Sunday Scaries: Hokies Have a Tough Week, Drop Series to Florida State
The bad news: The Hokies went 2-3 this week and dropped their first ACC series of the year. The good news: That's something the Hokies are upset about.
Virginia Tech hosted in-state rival VCU and ACC opponent Florida State this week at English Field at Atlantic Union Bank Park. After a walk-off win on a single by 3B Kevin Madden on Tuesday, the Hokies dropped a high-scoring affair to the Rams on Wednesday night. The Rams are a solid team and are led by freshman 3B Tyler Locklear, who may be one of the most complete players the Hokies face all season. A split in that series is nothing to be ashamed of, but the Hokies know that that was a resume building opportunity that they somewhat fumbled.
In all honesty, however, the fact that a Virginia Tech baseball program can be upset about taking only one game from Florida State with an almost all underclassman team is something to step back and appreciate.
I just don't think that head coach John Szefc would feel the same way...
Over the weekend, the Hokies went 1-2 against the visiting Seminoles in a series that exposed a few of the weaknesses of this young club.
“I learned some things I’d rather not talk about,” said Szefc after Sunday’s 14-7 loss to the Seminoles. “I learned that when we pitch and play quality defense we’re in games and when we don’t pitch and we don’t play defense we’re not.”
The Hokies' bullpen struggled in every game this week except for Saturday's 5-0 win against the Seminoles. Inconsistency against talented lineups is never going to get it done in the ACC.
Offensively, the Hokies are averaging a solid 7.36 runs per game. There total of 103 runs scored so far is 3rd highest in the ACC. A team that was expected to play more of the small-ball approach to start the season, the Hokies have done it all at the plate.
“Sticking to our plan throughout the game is key,” said freshman OF Carson Jones. “We gotta have mindset that we’re going to go up there and execute what [hitting coach] Elbin’s been talking about and what we’ve done in practice.”
That aspect of confidence was echoed by the best Hokie hitter so far this season, second-year freshman RF Gavin Cross.
“The mindset of our offense has really changed,” said Cross. “We think we’re good and we are good. We’re confident from the start. It starts in our BP and with our scouting reports and knowing what the pitcher is going to try to do to us.”
The Hokies certainly look like they can score with anyone, even without one of their stars, Nick Biddison, in the lineup. Where the Hokies are lacking is in a consistent bullpen, something that was really exposed against the Seminoles.
This is one to file into the "man, that sucks" folder.
The Hokies got out to a fast start after Cross, 1B T.J. Rumfield, and 2B Tanner Schobel had back-to-back-to-back hits to in the top of the 1st inning to get the Hokies out to a 2-0 lead. Hokies pitcher Peyton Alford was dealing for the second Friday start in a row. Alford, who has yet to get the credit for a win this season, recorded 10K's and sat down the Seminoles lineup for the first 3 innings. Alford is throwing his best stuff in college right now, posting 1.78 K/IP (strikeouts per inning pitched). However, Alford was pulled after just 68 pitches and the usually reliant bullpen duo of Jaison Heard and Shane Connolly were unable to keep the Seminoles off the board. After the Hokies failed to extend their lead, the Seminoles scored 3 runs in the 8th and another in the 9th to take the 6-4 lead. The Hokies were unable to execute a rally and fell to the Seminoles to start the series.
The good news for the Hokies is that Peyton Alford looks every bit like an ACC weekend starter. Alford is pitching the best stuff of his career and has been unlucky to not pick up the wins against UNC last week and the Seminoles on Friday. If he can continue on this trajectory, the senior from Knoxville will have all-ACC considerations.
Chris Gerard stepped out on the mound and proved why he's the ace for this Virginia Tech team. Gerard painted a really tough strike zone and had the Seminoles hoping to just get some solid contact against him. On the day, the sophomore Gerard recorded his 100th collegiate strikeout.
The birthday boy freshman CF Jack Hurley had a big day, scoring the first run of the ball game and then fisting a ball to deep center for a passionate homerun that really put the Hokies in complete control.
Throughout the whole series, there was a fair bit of chirping back and forth between teams. Florida State pitcher Bryce Hubbart and Jack Hurley were basically running the bases together after Hurley's moon shot to center. The play ended with a viscous hammer swing and a talking to both managers from the umpire. It looked like quite a fiery series all weekend, but Cross took it as just good, hard-nosed baseball from both sides.
“I think both teams were just playing hard and having fun," said Cross. "It was good baseball. They were playing with energy and we were playing with energy, it just went their way. It was a good series. They were fine and we were fine, we’re just playing.”
Cross, who homered in Sunday's game, did not swing the hammer as is tradition. But not to worry, that was solely precautionary as Cross has been dealing with a sore back and didn't want to risk any more strain than was needed.
Matthew Siverling came in after Gerard and threw a surgeon-like 2 innings of relief in which he gave up just 1H and 1BB, throwing 17/24 strikes. He, Haird, and Connolly will need to produce more consistent performances like that if the Hokies are to keep wining ACC games.
The normal Sunday starter Anthony Simonelli is dealing with an oblique strain and was unavailable for the rubber match of the weekend, so the Hokies went with a pitch by committee approach. It did not go well.
The Seminoles ran Ryan Metz off the field after a 3 run blast to start the game was followed by another solo shot to make it a 4-0 game in the 1st inning. The Seminoles would get another big inning in the 4th via some good hitting and some terrible defense from the Hokies to make it a 7-1 game. Even with the Hokies' ability to fight back in games, that was just too much for the young club against some solid pitching from the Seminoles. It seemed like every batter from Florida State was having one of the days, and the Hokies just couldn't make a play or catch a break. Long story short, the pitching never gave the Hokies a chance.
“They’ve battled from behind pretty much the whole year,” said Szefc. “They’re constantly driving a bike up a hill, pretty much. Typically, in baseball, if you get a poor start you don’t win. There’s no other way I can say it."
The Hokies were able to put 4 runs on the board in the 9th to make the box score more respectable, but every time the Hokies had a real shot to get back in it, they didn't. In fact, the Hokies had two men on base with no outs in the 6th, 7th, and 8th innings and failed to score a run in all three. The clutch gene was just not in the Hokies' DNA this weekend.
The tough week for the Hokies brings their season record to 9-5 overall and 5-4 in the ACC, albeit against the toughest ACC schedule so far. The Hokies are now ranked #25 according to D1Baseball, but remain highly ranked at #13 in Baseball America's top 25.
Next up: UNC-Greensboro and a Trip to Clemson
The Hokies will face UNC-Greensboro on Tuesday night at 4pm in Blacksburg. The Spartans most recently were swept 0-3 by Tennessee, but have a respectable club nonetheless.
After that, the Hokies will travel to Clemson for a three game series with the Tigers. The Tigers have struggled so far this season (5-8, 1-5 ACC) but will be a tough test for a Hokies squad that may still be down a weekend starter.
The game against UNC-Greensboro will be televise by ACC Network Extra and can be viewed by anyone who has an ACCN subscription via the Watch ESPN app. The television service for the Clemson series has yet to be announced, but you'll most likely be watching basketball anyways.