Hokies Sweep Bulldogs to Start 2022 Season
The Hokies Were Next to Flawless
After the disappointment of ending the 2021 season on a losing skid, the 2022 Hokies knew it was vital to start off the season on a high note. The opportunity came against a UNC-Asheville team predicted to struggle in the Big South Conference, and that's just what the doctor ordered. The Hokies outscored the Bulldogs 35-8 over the three game series sweep in a dominant performance.
Getting the nod for the Opening Day start was sophomore Griffin Green. Green, a bullpen arm in 2021, looked every bit like a Friday night ace striking out 5 on his way to a scoreless 5 innings of work on just 64 pitches.
But the story of the game for the Hokies was the long ball. Even on a chilly 35 degree day in Blacksburg, the ball was flying out of the park. The Hokies amassed 5 homeruns on their way to 17 runs. Cade Hunter, who was sidelined most of last season with a nagging injury, hit 2 on the day. Newcomers Eduardo Malinowski (Penn transfer) and Carson DeMartini (freshman from Virginia Beach) also added homers. DeMartini's was extra special, coming on the first collegiate pitch he ever saw...
It was much of the same for Saturday's game, as the Hokies used a deadly combo of dominant pitching and electrifying offense to kill off the Bulldogs for the series win. Ryan Okuda took the step up from his weekday starter role in 2021 and pitched a 5 inning, 1 hit gem. Behind him, bullpen arms Graham Firoved, JOnah Hurney, and Brady Kirtner got the job done allowing just 1 earned run on the day.
Offensively, Nick Biddison put on a 3-5 performance with a solo shot to left in the 8th inning to put the icing on the cake. JMU transfer outfielder Conor Hartigan was the only other Hokies to notch multiple hits. Hartigan looks to be a solid DH option for the Hokies.
Saturday and Sunday's games didn't see the Hokies' star Gavin Cross on the field. Cross, a consensus first team all-American to start the season, was dealing with a stinger to his wrist that he picked up the in cold conditions on Friday. His absence was purely precautionary, as the Hokies have a flurry of games to start the season over the next three weeks. Expect to see the Hokies explore some depth options over the next few games.
The Hokies went into a 1pm first pitch Sunday against UNC Asheville up 2-0 on the series, outscoring them 25-4 so far, and there was no lack of offense in a 10-4 win for Virginia Tech. Young faces such as Lucas Donlon and DeMartini filled in nicely with a combined four hits for three runs batted in. The Hokies left the ballgame with 10 hits total, spreading them all over the ballpark, as the Bulldog’s lack of run management and pitching command was the main thorn in their side Sunday afternoon.
But the offense had to await the pitching efforts for both starters - Drue Hackenberg for Virginia Tech, and Bryce Fisher for UNC-Asheville - who left their opponents hitless through 2 frames. The Hokies’ Hackenberg was sitting low 90’s with great command of his fastball, with a loose 3/4th’s arm slot that pounded the zone early. He ultimately exited the outing with 5.0 IP, 0 runs, and a lone hit allowed from Bulldog’s Corbin Lanowitz, a Boston college transfer, who poked a breaking ball into left field in the fourth.
As for the Bulldogs, their starting pitcher’s outing was a little more brief as his pitch-to-contact approach worked early, but the runs poured down as Bryce Fisher exited the fourth inning with no outs created, and a total of four runs allowed, giving up five hits in 3.0 IP.
The first run to cross the plate was off Demartini’s RBI single, with multiple walks and knocks putting guys aboard in the bottom of the third. The real run scoring started in the bottom of the fourth as Virginia Tech rocked Fisher out of the ball game, as a series of walks, wild pitches, and hits sparked by a Conor Hartigan bloop double in shallow right center field began a frame that saw the Hokies plate four runners.
The Bulldogs’ bullpen was of little assistance as pitchers Zeus Ponder, Spencer Hill, and Cole Bates combined for six earned runs allowed in relief for Fisher’s starting effort. Spencer Hill’s efforts were of note as pitching command was the main concern for the Bulldogs headed into this game, and three wild pitches plated a couple of his three runs allowed in his appearance.
But it wasn’t smooth sailing all the way. In Kiernan Higgins 1.2 IP innings of relief, he was tested as a couple of hits and walks loaded the bases for the Bulldogs, and the top of the Lineup was up for the Bulldogs. Higgins ultimately saw 1.2 IP, allowing 2 ER, struggling to command his off-speed stuff in the 7th inning. A similar outcome followed with a 2 run 9th inning from Sean Fisher. Ryan Kennedy ultimately came in to shut the show, using his velocity to strike out Kohl Abrams for the win.
But the cherry on top of the Sunday ballgame (no pun intended) was an incredible hitting performance from sophomore Jack Hurley, who left with three hits and two RBI’s. With support from all over the lineup, Hurley felt secure with such a strong performance and lineup around him, and had a set mentality going into today’s at-bats. “I just wanted to see the ball up, and when I see it I smash it,” said Hurley. "I saw the fastball up, to say the least."
Next Up: vs. East Tennessee State on Tuesday
Truth be told, the Hokies did what was expected of them in first weekend of the season. UNC-Asheville has failed to reach above .500 in the surprisingly competitive Big South each of the last seven seasons under coach Scott Friedholm.
The ETSU Buccaneers are a common opponent for the Hokies. Last season, the Hokies and Bucs played twice with both games being big wins for the Hokies. However, the Bucs pose a threat with their potent offense that lead the Southern Conference in home runs in 2021 and have much of the production returning. 1B Bryce Hodge and RF David Beam are two power bats that Hokies pitchers will have to be mindful of.
The Bucs come into Blacksburg after sweeping their opening series vs Northern Kentucky. Even though expectations for the Bucs aren't lofty (picked 5th in the Southern Conference by D1Baseball), the threat of familiarity between the teams makes this an interesting battle between Appalachian schools.
Another story line is the familial ties of Hokies star Gavin Cross. Cross's father, Adam Cross, played baseball at ETSU. Last season, Cross went 7-10 with 9 RBI's in two games against the Bucs including hitting for the cycle in Johnson City.
The game will be on Tuesday at 4pm on ACC Network Extra. All non-conference games remain free to the public.