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Hokies Baseball Rising to National Prominence

By Sam Jessee | May 03
Hokies Baseball Rising to National Prominence
via hokiesports.com

After a series win in Charlottesville, the Hokies find themselves ranked #5 in the nation.

If you thought you'd be reading that sentence at the beginning of year five for head coach John Szefc, then you're lying. But here we are. The Hokies are a top five team in the country with only three weeks left in the regular season and are within an arm's reach of hosting a regional in the NCAA Tournament.

It's remarkable, really, that a baseball program that had finished in last or second-to-last place in the ACC in 2014, 2016, 2018, and 2019 now finds itself towards the top of the standings in the deepest, most competitive conference in the country in 2022. I made this video in preps for last season to illustrate how down the program had been for the past decade or so. It's really something else...

When Szefc took over the program in June of 2017, Athletic Director Whit Babcock had a vision for a nationally competitive program both in terms of product on the field and facilities away from the field. The investments have paid off to say the least.

The Biggest Win in School History

Last season, the Hokies were sitting pretty for a spot in the NCAA Regionals as the month of April came to a close. Then everything changed when injuries, some tough matchups, and a lack of depth were exposed. The Hokies had a chance to pick up a huge series win against Virginia at home in Blacksburg. With the series tied 1-1, the Hokie offense failed to show up and a potent Cavalier batting order triumphed in a 6-1 win. The Hokies crumbled down the stretch and missed out on the tournament in epic fashion. The Cavaliers get hot on their way to Omaha and the College World Series.

But this season has been different for the Hokies. A lineup that was overly top-heavy last season is now elite 1-9. Starting pitchers Griffin Green and Drue Hackenberg have come out of nowhere to be two of the most effective and efficient starters in the ACC, and the fielding behind them has jumped from dead last in the ACC in 2021 to 2nd in 2022.

Again, the Hokies and Hoos were tied 1-1 heading into Sunday, but this time the home team had the distinct advantage. Although the Hokies have dominated on Fridays and Saturdays this season (11-4 in ACC play), Sundays have been tougher. The Hokies haven't found a third starting arm this season, and the bullpen doesn't have the depth to do a full 9 innings of work after using arms the two days before. That's why Sunday's win was so big, because the Hokies were really not supposed to win that game.

Senior arm Jordan Geber got the start. He got the Sunday start last weekend at Boston College and gave up 4 hits and 1 earned run in 4.1 innings, so he had earned the starting nod. But on Sunday, Virginia's potent offense jumped on him early and had 4 runs on the board with no outs in the bottom 2nd. It was up to the bullpen to save the Hokies, and they came up with their biggest performance to date.

Sophomore Henry Weycker came in with his back against the wall and pitched a shutout 4.2 innings, setting up junior Graham Firoved for the final 3.1 innings. Firoved got some help for the Hokies offense led by all-American candidates LF Jack Hurley, CF Gavin Cross, and C Cade Hunter.

Hurley and Hunter have been two of the most improved batters on the team this season, and are certainly two of the biggest reasons that the Hokies have arguably the best offense in the country. But team leader and future first round pick Gavin Cross had the game that you need your star players to have. Cross hit 3 for 5 on Sunday scoring 3 runs and hitting the go-ahead solo homerun to right field to put the Hokies up 5-4 in the 7th. It was part of a 3-run 7th inning that quieted the crowd in Charlottesville sealed the deal for the Hokies. Firoved was solid in the last few innings, with his lone mistake being a solo shot by UVA's Alex Tappen in the 9th. Other than that, Firoved was as good as it gets with 5 strikeouts to only 1 walk.

Uncharted Territory

Not only have the Hokies entered D1Baseball's top 5 rankings, they've also reached the top 5 in RPI. This is what matters for the selection committee when choosing regional hosts. The top 16 seed host a regional, comprising of 4 teams per region. The 4 team pools are double elimination format and usually group teams that are geographically close. (I.E. last season's "Gainesville" region was hosted by Florida and included Miami, South Florida, and South Alabama while the "Greenville" region was hosted by East Carolina and included Maryland, Charlotte, and Norfolk State.)

But before we put the cart before the horse, the Hokies have two ACC series left as well as some tough non-conference matchups. Here's what's left for the Hokies (record, RPI):

5/4: @ Marshall (19-24-1, #209)

5/7-8: vs Villanova (17-21-1, #132)

5/11: vs Liberty (28-14, #38)

5/13-15: vs Louisville (31-12, #21)

5/17: vs Kansas State (22-21, #90)

5/19-21: vs Duke (19-23, #110)

Both ACC series will be vital for the Hokies. If the Hokies can go 5-1 in those six games, then they'll have a chance to catch Miami in the standings for the top spot in the Coastal Division. Since the top 2 seeds in the ACC Tournament are awarded to the two division winners, the Hokies would be looking at a 3 seed if Miami keeps winning.

Standings

The Hurricanes have two very tough series left to play in the ACC, traveling to Florida State and then hosting last season's regular season champs Notre Dame. The Hokies hold the tiebreaker over the Hurricanes, so just a two game swing is all that's needed.

It's all to play for down the stretch for the Hokies in what is shaping up to be the best season in program history.

Sam Jessee

I'm a born and raised Hokie. My first game in Lane Stadium was in September of 1997 when Tech stomped Big East rival Syracuse 31-3. Born and raised in Richmond, VA, where I was a Deep Run Wildcat with fellow Son of Saturday Grayson Wimbish, NFL Hokie Antone Exum, and Blacksburg legend Jack Click. I graduated from Tech with a degree in Finance in 2019 and received my Master's in Data Analytics in 2021.


I'm a certified analytics nerd with a passion for data visualization and modeling. Much of my work is written with an analytical flair. I host the Lock$ of Saturday podcast, where we talk all things betting, and also head up the baseball beat.


I currently work in Raleigh, NC as a sports betting analyst.

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