Hokies Take Series 2-1 vs Wright State
The Hokies Bounced Back for a Series Win vs Raiders
The series started about as poorly as you could imagine. The Hokies had to go to the bullpen early, and Wright State was executing at the plate at a high level. That's what they do at Wright State, they hit. Last season, the Raiders led the nation in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, hits per game, and runs per game. It's why they were favored to run away with the Horizon League for another year, and it's also why their 0-6 start was so surprising.
Wright State has good players and good coaches. Head coach Alex Sogard was 86-41 as the Raider head manager coming into this season, and was tapped to coach the USA collegiate national team this summer, a group of the best non-draft eligible players in the country including Tech's very own Gavin Cross.
So, after being swept by Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State and then a disappointing mid-week showing vs Oral Roberts, it's safe to say the Raiders had some anger to take out on Friday.
Friday's game, in some ways, may end up being a good thing for this Tech team. It showed what can happen if a starting pitcher doesn't have their stuff. Griffin Green didn't have his stuff on Friday. Green had been great in his previous two starts, but some unfavorable bounces on the turf field and a couple timely hits from the Raiders spiked Green's pitch count early, and he was never able to get out of the 6-run second inning. On the day Green gave up 6 earned runs on 8 hits.
The Hokies got things going offensively with 4 runs in the bottom of the first. 2B Eduardo Malinowski hit a homer that scored three (more on Malinowski to come) and DH Sam Tackett hit an RBI single up the middle to score LF Jack Hurley. But after that, the Hokie bats went cold.
Our baseball reporter Joey Robertson was at English Field and spoke with head coach John Szefc after the tough loss.
"They pitched really well, man, you gotta give them credit," said Szefc. The Hokies struck out 11 times, a precursor to the only real Achilles heel of this Hokies offense.
But in a sport where losses can come at the drop of a hat, Szefc's message to his team was an overtly positive one:
"The better teams, they have to learn how to lose together," said Szefc. "It's easy to win together when things are going good. When things are not going good they have to be able to be there and support each other."
Regardless of Wright State's potential as a mid-major, losing to an 0-6 team in never fun. However, the Hokies, now sitting at 9-1, have done a great job of taking care of business early in the season. For reference, preseason top 10 team NC State just got swept by Northeastern at home after losing to Campbell in the midweek. Perennial power Florida State has losses to Jacksonville and Samford, while in-state rival Miami lost to Harvard (who hadn't played a game in over two years). Last year's tournament champions Duke lost their opening game to VMI while regular season champs Notre Dame dropped a game to Delaware.
Point being, these losses happen in college baseball, even to the best teams. The key for the Hokies is going to be minimizing performances like Friday's. It's never too early to start building that NCAA Tournament resume...
The Hokies were able to bounce back with 15 hits and a solid pitching performance by Ryan Okuda to even the series. But it didn't look like that would be the case to start. Wright State jumped on top 2-0 after a couple hits and a wild pitch in the top of the first inning. But after that, it was all Hokies.
Okuda anchored down after the first inning and pitched 4 more solid innings, striking out 4 and only allowing 1 more hit. After his day was done, Jonah Hurney and Brady Kirtner both pitched 2 innings in relief giving up just 2 hits each. On the day, it was the command of the Hokie pitchers that was impressive. As a staff, the Hokies racked up 9 strikeouts to just 1 walk.
Malinowski continued to rake at the plate, with Saturday being his best performance as a Hokie so far. The Penn transfer hit 4-4 with 2 RBI and drew a walk. C Cade Hunter also had a great day, hitting 3-4 with 2 RBI.
The floodgates opened, and the Hokies left no doubt in Sunday's rubber match.
CF Gavin Cross got things started with a fly-ball homer that just sailed past the glove of the Wright State left fielder. That was followed by yet another Malinowski homer, his seventh of the year. In fact, Malinowski has hit 6 long balls in his last 7 games.
Malinowski has brought a consistent power to a Hokies team that really needed it. On the season, Malinowski is hitting .412 with an OPS of 1.557. Another consistent player for the Hokies has been Hurley, who now has a hit in every game this season and is hitting .526 on the season. It's early, but the Hokies lineup looks to be one of the best in the ACC.
Another Hokie that has been a consistent hitter is true freshman 3B Carson DeMartini, who combined to hit 5-7 on Saturday and Sunday. His 2-out line drive sparked the 8-run 4th inning that blew the doors open on Sunday.
JMU transfer RF Conor Hartigan got his first home run as a Hokie on Sunday with a 2-run bomb to left field. Hartigan has proven to be another great transfer pickup by Szefc. The outfielder led the Dukes in batting average last season, and will continue to rotate from RF to DH in the lineup.
Where the Hokies need improvement is on the pitching mound, but Sunday's starter showed that the Hokies may have a freshman Ace up their sleeve. Drue Hackenberg was dynamite in his third start of the season, and put together the best performance by a Hokie pitcher so far.
Hackenberg's command of the strike zone is elite, and his cutting fastball was sitting comfortably at 93mph all day. The only earned run on the day was from a solo shot to left to start the 7th inning, but in no other situation did the youngster find himself in trouble. Hackenberg also fielded his position very well, a rare feat in modern baseball.
Is Wright State the toughest lineup Hackenberg will face this season? Certainly not. But his ability to pump in strikes will translate to ACC play and make batters earn their way on base. Hackenberg could be the pitching spark the Hokies needed coming into this season.
After Hackenberg's day was done, fellow true freshman Tyler Dean from Vinton, VA came in to pitch. Dean is an incredibly talented prospect, and can hit mid-90's consistently. He doesn't posses the control needed to be a top option out of the bullpen yet, but he showed great resolve after walking two batters and struck out back to back Raiders to end the inning. Dean's improvement throughout the season will be critical to the Hokies' depth in the bullpen.
Up Next: Tuesday vs East Carolina; series @ Georgia Tech
Now the season really gets going. The Hokies will host pre-season ranked East Carolina on Tuesday in the first real test for the Hokies. ECU has been disappointing to start the season after being swept by low-major power Bryant and losing two of three against UNC. But the Pirates have bounced back with single game wins against Duke, Indiana State, Michigan, and a ranked Maryland team. A win Tuesday would be a huge resume builder for the Hokies. The game will be televised on ACCNX with first pitch being at 4pm. As always, admission is free for non-conference games.
The Hokies will start conference play with a tough matchup in Atlanta against the Yellow Jackets, who are ranked #13 in the country by D1Baseball. The Yellow Jackets swept the aforementioned Wright State Raiders to start the season, and are coming off an impressive series win against fellow top 25 team and arch rival, Georgia. All three games will be televised on ACCNX with Friday's first pitch being at 6pm.