Virginia Tech Brings out the Brooms vs Fordham
The Hokies moved to 6-0 after a sweep of the Fordham Rams
The Virginia Tech Hokies’ baseball team entered Sunday afternoon’s contest against the Fordham Rams looking to start their season 6-0 for the first time since 2019. At 5-0, they had already swept the UNC Asheville bulldogs, and now had taken their first two games of the series against the Rams, outscoring them 20-2.
And the bats continued to stay hot as the Hokies ultimately left the matchup with a 7-3 win, with 11 hits total. The plate discipline was the key on Sunday, as they only struck out four times, walking on six occasions.
If the Hokies needed one player more than any to made big strides in the offseason, it was starting pitcher Griffin Green. And so far through two starts, Green has exceeded expectations.
Green was masterful again with his command, and an increase of 2-3 mph on his fastball has added a power element to his pitching arsenal.
After Green, it was a flawless three innings of relief for Jonah Hurney (2 IP) and Sean Fisher (1 IP) who gave up no hits and struck out 7 in the final third of the game. Offensively for the Hokies, it was the LF Jack Hurley show. Hurley was incredible all weekend, and he got things cooking early in the second inning with a solo shot to left field. He ended the day 3-3 with 3 RBI and 2 homers. On the weekend, Hurley was 9-10 with 4 RBI, 3 doubles, 1 triple, 3 homers, and no strikeouts.
Hurley wasn't the only Hokie to smack a deep drive to left field. Penn transfer 2B Eduardo Malinowski is living up to the hype the head coach John Szefc cultivated this offseason. Malinowski brought in the fifth run of the game for the Hokies with his solo shot off the light pole.
But maybe the best news for the Hokies was the return of CF Gavin Cross. Cross had missed the previous three starts (including the no-contest on Tuesday vs ETSU) with a wrist injury, per Tech Sideline's Chris Hirons. He came for all three games this weekend, and hit his second triple in just his first 5 at bats to start the season.
Saturday's game was the first real test for the Hokies bullpen this season, and they delivered. After a season derailed early by injury, sophomore reliever Henry Weycker looked to be one of the better bullpen arms for the Hokies this season. He showed that on Saturday pitching for three scoreless innings giving up just 1 hit on 33 pitches.
Truth be told, the Hokies were in control for the most part. The Hokies transfer duo of Malinowski and RF/DH Conor Hartigan (transfer from JMU) went a combined 5-8 for 5 RBI in the game. Malinowski and Hartigan, so far, are adding a great combination of consistency and power at the plate. Malinowski, hitting in the 4th spot, looks every bit like a clean up hitter that will thrive in a homerun-friendly ballpark. He has 4 on the year already to lead the team. Hartigan, who lead the JMU Dukes in batting average last season, has shown potential to be a big piece of the Hokies' depth in the lineup. He can play in RF as well as act as a DH.
Starting pitcher Ryan Okuda was good on Saturday, but not as dominant as he would've liked. Okuda struggled getting into full counts early in the contest, which increased his pitch count. After just 4.33 innings of work, Okuda had thrown 74 pitches. Okuda gave up just 4 hits and 1 walk, but this early in the season there's no need to push it.
In the field, the Hokies look to be much improved, especially in the infield. DeMartini and Schobel have anchored down the left side of the infield so far this season, and Malinowski looks very comfortable on the infield turf at 2B. Utility star Nick Biddison got the nod at 1B on Saturday and looked like he'd played there his whole life. He even made this incredible over the shoulder catch in foul territory:
Cross was the first to shorten Rams pitcher Jack Popolizio’s day, grounding out and scoring Nick Biddison, as a response to true freshman Drue Hackenberg’s lone run allowed in the first inning. A sac fly from C Cade Hunter in the second inning was the last run allowed by Popolizio, as he was taken out going into the third.
Both teams used four pitchers in total, and one tactic worth noting was the complete difference in willingness to keep pitchers in. The Rams - simply put - extended their guys’ outings as much as possible. Whereas on the other side, Szefc was not afraid to call to the arm barn, as two of his guys’ outings lasted less than an inning.
The Hokies’ bats continued to shorten pitcher’s outings going forward. They held the rest of the extended relief to an average of two innings a piece, as a string of poor walks from the Rams bullpen, combined with extra base hits spread all around the ballpark from over six guys in the Hokies lineup led to two multi-run innings in the latter half of the ballgame.
Per Tech Sideline's Chris Hirons, Szefc was more than pleased to see Hackenberg and company reclaim the lead.
“It wasn’t out of reach by any means," said Szefc. "But it was nice to get our first come from behind win technically… Hackenberg didn’t really have his best stuff but battled through it which was good.”
And furthermore, he was especially excited about Hurley’s performance, who is nine for his last ten at bats, saying he was surprised it took the Rams so long to intentionally walk him, which occurred in the bottom of the fifth, after tacking on one of his three hits (a home run) the at bat beforehand. Hurley and Malinowski were the two to go deep today, finishing with three of the six runs batted in on the day.
Up Next: High Point on Tuesday; 3 Game Series vs. Wright State
The Hokies did what was expected of them this weekend, which is more than a lot of teams can say early in the season. Already, ACC teams have been victims to a fair share of upsets. Miami lost a stunner to Harvard, who hadn't played a game in over two years. Reigning ACC Tourney champs Duke lost their opening game to VMI, and last year's regular season champs Notre Dame lost to Delaware in a midweek game. Similarly, Florida State lost a midweek game to Jacksonville. All of those are ranked teams losing to teams that don't have that much more talent than a Fordham team picked to finish middle-of-the-pack in the Atlantic 10. Point being, upsets happen to everyone early in the season, so avoiding them is a strong statement.
However, the Hokies will get a midweek matchup against another bottom dweller in the Big South Conference, High Point. The Panthers are 1-7 to start the season after being swept by Jacksonville and losing 3 of 4 to Toledo with a bludgeoning by NC State and freshman phenom Tommy "Tanks" White. (Take a minute to google Tommy White, he's ridiculous) The Hokies should have no problem on Tuesday, and resting some starters would be expected.
The first real test of the season will come when the Ramblers of Wright State come to Blacksburg for a three game weekend series. Don't let their 0-6 record fool you. The Ramblers took Georgia Tech and Oklahoma State to the brink twice and have the talent to do so again with the Hokies. Starting pitcher Logan Tabeling will be the best arm the Hokies have faced so far this season, and his battery mate Sam Sass is pre-season player of the year in the Horizon League according to D1 Baseball. Wright State is a really good mid-major program, but there has been a significant amount of roster turnover from the team that led the nation in all three slash categories (batting average, on-base %, slugging). Also, the Ramblers have struggled with their other two starting pitchers, Jake Shirk and Aaron Ernst. Shirk gave up 6 in the first inning at Georgia Tech in a 16-5 loss, while Ernst got peppered for 9 first inning runs in a 26-3 loss to Oklahoma State.
A final boost to the Hokies? It looks like false-spring will be in full effect in Blacksburg over the weekend, as temperatures will be in the 60's. A solid home-field advantage should give the Hokies a boost of energy. All three games this weekend will be televised on ACCN Extra, while the High Point game will only be available on radio and live stats.