Hokies Baseball Climbs to the Top Ten
In a stretch where the Hokies took two of three against No. 18 UNC, #21 NC State, and #2 Miami, John Szefc's group has now made the second biggest leap in ranking on the season, going from #21 to now #8 in the country in a matter of seven days. In improbable fashion, this Virginia Tech ballclub went from projected to finish at the bottom of the ACC, to now an emerging NCAA Super-Regional contender.
Around this time last year, a ranked Hokies squad started their steady decline due to a lack of pitching ability on their young squad, and ended the season on a disappointing 12 losses of their last 15 match-ups, capping it off on eight L’s consecutively. But with a starting lineup and pitching rotation that only includes two freshman contributors (3B Carson Demartini, RHP Drue Hackenberg), experience is no longer a fear, and things are looking to be on the up-and-up going forward.
The Friday/Saturday pitching duo of Hackenberg and Griffin Green has elevated the team, but the corpse success of the season has started at the plate. Gavin Cross - projected to be picked No. 5 overall in the MLB draft by D1baseball.com - was at the forefront of the headlines entering the season. And Cross is still a major contributor, hitting at a .352 clip. But Jack Hurley has percussively taken over that role, leading the country on three separate occasions in batting average. He’s since cooled off, holding fort around the 12th best average in the country, but head coach John Szefc will take the sophomore outfielder‘s .419 percentage any day of the week.
On the infield, 3B Carson Demartini, C Cade Hunter, and SS Tanner Schobel, are all hitting well over .300. RF/DH Conor Hartigan and 1B Nick Holesa are the only two in the lineup hitting under that mark, and they still provide plenty, combining for nearly 30 RBIs and 40 hits on the season.
As a team, the Hokies are leading the ACC in batting average, slugging, doubles, and home runs. That's a rare combination of power and consistency that has seen the Hokies go from an occasionally dangerous lineup to one of the best offenses in the country. Hurley, Hunter, Schobel, DeMartini, and Cross are all top 12 in the ACC in On-base Plus Slugging.
As for the pitching, the two mainstays have been RHPs Griffin Green (3.94 ERA, 3.94), and freshman sensation Drue Hackenberg (2.21 ERA, 8 GS). Come Sunday, Seniors Ryan Okuda (4.10 ERA, 7 GS) and Ryan Kennedy (3.98 ERA, 3 GS) have been the in-and-out third piece to the starting rotation. As you can see, they more than provide on the bump, but Drue Hackenberg has been the most pleasant surprise, at fourth in the ACC in ERA (40th in the country overall), and tied first in wins (7) in the conference as well. And he’s become the Ace of the rotation going forward.
As of right now, Hackenberg’s projected to be given the nod by pitching coach Ryan Fectau and John Scefz come Saturday at Boston College. Or, at Fenway, I mean, as the Hokies are the lucky ballclub to land in the Fenway game Boston College competes in once a year. The Eagles are only 3-15 in ACC play, so this series will be a nice win-adder as Friday, April 22nd rolls around. But this will be a great opportunity for the Hackenberg family (and other Hokie fans, too) to envision Drue in a professional playing atmosphere, as his brothers Christian, Adam, and Brandon all play professionally in football, baseball, and soccer respectively. So April 23rd in Boston will evidently be a great time for the Hackenbergs, and Hokie fans alike as well.
Other than having the opportunity to hit homers over the Green Monster and onto Lansdowne Street, Virginia Tech has luckily hit a pretty unexciting stretch of the season- if you will. And that’s good, as an easy schedule means more chances to up their draft stock if you will, going into the ACC playoffs. As of right now, VT’s second in the ACC Coastal at 9-6. After VMI, Radford and BC, they have a series at UVA, and then finish on a home stretch with a visiting Villanova team, then Louisville, and Duke to top it all off. Currently, Louisville is the only ranked competition in that batch, but UVA and Duke could always provide problems going forward.
At 23-9, No. 8 Virginia Tech has shocked baseball writers across the ACC. It started with a single game win against No.12 Notre Dame, and since then they’ve toppled No. 21 NC State through snowy conditions, a blistering hot series at No. 18 UNC in Chapel Hill, and of course a red-hot No. 2 Miami squad that left nearly empty handed this past weekend. In a matter of weeks, this Hokies team has risen all of its fans out of their seats, as they inch just weeks away from an opportunity at a bid in the NCAA tournament, which they could be entering for the first time since 2013. And it all starts with a VMI ballgame to warm up for their finish, at home on Tuesday, April 19th.