Hokies Flounder vs Wahoos, Bounce Back vs Hoyas
It was just one of those weekends for the Hokies....again.
Virginia Tech dropped the series to bitter rival Virginia 1-2. The series loss brings the Hokies to 16-14 in the ACC on the season. That's still good enough to be in the mix for a top seed in the ACC tournament, but not a comfortable position to be in. In the last 3 ACC series, the Hokies are 2-7.
"It's really not one thing, we're just very inconsistent," said head coach John Szefc after Sunday's 6-1 loss to the Wahoos. "We'll score runs some days and will play defense some days...if you just look at the scores of the games it's just very inconsistent. At some point or another, you're going to play really well and be consistent or you're not. And after playing forty games we're probably around that time where we're going to have to be consistent or else we're going to end up watching in the post season."
Still, the Hokies are standing firm in their push for an NCAA Tournament birth. D1Baseball, which for all intents and purposes is the defacto ranking system for collegiate baseball, has the Hokies remaining as a 2 seed in the Knoxville Region. In terms of the ACC, think about the cluster that usual is the Coastal division for football. Okay now just switch sports to baseball and make it for the entire conference.
With only a few weeks left in the regular season and only 6 ACC games left (series against Duke and Notre Dame), the Hokies need to get back to their winning ways in a heartbeat. Senior LF Tanner Thomas knows that, and he's doing his best to lead a young team over the finish line.
"It's always about positivity," said Thomas. "It's baseball. We started off really well and I think we're going to get going again, but baseball's happening to us. A lot of things haven't fallen our way. You just gotta be patient...This game's revolved around failure and we gotta play through that and keep on chugging."
Series vs. Virginia
Friday's game against Virginia was an exaggerated microcosm of the Hokies's struggles this season. After getting off to a 1-0 lead, the Hokies pitching staff and defense just lost it, and Virginia made them pay. The game ended 18-1, and just about everything that could go wrong against your rival went wrong.
On Saturday, the Hokies showed the resiliency that has become a calling card of this young team. After a blowout loss the night before, the Hokies came back and won 6-3. Anthony Simonelli put together what Szefc said was his best performance as a Hokie. The exuberant righty went 7 innings giving up only 2 hits, 2 runs, and no walks. He also tossed 7 K's.
Sunday's rubber match had big game aura all over it. The line to get into the game was stretched from the gate all the way to the Horticulture Garden over 90 minutes before first pitch. The crowd was amped up and ready to go, as they have been for almost every game this season. The crowd even got the attention of one of college baseball's premier writers, Aaron Fitt of D1Baseball.
I can't say enough about these @HokiesBaseball fans. It's one thing to show up & drink some beers, but these kids have been into the game every pitch all night, doing all the two-stroke clapping stuff, organizing loud chants. Down 5-1 in 8th, they exploded after a leadoff double.— Aaron Fitt (@aaronfitt) May 3, 2021
The team, however, did not execute on Sunday as well as the fans. The Hokies were cold at the plate and were only able to get one runner across home. Virginia starting pitcher Nate Savino was masterful in keeping the Hokies from getting real solid contact. In his 7 innings of work, Savino forced 11 ground outs including three double plays. He was able to get through 7 innings with only 65 total pitches. Frankly, he could've gone the distance.
But relievers Blake Bales and Stephen Schoch are as shut down as they come, and the Hokies weren't able to amass a comeback only getting one hit in the final two innings.
"You gotta give credit to [Savino]," said Szefc. "He has a good sinking fast ball and our guys weren't able to get underneath it."
"It took us a little longer to adjust than we wanted to," said Thomas.
In terms of pitching and defense, the Hokies didn't look all too bad. Outside of back to back homers hit by Virginia, starting pitcher Shane Connolly had the wahoos on lockdown. As coach Szefc said, consistency across the board is what's going to win and lose games for the Hokies down the stretch.
Hokies vs Georgetown
As they did last week, the Hokies took care of an inferior mid-week opponent on the back of a stellar pitching performance from starter Ryan Okuda. In a game that was mostly absent of fireworks, Okuda's 8K outing was enough to keep the hapless Hoyas at bay until the offense could get things moving.
It took the Hokies offense a bit longer to get going than they would've hoped. Again, groundouts plagued the Hokies as they hit into a dozen over the course of the game.
The Hoyas were actually up 2-1 when Gavin Cross got to the plate to kick off the bottom of the 6th. Cross hit a pop up to deep right center that just kept carrying, and the center fielder wasn't able to make the play at the wall. Cross's speed was enough to get him a standup triple, and then to score a few pitches later on a wild pitch.
CF Jack Hurley broke the 4 game streak without a streak with a 398' hammer time to right center field. Hurley would finish the day 2-3 with 4 RBI, a walk, and his 6th homer of the season. Hurley will be a key guy for the Hokies down the stretch. The lineup sorely missed his production over the past month, and his struggles with strike outs took away one of his best offensive traits, running. If Hurley can get back to his early season form, you could see the Hokies do the same. The true freshman is a dynamite player that can beat you with power and small ball. He's a threat to steal bases and hustles for doubles.
Up Next: Weekend series vs Toledo
The Hokies will get a much needed break from ACC play when they host the Toledo Rockets on Saturday (DH) and Sunday. The Rockets are 15-23 on the year but can be a dangerous offensive team. Infielder Chris Meyers is the catalyst for a decent offense, hitting .383 with 13 home runs on the year.
Ace pitcher Chris Gerard is set to make an appearance this weekend, although Szefc warns that it will most likely not be a full start. Still, it's progress for one of the most important pieces of this Hokies team. Similarly, starting catcher Cade Hunter, who has been sidelined with a hand injury for a while now, may get back in the swing of things this weekend.
The Hokies will look to create a bit of a win streak heading into next week's mid-week matchup against Liberty, who has continued to play very well this season. Game time for Saturday is set at 2:30pm and will be televised on the watch ESPN app.