete domination of the situation by the end of the 4th inning at 11-1, so the substitutions began. One sort of negative offensive note did occur, there was a weird bat-flip warning, and it seemed like the umpire crew might have told the Hokies to put away the big hammer. Things were getting a bit chippy between the teams as the score mounted in the 2nd and 4th innings, especially. There was a point where things were a bit more guarded in the third base dugout, and Coach Szefc seemed to turn off the jets and turn on the “Let’s go home for the evening” light. Here’s the lineup card for the evening, and the #’s mark the substitutions. It seems that a good portion of the bench was moved in to play the final few outs of the game.
Hokies Lineup Card Changed a lot for Game 2
|Position||Player||At Bats||Runs||Hits||RBI||Free Bags||Kos||Stranded|
|Position||Player||At Bats||Runs||Hits||RBI||Free Bags||Kos||Stranded|
For the sake of both accuracy and my fingers, here is the scoring summary for the night cap of the Saturday doubleheader. The Hokies just put on a scoring show for the first 2/3rds of the game and didn’t need to score anymore. Hack had all the runs that he needed to bag the win, and that was perfection.
Hokie Scoring Summary for Game 2
|Virginia Tech||2nd||C. Jones doubled to right field-2 RBI (0-0); S. Tackett scored; G. Ebel scored.||0||2|
|Virginia Tech||2nd||Cannizzaro singled up the middle-RBI (1-2 BKS); C. Jones scored.||0||3|
|Virginia Tech||3rd||C. Grady homered to left center-RBI (2-1 BFB).||0||4|
|Virginia Tech||4th||C. Martin doubled to center field-RBI (0-0); G. Michel advanced to third; C. DeMartini scored.||0||5|
|Virginia Tech||4th||C. Grady singled up the middle-2 RBI (3-1 BBBK); C. Martin scored; G. Michel scored.||0||7|
|Virginia Tech||4th||S. Tackett homered to left field-2 RBI (0-0); G. Ebel scored.||0||9|
|Virginia Tech||4th||Cannizzaro singled up the middle-RBI (0-0); C. Jones scored.||0||10|
|Virginia Tech||4th||G. Michel singled to second base-RBI (2-0 BB); C. DeMartini advanced to third; Cannizzaro scored.||0||11|
|Virginia Tech||7th||L. Donlon singled up the middle-RBI (1-1 BK); G. Michel scored.||0||12|
It was Certainly Carson Jones Weekend in Blacksburg
That just begs what would have happened on Sunday. BUT!!!
Game 3 on Sunday was Mother Nature’s
Unfortunately, the 2023 Hokie Baseball weather bug bit hard, again, and the final game of the series had to be cancelled in the top of the 1st inning as the 40-minute last lightning strike detected rule pushed the game beyond the Falcons’ return to home departure time. It’s unfortunate because the Hokies are stuck at 28-16. A win on Sunday would have put them in a non-conference game against Liberty away from a 30-win season before the ending series against Clemson and Wake Forest.
No one is kidding anyone on that score. Tech needs to win every possible game between now and the end of the regular season and nobody is an easy out. Liberty already beat the Hokies at home and look to do it again when the Hokies visit Lynchburg on Tuesday. Clemson is coming for Commencement Weekend and Mothers’ Day. If you had asked in the first third of the season, I’d have said that the Hokies had a really good shot at a series win and a better than even shot at a sweep. Clemson has been on a tear of late, and it’s going to be a tough series to close out the regular season home schedule on.
After the weekend, the Hokies end the season on the road with a trip to Lynchburg to take on the JMU Dukes, and then to Durham to face the dominating Demon Deacons on their home turf (not many losses for them, there). It’s going to come down to the wire for the Hokies getting into post season play. The ACC tournament will be the first bid, up. It all remains to be seen and it’s all in the Hokies’ hands now.