Hokies Baseball Gets Back on Winning Track
It had been 344 days since the Hokies last won an ACC series.
It came in Winston-Salem when the Hokies took game two of their series against Wake Forest with a dominant 16-4 performance. At the time, the Hokies were sitting pretty in the ACC Coastal standings. They were off to a 13-7 ACC start with series wins against nationally ranked Miami and UNC. The next day, the Hokies would complete the series sweep of Wake Forest and position themselves not only to make a run in the ACC, but in the NCAA Tournament as well. That's when the wheels came off...
On Sunday, the Hokies won their first ACC series of the year with a 7-1 victory over Pittsburgh. It came on the heels of an astounding 22-6 win the day before, one that the Hokies hope will change the trajectory of the team moving forward.
Between last season's game two against Wake Forest and the start of Saturday's game against Pittsburgh, the Hokies were on a 3-17 run in the ACC (3-13 in 2021, 0-4 in 2022). It wasn't because the Hokies were totally outmatched, either. An error here and there, a bad pitching change a few times, and last week it was two walk-offs by a top ten Georgia Tech team. If there was a way to lose a game, the Hokies had found it. A combination of bad luck, poor timing, and a collective slump were plaguing the Hokies.
So when the Hokies took the field Saturday on what was dubbed "Marvel Day" by the team, it wasn't a stretch to say the Hokies needed a superhero.
Much like Marvel's Avengers, the Hokies need more than just one hero. They need a whole team of them. In many ways, Saturday's 22 run performance was the perfect way for this team to get back on track; it was a total team effort.
Star CF Gavin Cross is by no means in a slump, but it wasn't his play this weekend that propelled the Hokies. As a team, the Hokies hit 6 home runs on Saturday and 2 on Sunday, none by Cross. In fact, Cross didn't have a hit in either win this weekend. Instead, he got on base by being patient at the plate and drawing walks, setting up the scene for one of the hottest hitters in baseball, LF Jack Hurley.
After Tuesday's win in the annual Sharkey's Classic against Radford, Hurley is hitting a nation-leading .479 at the plate. He's doing so with power as well, with 15 extra base hits on the season. He now has a hit streak sitting at 19 games, 5 games shy of tying the school record.
"Sharkey's Classic" vs Radford
by Kyle Marchak (@kylemarchak)
Coming off of a promising 2-1 series win over ACC rival Pitt Sunday, the Hokies went into their big brother-little brother single game match-up against the Radford Highlanders ready to put themselves on a three game winning streak before they enter a long road stretch mid-season.
Radford has a history of baseball success, so despite last year's 22-2 Hokies win over the Highlanders, Radford was not a team to overlook. But the Hokies needed to extend that winning streak, and that’s exactly what they did, as they punctuated an impressive performance at the plate in a 10-3 win for a “Sharkey’s Classic’ triumph Tuesday afternoon.
It wasn’t all lopsided as the score indicated. Sticking to the trend in the past few years, the pitching was holding back the Hokies early. A one inning outing to start the ballgame from sophomore RHP Jackson Ritchey gave up an early 2-0 lead for the Highlanders, exiting (and never returning) the top of the first having allowed two walks and two knocks, so command on the bump was concerning to say the least. Ritchey’s shown promising stuff, but after a bad stretch, he left that outing with a 5.40 ERA on the season.
In stark contrast, Ryan Kennedy came in for four innings of four-hit, shutout relief. So despite a shaky start for the armbarn, the four pitchers coming in for relief held Radford to one run in the final eight frames. Appearances from Christian Worley, an exceptional couple of frames from junior Jonah Hurney, and Jordan Geber to top close it out.
It’s worth noting that Radford’s pitching made it a ballgame early on. As mentioned, their bats tacked on two runs early. Thanks to decent run-management from leaders Gene Mcgough and William Flanagan, the rivals from down 81 South entered the fifth only down 3-2.
But that’s when a combined six runs from three bullpen arms - including 3 runs allowed from junior captain Luke Vangoedort - allowed the Hokie bats to rain down. It’s hard to choose who led the way, as nine different hitters found their way on base, collecting 10 hits total, despite allowing 10 hits for Radford themselves (so it’s evident that walks were a differentiator as well). But Sam Tackett’s solo shot in the second inning seemed to have opened things up.
Cross and RF Conor Hartigan both left the ballgame with 2 hits a piece. Both hit to all fields well, spraying line drives all around the ballpark. But on a national scale, Jack Hurley’s lone hit is of note as he continues his hitting streak, leading the nation with a .486 batting average. And watching him in person allows you to see why, as he simply checks all boxes in the eye test. Alongside his other team captains, the Hokies appeared to have amped up their investment in their teammates’ success more and more from the dugout, with chants, reactions, and celebrations alike adding to the already ample energy provided from Atlantic Union Bank Park Tuesday afternoon.
Now with a future first round pick, and another hitter entering the conversation of high stock in the draft as well, the hitting is becoming less and less of a question mark, and more of a reason for the Hokies to begin to gain ground in the race toward the top of the ACC, as their talent level indicates they could curate a push for the NCAA tournament. Moving on to 13-6 on the season, VT begins a tough road stretch at #12 Notre Dame in South Bend Friday evening. Facing an exceptionally well-rounded team, the Hokies’ pitching will have to take a step up to possibly capitalize on an opportunity to take a huge leap in the NCAA Committee’s eyes entering the mid-season away stretch. Out in Indiana, one thing is for certain: bringing some hammer-time energy is all of the spark they need to make that happen, as it showed Tuesday afternoon.