Blue Devils Conjure Up a Sweep, Hokies Left in Purgatory
The Hokies needed a series win in Durham...they got swept.
After a promising week of non-conference games that saw the Hokies go 4-0 with wins vs. Georgetown and a 3-0 series sweep of Toledo, the ACC woes continued for the young ball club. In their last twelve ACC games, the Hokies are 2-10.
What was once a race for one of four coveted #1 seeds in the ACC (and possibly national) tournament has devolved into an agonizing struggle to just not be the lowest seed. The Hokies have already clinched a spot in the ACC Tournament to be held in Charlotte in two weeks. Since the Wake Forest loss to Virginia on Sunday, the ACC tournament field is actually filled. Wake Forest and Boston College will not be going to the Queen City. Other than that, only God knows...
Series vs Duke
The Hokies were the better team all weekend against the Blue Devils. But that doesn't count towards wins and losses. Couple that with the simple fact that a game of baseball lasts 9 innings, and the Hokies will feel pretty hard done by this weekend.
Virginia Tech had the lead or was tied in the middle of the 8th inning in all three games...they lost all three.
It's back breaking, but the baseball gods just weren't on the Hokies' side all weekend. Not that they should've needed any divine intervention, but after six weeks of less than stellar baseball, head coach John Szefc would most likely take any help he can get.
Pointing the blame at the bullpen holds some water, not just for this weekend but for the last four ACC series. In the past twelve ACC games, the loss has been attributed to a relief pitcher six times. But that's not the full story: In the four losses by starting pitchers, the offense has only amassed 1, 3, 1, and 1 runs, respectively. That's abysmal in college baseball.
The Hokies offense had one of its worst series of the year against Duke in terms of situational hitting. In Saturday's game, the Hokies left 11 runners on base and were 1-10 with runners in scoring position. Many of the struggles came at the hands of some good Duke pitching. The Hokies were struck out 26 times in the series, including 12 times in Sunday's low-scoring affair.
In the field, the Hokies continue to be mediocre. Fielding hasn't lost the Hokies many games this season, but it hasn't won them anything lately. In ACC play, the Hokies have posted a 0.970 fielding percentage, good for 9th in the league. It hasn't been missing the easy plays as much as it has been failing to make the really good plays. The Hokies are last in the ACC in recording double plays (14), and have hit into the second most double plays (27).
Individually, these stats aren't terrible issues. But when you compile them, and recognize that these stats were much, much better a month ago, you can start to see why the Hokies have fallen off.
This comes at a time when the Hokies starting pitching is throwing absolute gas. This weekend, the starting rotation of Peyton Alford, Anthony Simonelli, and a fully healthy Chris Gerard threw a combined 20.2 IP and 28 K's on just 22 H's and only 6 earned runs.
Anthony Simonelli, simply put, is must watch television. He pitches with a dominant energy, and can keep his velocity well over 90 pitches. The issue is he hasn't always gotten run support. Consistency, as Szefc pointed out in the last media session, is the biggest issue for the young Hokies.
Up Next: Weekend Series vs. Notre Dame
Well, here come the first place Irish. Didn't think I'd be typing that out in mid-May, but here we are. The Irish have just kept winning.
The Hokies will host Notre Dame on Thursday at 6pm, Friday at 6pm, and Saturday at 1pm. All games will be televised on ACCN Extra via the Watch ESPN app.
In terms of seeding for the ACC tournament, the Hokies are in what one might call a cluster:
The Hokies, despite their second half struggles, are still in the race for a top half seed in the ACC tournament. With a series win against Notre Dame, the Hokies would move to 18-18 (.500) in conference play. Considering the Hokies have tie breakers against UNC, Pittsburgh, and may have the common opponents tie breaker against Louisville if that were to come into play. Here are the weekend matches around the league:
So in summation, the Hokies need to win the series. Not just for seeding in the ACC tournament, but for their hopes at making the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2013. As of Tuesday, May 18, D1Baseball.com has the Hokies as the second team in the "Last Five Out" category. After a series sweep at the hands of a bottom half of the conference team, the Hokies will be lucky to grab an at-large bid at all. (#4 seeds are generally reserved for conference champions in smaller conferences.)
Still, it's all to play for in Blacksburg/Charlotte. If the Hokies can win the series against Notre Dame, who is currently seeded #7 overall, then their resume gets a massive boost. Combine that with series wins at Miami, a sweep at Pittsburgh, and wins against tourney lock Georgia Tech and Florida State, and the Hokies have a pretty good case.
The next scenario is taking just one game from Notre Dame and leaving work to do in Charlotte. If that were the case, the Hokies would most likely be in a four team pool with Notre Dame, Georgia Tech, or Florida State being the top seed. A win against any of those teams would give the Hokies enough of a boost to remain in the NCAA field.
But if the Hokies fail to grab a game from the Irish, then it would take a run at the ACC Championship Game for the Hokies to feel good about themselves. It may take some help from around the country. As of May 18, D1 Baseball has it really between Georgia, Alabama, Oklahoma State, Maryland, and Iowa as the teams that can really win there way into the tourney. Other teams like Air Force and UC Santa Barbara are more reliant on losses by teams ahead of them.
Georgia dropped two of three to Florida over the weekend, while SEC compatriot Kentucky got swept by South Carolina. The Dawgs will have a tough end to the season. After a 5 hour and 35 minute loss in 14 innings against arch rival Georgia Tech, a series against Ole Miss looms large. Kentucky has to go up against the nation's top pitching rotation in Vanderbilt.
Oklahoma State won their first two against Baylor but lost Sunday's game. They'll play New Orleans to end the season.
Alabama has a home series against perennial power Mississippi State, who is currently projected as the #8 overall seed in the tourney.
Finally, Szefc's old team Maryland swept hapless Purdue 3-0. Maryland will need another series win against Michigan and at least a game against Indiana to end the season in order to build their resume.
The Hokies have a lot of work to do, that can't be overstated. But it's not a doomsday scenario by any means. In many ways, the Hokies have had a season that mirrors that of the men's basketball team. They're a young team with not a lot of expectations to start, but early success may have set a bar for the end result that was a bit lofty. Any way you put it, the Hokies are on the up and up. They just aren't there yet.
* This article has been updated as of May 18, 11:46 pm to include completed game scores and latest projections.