No. 3 Virginia Tech Continues Surge In Quest For ACC Regular Season Title

Carson Jones came up to bat in the penultimate game of the ACC regular season. No. 3 Virginia Tech was locked in a pitcher’s duel in the bottom of the seventh, holding a 1-0 advantage because of Carson DeMartini’s solo home run in the third, all with ACC regular season champion implications on the line.

Jones swung at a 2-1 pitch and delivered a two-run home run. A crowd rose and cheered. Jones’s fourth home run in three games — he hit two in Thursday’s victory over Duke — stood as the game-winning hit in a 6-1 series-clinching win over the Blue Devils (22-31, 10-19 ACC). It marked the first time since 2013 that Tech took a series from Duke, and it also gave the Hokies (39-11, 18-9 ACC) their ninth-straight ACC series win.

Yes, that really happened at English Field on Friday night, and it’s happened all season. Because of Jones’s emergence, the Hokies have another left-handed power bat that head coach John Szefc could pencil in the lineup — even if it took him to the last four games of the regular season to find that piece.

Virginia Tech still has something to play for in the twilight in this regular season. It claimed sole possession of first place in the conference for the first time all season after No. 9 Miami’s 5-0 loss to No. 14 Notre Dame on Friday. But if the Hokies lose to Duke and Miami bests Notre Dame on Sunday, the Hurricanes will leapfrog VT for the No. 1 seed. In all other scenarios, Tech walks away with the conference regular season championship.

Did the Hokies expect to be in this position at the start of the season?

“I don’t want to say no,” Szefc said after Friday win. “I went into the season and I didn’t know what to expect. There [were] so many unproved guys and our pitching staff was a little unproven. I go back to guys like [Jordan] Geber, [Kiernan] Higgins, [Jonah] Hurney; guys that have taken on bigger roles than they had in the past.”

And quite the story it is. The Hokies were projected to finish second-to-last in the Coastal Division and they started their conference schedule 0-4 at Georgia Tech and vs. Pitt. Since, they’ve ripped off 18 wins in their final 23 ACC games.

It’s all added up to an almost-certain lock to, at the minimum, host an NCAA Tournament Regional. Tech is projected to be the national No. 3 seed and could control its destiny to the College World Series if all goes right.

But Virginia Tech kept its slim advantage in its fifth-straight victory on Friday. Jones’s home run nudged it across the finish line.

The right fielder, who was inserted in the lineup for the first time since March 11 on Tuesday, spent most of the season on the bench. Before his start vs. Kansas State, he played in just nine games, starting once, and only appearing when Tech already had a win in hand.

His insurance-filling home run was set up by seven strong innings from Drue Hackenberg, who yielded a run and struck out seven. Tech tacked on three more runs in the bottom of the eighth. Kiernan Higgins finished it by pitching the final two innings,  and the crowd roared once Lucas Donlon brought in the final out of the game in foul territory near first base.

Virginia Tech’s clubhouse can taste the finish line, and it’s taken the buy-in from everyone on the squad. No complaints if your name isn’t written on the lineup card. Everyone understands their role.

Nick Holesa, who was a regular starter at first base, has watched from the dugout until the late innings when Szefc needs a defensive replacement. And Jones, who was recruited in the same 2019 class with Gavin Cross and Cade Hunter, waited his turn all year until he finally got it.

Coming into the season, Szefc didn’t want to put labels on any of his players. Rather, he wanted them to understand their job. It’s that balance of the household names becoming big contributors to the lesser-known names giving significant contributions to the club night in and night out.

Hackenberg, who sported a 2.44 ERA after finishing off another masterpiece, did his part. He set down the first nine hitters he faced, adding in a four-seam fastball to complement his sinker and curveball. 

“You’re talking about a guy [Hackenberg] that just won his 10th game,” Szefc said of the program’s first 10-game winner since 2013. “That’s pretty special.”

But the Hokies’ offense didn’t look like it got much sleep after scoring 15 runs the previous night.

Duke’s Jonathan Santucci carried a 4.58 ERA into the game. Yet, after allowing a lead-off single to Nick Biddison, he sat the next seven hitters down before DeMartini’s solo shot with an out in the third.

Santucci finished the game with five strikeouts, the most he’s recorded in a game since striking out 10 against High Point on May 1. However, he only lasted 5 ⅔ innings when he walked Jack Hurley to put runners on first and third. Jimmy Loper would strikeout Eduardo Malinowski to end the sixth inning a batter later.

Loper went on to allow a lead-off single to Hunter in the seventh, which Jones followed with his two-run homer to add to Tech’s lead, 3-0. Duke scratched across its first run in the eighth once Hackenberg was pulled after allowing a walk and a hit-by-pitch. Then Higgins trotted in from the bullpen to put the fire out with a fielder’s choice, a sacrifice fly and a strikeout.

Loper, meanwhile, pitched the eighth. That’s when Virginia Tech scored three runs on a Malinowski double and Conor Hartigan’s two-run single that put the game out of reach, 6-1, just the way Tech drew it up.

“Coming in [to the year], we knew this team’s talent was slept on,” Hackenberg said. “We can come out and compete with anyone.”


Six Home Runs Guide No. 3 Virginia Tech In Series-Opening Win vs. Duke

The whole year has been a fantasy come to life, a magic carpet ride from the first pitch on Feb. 18 to the heart-pounding thrills of the early summer. As it inched even closer Thursday night to its crowning moment of a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament, No. 3 Virginia Tech somehow found itself in a delirious way of locking down a national seed for the first time in program history.

In the first inning against Duke, Cade Hunter gave the Hokies their first lead of the day, 3-1, the first of four lead changes. And then trailing by three runs, 7-4, in the fourth, ill-used Carson Jones smoked his first of two homers that inched Tech a little closer. 

An inning later, after Duke scored two more runs to extend its lead to four, 9-5, VT countered with six runs.

Hunter drove in his third run of the day with a single into right field. Next, Eduardo Malinowski pulled a three-run home run to left-center that cleared the wall by plenty for his first homer since April 1, which tied the game at nine. And finally, Jones lifted his second big fly of the day to center — his third in two games — that gave the Hokies the lead for good.

To add some separation, Nick Biddison tacked on another with a solo shot, which was the fifth of six home runs the Hokies hit on Thursday. Tech, who led 11-9 at that point, never trailed again in its 15-11 win over the Blue Devils.

“I just wanted to get out there and show how hard I’ve been working,” Jones said after his third start of the year. “I feel like I did that and it was just exciting to get back out there.”

That all accumulated to Tanner Schobel’s sixth inning solo home run that extended Tech’s lead to 12-10, and it turned out to be the critical insurance run Virginia Tech (38-11, 17-9 ACC) needed in its victory over Duke (22-30, 10-18 ACC). Tech, too, recorded its 17th conference win of the season, which set a new program record.

“I thought that was one of the best [games] we’ve had all year,” head coach John Szefc said after the win. “Reason why, it was ugly and sloppy at times — it was difficult — but our guys still found a way to come through that, and even more so on the pitching side. … That was a really difficult way to pitch with how hot it was.”

Tech remained in second place in the Coastal Division — it was once expected to finish sixth before the season began — and once No. 9 Miami beat No. 14 Notre Dame, still trailed by a game-and-a-half. For Tech to win the division and surpass Miami, it needs to win one more game than the Hurricanes this weekend.

If that happens, then Virginia Tech more than likely wins the ACC regular season title — which would be a first in program history. And it would create a new baseball memory.

Schobel’s home run, though, created an entire memory in itself when it was ruled a foul ball. He immediately called for the home run to be reviewed — which it was — but that wasn’t even the wackiest part.

Schobel grabbed his bat after jogging back towards home plate as the umpires reviewed the call under the concourse. He waited some more and once they returned to the field to overturn their call, he flipped his bat 10 feet into the air towards the third base dugout in celebration — a phantom home run, if you will.

“I never usually flip my bat on a home run,” Schobel said. “But I really wanted to there.”

The Hokies lost some control after the Blue Devils stung Griffin Green for six runs in three innings, then the bullpen for four more earned runs. Once Tech took the first lead of the day in the bottom of the first, Duke battled back, tying the score at three in the top of the second on Alex Stone’s first of two home runs Thursday.

Then, when Nick Biddison grounded out to short to manufacture a run in the fourth, the Blue Devils powered back with a four-run fourth and a two-run fifth to put themselves on top, 9-5.

But together, using a six-run fifth, the Hokies turned a watch-through-your-fingers game into a comfortable victory by the time the final pitch was thrown.

“We’re just trying to keep guys in as ‘play mode’ as possible, let’s just worry about what’s in front of us right now,” Szefc said. “And at the end of it, you can celebrate or do whatever you want to do. But, like, you cannot just [look too far down the road] right now.”

But what turned it from a close, two-run game into a four-run victory after Schobel’s home run in the sixth? Well, a three-run seventh inning that included a Biddison RBI double, a Gavin Cross fly out and Schobel’s ground out that Biddison slid head-first into home, just narrowly beating the tag.

Virginia Tech took a 15-10 lead heading into the final two innings, and aside from a solo home run Jonah Hurney yielded in the ninth inning, the Hokies never looked back. 

They haven’t looked back since the season began. Not when they were 10-1 to open the season, not when they dropped the first four conference games only to go 17-5 since, and certainly not now.

Virginia Tech’s Jordan Geber & His Journey From Concussion To Starter

Three months ago, Jordan Geber climbed up the pitcher’s mound in live-action for the first time in a Virginia Tech uniform and waited for the monster to return. His confidence that he built up as a senior over his final three starts last spring at Mount St. Mary’s — four earned runs in 24 innings — was lost. 

On that chilly day in late February, he yielded a home run and recorded the final out in the Hokies’ 7-3 win over Fordham. The themes between Geber and his team were common: both were relatively unknown on the national stage, but it was an early sign of what was to come.

For Virginia Tech, it was a simple three-game non-conference series sweep that added to the team’s early season confidence. 

The Hokies knew their team was going to be good — despite being picked to finish sixth in the Coastal Division — and they were right. It’s accumulated into the third-best team in the country entering this weekend’s series against Duke, with a chance to win the division — and the ACC outright — for the first time in program history.

For Geber, it represented a small — but significant — step in his recovery from a severe concussion he suffered in a car accident while returning to campus after the semester break. 

Since entering the rotation in mid-April, he’s turned in four solid appearances — his only dud came on May 1 at then-No. 11 Virginia, where Geber said he and fellow pitcher Drue Hackenberg didn’t throw well because a cold and food poisoning — and was recently named ACC Pitcher of the Week.

Jordan Geber awoke in a Northern Virginia hospital on January 10 with no memory of the previous four days.

“I couldn’t see straight, couldn’t put any stress on anything,” he said.

Geber was traveling from his family’s home in Eastern Maryland to report back to Virginia Tech on January 9 when his car hydroplaned in the rain, bounced off of a truck and then hit a guardrail.

A tow truck driver was called to haul Geber’s car away, and as he was loading up the car, he noticed Geber stumbling around. He was mumbling, a little dazed and confused after the accident.

“That’s when [the tow truck driver] saw I wasn’t right,” Geber said. “I was hitting my head over and over again, I couldn’t see, couldn’t hear. He put me in his truck and drove to a Reston fire station. They put me in an ambulance and took me to the trauma center.”

He was sedated at the hospital once he reached it, and the next morning, Geber woke up with no memory of the accident, nor could he recall the three days before that. 

“I stayed at home for two weeks and then it was another two-to-two-and-a-half weeks before I could throw,” Geber said. “Even then, I had to regain all my strength. … I lost close to 10 pounds.”

Two weeks after the accident when he returned to Tech, the recovery period with the team began. Head coach John Szefc hoped to build him back up again and return to the mound before ACC play began in March.

It proved to be a challenge for Szefc and his staff, but just not because of the concussion. Geber’s confidence was lost as he continued to build back his strength to return to the mound. In some ways, he had to learn how to pitch again after the five weeks were up, but he had no time to waste with the season beginning in mid-February.

“Getting back here, it was just about doing the best I could every outing,” Geber said. “Up until the Pitt series [March 18-20], I didn’t really have a feel for pitching. I had to teach myself how to pitch again, in a sense.”

Geber wasn’t sure what it would take for his confidence and feel for his pitches to return — he said he had trouble controlling his pitches once he was cleared to throw bullpens. That was until Geber was standing alone in the outfield prior to the Pitt series when Kyle Sarazin, Tech’s Director of Player Development, approached Geber for a quick conversation.

“He just told me to have confidence in myself and to believe in myself,” Geber said. “He said, ‘you were in a really bad accident. If you would’ve come back and been the same old guy you used to be, it would have been a miracle. You were hospitalized and you have to take it a day at a time, and get better every day.’

“I stick true to that everyday – as both a person and as a player.”

And from there, it was uphill for Geber.

“He was brought in here as a starter,” Szefc said after Geber’s first game on Feb. 27. “ … He’ll be a big contributor when he gets going.”

Geber turned in a few more outings from the bullpen from March to mid-April, delivering mixed results. He threw 1 ⅓ shutout innings in his next appearance against Wright State on March 4, but he was hit around in his next outing at Georgia Tech a week later.

He yielded the same type of results — some a step in the right direction, others not-so-much — until he was awarded with a start on April 16 against then-No. 2 Miami.

Pitching coach Ryan Fecteau and Szefc had worked all season long to find a Sunday starter. 

First, it was Ryan Okuda that delivered mixed results. Then, Henry Weycker — who’s been dominant out of the bullpen all year — was given a Sunday start against then-No. 21 NC State. That, too, didn’t work out.

Geber turned in one of the better “Sunday” starts — it was the third game of the series but played on Saturday due to Easter — the team had seen up until that point all season. He threw three solid innings — his only blemish came in the third when he served up a two-run double — but worked out of the third without any further damage.

From there, Virginia Tech had its third starter.

“Going into the [Miami] week, coach Szefc sent a text and said, ‘look, we need to figure out Sunday and if you believe you should [start], let me know,’” Geber said. “Coming off a few good outings, I felt really, really good — my stuff was working. I told him, ‘I came here to start, I want to be a starter, I think my stuff is good now — I think I give us the best shot to win on a Sunday.’”

The next week at Boston College, Geber turned in his best performance to that point in the season. He fired 4 ⅓ innings, allowed two runs (one earned) and struck out five batters before handing the ball off to Weycker to record the final 14 outs in Tech’s series-sweeping victory.

Geber was roughed up in his next start at Virginia, where he only lasted an inning and yielded four runs. He was pulled in the second inning before Weycker and Tech’s offense completed a comeback win to clinch the series — the club’s seventh-straight ACC series victory to the point.

A two-game non-conference series during exam week pushed Geber’s next start back to May 11 — a mid-week matchup against Liberty — and all he did was fire three perfect innings before Szefc and Fecteau pulled him in preparation for his next Sunday start against then-No. 7 Louisville.

“He was really, really big for us,” Szefc said of Geber after the walk-off win over Liberty. “We’re just trying to get him on track to be a quality starter. He faces a good lineup and only faces nine hitters. We probably could’ve run him out for the fourth but Fecteau talked about getting him out after two-or-three innings to keep him ready for the weekend.”

All of that — the accident, the concussion, the hospital stay, the recovery, the conversation in the outfield with Sarazin — added up to Geber’s best start all year. That gave Tech the boost it needed to defeat Louisville and win its eighth consecutive conference series.

After Geber faced the minimum against Liberty, he turned around and fired four more shutout innings with five strikeouts against the Cardinals. He yielded the only hit he’s surrendered in his past two starts with two outs in the third.

And to top it all off, he was awarded ACC Pitcher of the Week for his seven combined innings of one-hit ball — a well-deserved award that culminated because of Geber’s perseverance for all he’s gone through in 2022.

“I was supposed to start games before the year,” Geber said. “It was the most confident I felt in my career after winter workouts and everything was looking really good. I was super excited to get back here, but it just shows you how fast things can change.

“I guess it was a reminder that life can come at you fast.”

Everything Clicks For No. 5 Virginia Tech In Series Win Over No. 7 Louisville

The latest attempt for No. 5 Virginia Tech at a winning formula, at a time when one will have to click, proved to be simple, effective and able to hold off one of the more dangerous teams in the country.

It began with Jordan Geber on the bump, who turned in another quick – but excellent – start. It ended with Kiernan Higgins picking up the final five outs and stranding the tying run on first base in the ninth. He racked up his fourth save of the season in a 6-4 win on Sunday afternoon at English Field over No. 7 Louisville. 

That allowed the Hokies (36-11, 16-9 ACC) to leap ahead of the Cardinals (35-15-1, 16-10-1 ACC) in the standings, and it gave them their first series victory over Louisville since 1995. It’s the first since they joined the ACC in 2015 and it gave Tech its 16th ACC win, tying the most in program history. It also proved that, with the options at hand, there is a way to win Sunday games – once a struggle for Tech at the beginning of the year.

Geber faced the minimum on Wednesday in a mid-week start against Liberty and then turned around and fired four more shutout innings on Sunday. He yielded the only hit he’s surrendered in his past two starts with two outs in the third.

“Everything was working,” Geber said after the win. “Once I kicked my cold after the Virginia series, I would have my feel back for my fastball. I just kept believing in myself and having confidence in myself.”

The offense, revved by Gavin Cross’s two run homer – his second in as many days – in the fourth inning and boosted by Jack Hurley’s go-ahead single in the sixth, tacked on three insurance runs over the final three frames. That followed Jonah Hurney’s dominant outing –  he surrendered two unearned runs in the fifth – and Higgins recorded his first save since April 23 at Boston College.

Tech head coach John Szefc pressed all the right buttons once again. And, like it has all season, a good process became a good result.

“You get contributions from a lot of guys,” Szefc said. “It’s not just one or two guys. I mean, Geber is an emerging starting pitcher … The last two days, [Carson] DeMartini has had two-out hits in the ninth to provide insurance. That’s huge, it’s a whole different game.”

Even though the Hokies dropped the first game of the weekend series on Friday, 8-1, their urgency didn’t waver. They’ve been healthy all year and believe that their nine will come out and beat your nine any day of the week. They’ve stuck to that all year – even if they weren’t on the national radar to begin the year.

“Well, we’ve done it against Wright State, we’ve done it against Pitt,” Szefc said, referring to the two series his team has won after dropping the opener. “[Louisville] is pretty high-caliber. I’m just really happy for our guys, that’s a mental test.”

Virginia Tech still continues to play like one of college baseball’s best clubs, where winning has become the expectation. But the pressure to do so left the third base dugout at English Field long ago, and instead was replaced with a lot of high-fives, many home run hammers and the yells of, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” when a run comes across to score.

Yet, now the stakes are way back up. There was the expectation of making the NCAA Tournament when the season began. Now, the Hokies might have put themselves in the driver’s seat to host a Regional – and quite possibly a Super Regional. On top of that, they control their own destiny to the College World Series.

That’s because of the way they’ve handled themselves throughout conference play. Since they were swept by Georgia Tech in mid-March, all the Hokies have done is rattle off 26 wins in their last 31 games and win eight-straight conference series – six of them to top-25 teams. 

Their latest attempt in Sunday’s rubber match began with Geber’s five strikeouts in four shutout innings. Since his dud against Virginia on May 1, he’s fired seven shutout and given up just one hit in the two starts since.

He was taken out in a scoreless game, but that’s when Virginia Tech was able to get it going against Cardinals starter Carson Liggett. In the fourth, Cross lifted a two-run home run — one that found the Louisville bullpen with a 37-degree launch angle — after Nick Biddison reached on a hit-by-pitch. It was just enough to give Tech a 2-0 lead for the bullpen to manage the rest of the way.

“I feel like I’ve been on time lately,” Cross said. “I was just trying to come up with the big swing. I’m not trying to hit homers, I’m just trying to find the pitch to hit, and the last two days, I’ve gotten it and haven’t missed it.”

That’s when Hurney came out of the bullpen and yielded the two unearned runs once Lucas Donlon booted a potential inning-ending ground out in the fifth. It gave way to Dalton Rushing’s two-RBI single with the bases loaded that pulled the Cardinals even with Tech.

Hurney worked out of it after getting Cameron Masterman to strike out, and then he set down the next six hitters he faced in the sixth and seventh innings. That gave way to Hurley’s go-ahead single in the bottom of the sixth that scored Cross, who got on base via a one-out single, his second of three hits on the day.

Tech added two more insurance runs on Biddison’s RBI triple that found the right-center field gap, which drove in Carson DeMartini. Cross followed that up with his third hit and RBI of the day in the bottom of the seventh, which increased Tech’s lead to 5-2.

Those runs proved to be crucial once Graham Firoved yielded two runs out of the bullpen in the eighth. He recorded the first out, but surrendered a solo home run to Dalton Rushing and a walk to Masterman. The Cardinals had pulled to within two runs, 5-3, and that’s what ended Firoved’s day in favor of Higgins.

He yielded a single that scored Chris Seng, who pinch-ran for Masterson, but quickly got the final two outs of the inning.

Tech added another run in the eighth once Cade Hunter singled to lead-off the frame and later stole second with two outs. That gave DeMartini the chance to single him home and give the Hokies another insurance run, 6-4.

Then, Higgins closed the door in the ninth, but not before a little drama unfolded. He struck out Issac Humphrey on three pitches. Next, he hit Brandon Anderson with a pitch and gave up a one-out single to Ben Bianco to put the tying-run on first.

Higgins locked in and quickly recorded the final two outs. One was a deep fly ball to left-center that Cross was able to chase down, and then Higgins got Ben Metzinger to weakly ground out to Schobel at short.

In what proved to be the weakness last year, the bullpen has been the strength this year. The relievers for Virginia Tech have been rock solid this season, rarely blowing saves, and can carry a game when a starting pitcher isn’t able to give it his best effort. It’s funny, almost ironic, how that works sometimes.

Pitching Dominant as No. 5 Virginia Tech edges out No. 7 Louisville

The cheers were loud, and for a pretty good reason, when Virginia Tech head coach John Szefc took the baseball from Drue Hackenberg with an out in the sixth inning.

It was his seventh trek back to the dugout on Saturday afternoon, and like he had in each of his eight home starts this season, he exited at the center of a standing ovation from a scattered crowd at English Field.

Hokies’ fans appreciated his effort – two runs in 6 ⅓ innings – but also recognized its continued significance for his team. When Hackenberg pitches well, and in games where it needs him most, No. 5 Virginia Tech (35-11, 15-9 ACC) has a true stopper on the mound. That matters when the Hokies drop a series-opener game – a rare occurrence, but it’s happened a handful of times this year, including this Friday.

And that will matter once the NCAA Tournament rolls around and Tech hopes to be one of the top-eight national seeds with home-field advantage through the Super Regional round.

Hackenberg didn’t throw a pitch in the fall and Szefc wasn’t sure he’d be ready to start games. That was until he shoved in his very first start against UNC Asheville back in mid-February in Tech’s first series of the year.

“I remember that we were saying we were going to use an opener for him,” Szefc said. “We were trying to protect him a little bit. I give [assistant coaches Kurt] Elbin and [Ryan] Fecteau a lot of credit. They said, ‘he trends as a starter and we’re going to run him out as a starter.’”

Since, all he’s done is turn in a 2.54 ERA in 12 starts (13 appearances) in 78 innings to give counter-evidence to Szefc’s opener suggestion. And a 4-3 win over No. 7 Louisville (34-14-1, 16-9-1 ACC) on Saturday – Tech’s first head-to-head win in eight tries over the Cardinals since they joined the ACC in 2013 – provided even more.

“I go back to … that stretch of five games,” Szefc said, alluding to Tech’s five-game losing streak in March. “On two different occasions, we lost two Friday games [to Georgia Tech and Pitt]. I think our guys have gotten good at going one stanza at a time and not look too far beyond, and that’s kind of where we’re at.”

It wasn’t his longest start of the year, and yes, he needed help from the bullpen to finish another masterpiece, but it was arguably one of the best starts he turned in all year. His sinker dove a little more, his slider bit a little more, and it was the key to success in generating more swings and misses than he did in previous starts.

That culminated in all those cheers he received once Henry Weycker trekked in from the bullpen to complete the final 2 ⅔ innings. 

Weycker has been nails coming out of the bullpen all year, but especially in the last three series the Hokies have played. He yielded two runs in 4 ⅔ against Boston College on April 24, but it was enough to pick up Jordan Geber and complete the only conference sweep Tech has to date.

Since then, he’s tossed nine innings across three appearances – 4 ⅔ at No. 14 Virginia, 1 ⅔ against Villanova and 2 ⅔ against Louisville – and hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 11 innings.

“As a lefty, he’s so tough to hit,” Tech left fielder Jack Hurley said. “His fastball has so much run and his slider runs so far away.”

But how Tech got to the finish line was against its recent trend, a little unconventional for the Hokies in recent weeks. They haven’t had the luxury of playing with a lead – all five of their wins since they beat UVa on April 30 have been come-from-behind.

That changed on Saturday when Gavin Cross smoked a two-run home run in the bottom of the third. And after VT loaded the bases later in the inning, Eduardo Malinowski’s sacrifice fly drove Hurley in, good enough for a 3-0 lead.

“[Cross’s homer] kind of got the monkey off our back,” Szefc said. 

Louisville struck back with a run in the fifth when Hackenberg yielded a lead-off single to Cameron Masterman and then a one-out walk to Logan Beard, which put runners on first and second. Brandon Anderson singled up the middle on a 1-1 pitch to drive Masterman home and put runners on the corners. But Hackenberg battled back after striking out Ben Bianco and forced Ben Metzinger to foul out to end the fifth.

The real drama, however, didn’t start until the seventh inning when Hackenberg surrendered a one-out single to Issac Humphrey. That’s when Humphrey moved up to second on a wild pitch and Beard singled him home, which cut the deficit to one run.

Hackenberg departed to the cheers and then Weycker turned in a one-pitch 6-3 ground ball double play to end the inning and the Cardinals’ threat.

The drama died down soon after and then rose again in the bottom of the eighth when Carson DeMartini singled Brennan Reback home with two outs – an insurance run the Hokies would need for the ninth inning.

With Tech up by two, 4-2, entering the ninth, Weycker had little trouble recording the first out on a three-pitch strikeout. But that’s when Masterman singled to second and then was able to move up to second after Malinowski fired a throw into the Louisville dugout. Then he advanced to third with one out when Weycker’s plant foot slipped on the wet dirt in the middle of his motion, which was ruled a balk.

A pitch later, Weycker hit Humphrey, which gave way to Beard’s RBI single on a 1-2 pitch, bringing the Cardinals to within a run. 

But Weycker didn’t back down. Rather, he got Anderson to foul out to left field – an effort in which Hurley said he was ready to dive over the wall and onto the concrete path that leads to the bullpen – and he struck out Drake Westcott on three pitches to end the afternoon, earning his first career save in the process.

The Hokies haven’t been in this exact position to take an ACC series since they dropped the series-opener to Pitt in their second conference series this season. Nevertheless, they’ll be ready to win their eighth-straight ACC series once first pitch rolls around Sunday morning.

“We’ll be ready,” Hurley said. “We’ll just need to pitch well and bring our bats with us.”

Pitching, Lucas Donlon Give No. 5 Virginia Tech A Season Sweep over Liberty

To celebrate its fourth straight win, No. 5 Virginia Tech jumped over the dugout rail, many with hands raised, and headed out to drench Lucas Donlon with a Gatorade bath in center field.

Flashback a few moments and you’ll see Donlon rope a soft line drive that landed just beyond where the outfield grass meets the artificial dirt between the shortstop and the third baseman, which drove in Eduardo Malinowski for the game-winning run.

It was good for a 2-1 final score on a Wednesday night at English Field that, until the ninth, wouldn’t bend for any Hokie. That was until the ninth inning. 

A one-out hit-by-pitch that Tanner Schobel wore off the elbow. A passed ball that allowed the Tech shortstop to move up to second. Malinowski’s game-tying RBI single through the right side, and then Donlon’s decisive swing with the bases-loaded three batters later off of Cade Hungate on a pitch up near his hands.

“It felt unreal, to be honest,” Donlon said minutes after his game-winning knock. “This team has something about it. [We] never give up, never out of the game. No lead is ever too big for us. All of us in the locker room believe in that, too.”

Wednesday marked another solid RPI win over Liberty, who’s ranked No. 40, as VT swept the season series over the Flames for the first time since 2011. And it was the second walk-off win in back-to-back games after Carson DeMartini’s ground-rule double in a 3-2 win over Villanova on Sunday

The Hokies are now 34-10 (14-8 ACC) – their most wins since their 40-win season in 2013 – sitting in third-place in the ACC with No. 7 Louisville coming to town this weekend. Against Liberty, they were led by a quartet of pitchers that allowed the single unearned run, and scratched across two runs when it mattered most.

“I guess you could say it is,” head coach John Szefc said when asked about if it’s Tech’s year. “That was about as well-pitched of a game as you’ll ever see – for both sides. … We didn’t have to [burn through our bullpen] against a team like Liberty. We had some good at-bats in the ninth.”

By logging the first three innings on 38 pitches, Jordan Geber bounced back from his first dud this year on May 1 at Virginia, where he allowed four runs in 1+ innings. On Wednesday, he faced the minimum in his three innings while striking out four on 27 strikes. Pitching coach Ryan Fecteau didn’t run him out for longer to leave him ready for the weekend against the Cardinals.

He rediscovered his groove without any trouble and has been exactly what Szefc has asked for after struggling to find a Sunday starter for the better part of the year. Geber worked two solid starts on April 16 against Miami and on April 24 at Boston Collegeand has been Tech’s third option since.

“He was really, really big for us,” Szefc said of Geber. “We’re just trying to get him on track to be a quality starter. He faces a good lineup and only faces nine hitters. We probably could’ve run him out for the fourth but [pitching coach Ryan] Fecteau talked about getting him out after two-or-three innings to keep him ready for the weekend.”

For the first two innings, Geber and Liberty’s starter Trey Gibson traded zeros on the scoreboard. Yet, despite Gibson yielding a lead-off single to Nick Biddison in the first then walking Cade Hunter in the second inning, neither made it past first base. For the third, Cole Garrett struck out a batter on seven pitches out of the bullpen.

After going down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the third, Ryan Metz came out of the bullpen and got two quick outs on four pitches via a ground ball and a fly ball. Then, it looked like he had worked the fourth consecutive 1-2-3 inning before Schobel waited on a ball that bounced twice. Hurried, he fired a throw that bounced in front of Donlon at first and bled into the Liberty dugout. The error allowed Three Hillier to move up to second, which allowed Derek Orndorff to single him home a batter later.

Metz bounded back and forced a lineout to Malinowski at second, but the damage had been done. 

In the next half inning, Jack Hurley roped his 21st double of the year, his helmet flew off rounding second, which tied him for fifth in the nation in two-baggers with one out. But, just like Biddison and Hunter, he was left stranded.

From there, Max Alba and Dylan Cumming set down the next 10 Virginia Tech hitters in a row before Hunter reached on an error in the seventh. He, too, was left stranded once again after Christian Martin grounded out to second to end the inning.

After Metz yielded the unearned run in the fourth, he set down six of the seven batters he faced in the fifth and sixth innings. Once he departed, he had worked three innings, allowed two hits, no walks and struck out four. That’s when Chrisitan Worley, who’s delivered favorable results in his last two outings (three shutout innings), kept the door closed on the Flames’ offense.

Worley pitched the seventh and eighth, matching Cumming just about pitch-for-pitch. He worked around two runners in his outing (a two-out walk in the seventh and a two-out single in the eighth) for his third straight scoreless outing.

But the Hokies still needed a run after he, and the other two arms before him, exited. At the top of the ninth was when Szefc turned to Kiernan Higgins, a high-strikeout, hard-throwing right-hander that has emerged as one of the most trusted arms as the season’s progressed. 

He delivered with a flawless ninth inning, striking out two and inducing a soft ground ball to Schobel at short, setting up his bats to walk it off again. And when the run came, once Donlon ripped that high-and-tight fastball, it was only because of the at-bats before him.

“He’s tough, he never complains,” Szefc said of Donlon. “Good things happen to good people.”

It was Schobel’s hit-by-pitch, then Malinowski’s RBI knock on a two-seamer running away from his bat, where he poked the bat head out and went with the pitch to right field. 

Then it was Hunter’s first-pitch single that hung up long enough to stretch out of the reach of Liberty’s shortstop. Next was Martin’s full-count walk where he jumped ahead 3-0 before looking at strike one and fouling off strike two. He watched a pitch run high and miss the strike zone, giving a chance for Donlon to play hero.

“[In those big at-bats] it’s really focusing on my approach,” Malinowski said. “That at-bat I had in the seventh off [Cumming], he jammed me a little bit, so I knew I had to put the ball on the ground to the right side. I just backed off the plate, and tried to do my job and I got the right pitch to do it, and it worked.”

And finally, an unlikely hero, a utility infielder that’s been in-and-out of the lineup for the past two years, delivered in one of the biggest at-bats of his life.

“They just know how to win,” Szefc said. “I just don’t know what to say about it. They just do things in the clutch.”

No. 5 Virginia Tech Walks Off Villanova Sunday; Sweeps Two-Game Series

The stakes were simple when No. 5 Virginia Tech’s day began on Sunday: Take care of business, pad the win column and sweep Villanova in a two-game series after beating the Wildcats by 10 runs the night before. Lose and run the risk of falling down in the RPI system and have its fate tested – at least a little bit. 

The Hokies control their own destiny as the projected No. 3 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament with potential series wins over No. 7 Louisville and Duke over the next two weekends. But there was no reason to bring that into the equation … quite yet. 

After Saturday’s whirlwind of a night that began with a 7 p.m. first pitch — rain pushed the start time back by five hours — which included Tech falling behind by five runs after the second inning, only to claw back and score 15 runs over the final four, Sunday was the complete opposite. However, it was a little dramatic compared to the 15-5 win in game one. 

Tech chose the easy path, though it was quite difficult to get there. Winners of 23 of their last 27 and 13 of their last 15, the Hokies and Carson DeMartini walked off Villanova on Sunday, 3-2, exactly 365 days since their last walk-off victory. On May 8, 2021, Nick Biddison drove home Fritz Genther on a sacrifice-fly to steal a victory against Toledo.

“I don’t think they panic at all,” head coach John Szefc said of his players after the walk-off. “I think that they’re thinking, ‘we’re going to come back and win this thing.’ It’s just a matter of how it’s going to happen.”

But oh, how times have changed. A year ago, the Hokies were in the midst of their ACC free fall, dropping 15 of their final 17 conference games, and slipped into the conference tournament as the final team.

This season? Virginia Tech (33-10, 14-8 ACC) has won seven of its eight ACC series. And, if all goes right, VT could win the Coastal Division if No. 6 Miami continues its slide in conference play.

The focus, however, was on Sunday – beating a Villanova team that can only play spoiler down the stretch. And the Wildcats almost did that after scoring two unearned runs off of Drue Hackenberg in the top of the seventh, who was nearly unhittable for most of the afternoon.

He yielded a single with an out in the top of the first but soon settled in after inducing a fly out and a ground out to end the inning. That’s when his offense gave him the lead as Biddison beat out an infield single to shortstop, swiped second four pitches later and then scored on Tanner Schobel’s 60th team-leading RBI this season.

Hackenberg, who’s just about shoved in nine of his 11 starts, brought his best stuff to the ballpark for the rest of the afternoon, setting down 13 of the 16 hitters he faced between the second and sixth inning. His sinker is his best pitch – his head coach John Szefc will be the first to tell you that – and of the 21 outs he recorded, two-thirds were via the ground ball.

“He only threw 70 pitches in seven innings,” Szefc said of Hackenberg. “He pitches really efficiently. … It was pretty vintage Hackenberg.” 

The true freshman nearly worked seven shutout innings until he drilled Villanova’s John Whooley with an 0-2 pitch with an out and DeMartini botched a potential inning-ending double play at third base that allowed AJ Hansen to reach. That set up Pat O’Neill’s two-out, two-RBI double that put the Wildcats out in front, 2-1, with an out in the bottom of the seventh. 

They could’ve – and should’ve – added another run when Cameron Hassert singled, but Jack Hurley’s throw from left field arrived as O’Neill was only halfway down the line. That allowed Cade Hunter to easily set up and tag O’Neill out at the plate.

Then, DeMartini had his first chance to play hero after his error when Lucas Donlon reached on an error to extend the bottom of the seventh. He unloaded on a 1-2 pitch, sending a screamer down the right field line all the way to the wall for his first double of the day. However, the inning ended after third base coach Kurt Elbin waved Donlon home, who was only rounding third as the baseball was thrown to the relay man, and Villanova teamed up to gun the tying run down at the plate.

“The thing about that was that they were going to have to go through the top of our lineup,” Szefc said.

Trailing 2-1, Henry Weycker worked a flawless eighth inning, which set the stage for the top of the lineup to do some damage off of Devin Rivera. And Gavin Cross, projected as a top-10 draft pick in July, delivered. He pulled a 1-1 pitch high over the right field to tie the game at two with an out in the eighth.

The “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chants sprang from the Hokies’ dugout and straight into everyone’s ears as Cross reached the dugout and was greeted by his teammates.

In the ninth, after two Villanova batters reached with no outs, Weycker and Kiernan Higgins teamed up to record three outs to send the game tied into the bottom of the ninth. Moreover, it gave Tech its first potential walk-off opportunity at English Field this season.

And that’s exactly what happened as Eduardo Malinowski singled to open the inning. But Tech added a flare for the dramatic when Hunter and Christian Martin were quickly set down. Then, Lucas Donlon walked after working his way back from down 0-2 in the count, which set the stage for DeMartini to be the protagonist once again.

“[Donlon] set that up,” Szefc said. “Probably the biggest at-bat all day.”

After taking a ball and fouling a pitch off, DeMartini delivered a ground-rule double into left-center field, scoring Malinowski from first and sending his team into a frenzy. DeMartini’s teammates chased him into center field, where he was met with pats on his backside, hugs and high-fives.

“We came back yesterday, came back today,” DeMartini said. “It just shows that – this team – there’s nothing standing in the way of us.”

No. 5 Virginia Tech Baseball Takes Weekend Series at No. 14 Virginia

Death, taxes and No. 5 Virginia Tech taking a weekend series from an ACC opponent in 2022.

It’s become a common theme this year, and while some fans’ heads have turned, John Szefc knew his team was this talented coming into the season. In an early February interview, the Hokies’ head coach believed that his team would mirror what Notre Dame did in 2021.

The Irish came out of nowhere last season, claimed the ACC regular season title before falling one win short of a trip to the College World Series last spring. 

“If you went out and watched Notre Dame this time last year,” Szefc said in February, “you’d be saying the same thing. Why is this guy in the lineup? Who even is he?”

Szefc’s evaluation was more than fair. Griffin Green, who has turned in excellent Friday start after excellent Friday start, pitched sparingly last year out of the bullpen; Drue Hackenberg was an unproven freshman that’s quickly turned into one of the best pitchers in the ACC; the lineup and bullpen, which were strengths halfway through 2021, were bullied during the latter portion of the ACC schedule.

But this season, and especially this weekend, Virginia Tech has been the bully.

It was more of an unconventional series win at Disharoon Park in Charlottesville against No. 14 Virginia (33-12, 14-10 ACC) for Virginia Tech (31-10, 14-8 ACC). Typically, Green and Hackenberg team up for a Friday and Saturday win, while turning Sunday into a bullpen day.

The Hokies got the first part of the equation right with a 5-2 on Friday, but Hackenberg struggled in 4 ⅔ innings on Saturday which ended up in a 6-3 loss for Tech. That set up the oft-used bullpen day in game three.

For the second Sunday in a row, Henry Weycker pitched 4 ⅔ innings, which stabilized the game for the offense and gave Tech enough time to overcome a four-run deficit over the final six innings for a 7-5 win.

The Hokies continued to turn heads and jumped up from No. 7 to No. 5 in the D1 Baseball poll on Monday, their highest ranking ever. They also rose 18 spots over the weekend to No. 5 in the RPI rankings.

Friday – Virginia Tech wins 5-2

Green has emerged as one of the best arms in the ACC. A quiet guy in conversation but loud and filled with emotions on the field, he’s helped turn in six-straight series-opening wins on the bump and was just as masterful against the high-powered Cavalier offense.

It wasn’t going to be an easy task – UVa came in with the third-best batting average across Division 1. Tech trailed the Cavaliers by a spot at No. 4, but Green lived up to the challenge after scattering seven hits and four runners to limit Virginia to one run.

He got a lot of help from his defense early. Nick Biddison, Eduardo Malinowski and Carson DeMartini combined for a 9-4-5 relay in the bottom of the second, which cut down Jake Gelof, who tried to take third on a lead-off triple. 

UVa later had runners on second and third before Malinowski leaped in the air to snag a line drive for the second out and then loaded the bases on a walk before Green was able to induce an inning-ending double play.

But the defense was enough to spark Tech’s offense, which scored two runs in the third on DeMartini’s 11th home run of the season and a Jack Hurley RBI single. Virginia struck back with a run in the fourth, but that’s all it would score off of Green. 

In the sixth, Tech added two more insurance runs when Conor Hartigan doubled home Cade Hunter from first and Lucas Donlon traded places with Hartigan on second one pitch later. Then, Biddison smoked a solo home run in the ninth to increase Tech’s lead to 5-1, while Graham Firoved, who recorded the final six outs, yielded a solo homer to Chris Newell in the ninth.

But that’s where the final score would stand as Firoved got the next three hitters to go down in order.

Saturday – Virginia wins 6-3

It’s become synonymous for Hackenberg to follow up Green’s Friday start with a better one of his own. But for the first time since March 13, Tech dropped a Hackenberg start.

Hackenberg worked relatively unscathed for the first three innings until Gelof hit a home run with an out in the fourth. Then with two outs in the fifth, the floodgates opened.

Kyle Teel, Alex Tappen, Gelof and Devin Ortiz all hit two-out RBI singles to give UVa a 6-0 lead by the time Hackenberg departed with two outs in the fifth. Tech responded with Tanner Schobel’s RBI single in the sixth that scored Biddison. Schobel was thrown out trying to steal second, but Gavin Cross scored before he was tagged out.

Grant Umberger, Christian Worley, Ryan Metz, Sean Fisher and Brady Kirtner worked the final 10 scoreless outs for Hackenberg in relief. Schobel added a solo home run in the ninth for his 14th home run of the year to bring Tech closer, 6-3, but Brandon Neeck set down Hurley, Malinowski and Cade Hunter to win Saturday’s game.

Sunday – Virginia Tech wins 7-5

Sunday in the ACC hasn’t been very kind to the Hokies. They’ve been searching for a true Sunday starter all year and received two solid outings from Jordan Geber against Miami two weeks ago and at Boston College last Sunday.

The two starts were enough for Szefc to trust Geber to pitch against one of the top lineups in the nation, but he struggled against the seven batters he faced, yielding four runs on three hits, a walk and two homers. He departed after VT had surrendered a 4-0 lead and that’s when Szefc turned to Weycker, who dealt for the second consecutive Sunday out of the bullpen.

He threw 4 ⅔ scoreless innings, which gave Tech enough time for the offense to figure out Virginia starter Jake Berry, who departed in the fifth inning after VT had pulled back to within a run. 

How did the Hokies get there? Well, a Malinowski sacrifice fly and Hunter’s RBI single in the fourth cut the deficit in half, 4-2. In the fifth, Schobel smoked an RBI double with runners on first and second, while Hurley tied the game at four with a sacrifice fly of his own.

After a short rain-delay before the bottom of the sixth began, Weycker and Firoved worked a scoreless inning after stranding runners on the corners. To begin the seventh, Cross hit the go-ahead home run while Hunter followed with his second RBI single of the game and Lucas Donlon also added an infield RBI single.

Following the top of the seventh, Tech led by three runs, 7-4, as Firoved worked the final 13 outs. However, he yielded a solo homer to Tappen with two outs in the seventh to bring UVa a run closer, 7-5.

But Firoved bounced back as he set down seven of his final eight hitters before Teel popped up to Malinowski at second base to end the game. That gave Tech its first series win in Charlottesville since the school joined the ACC prior to the 2005 season.

For now, Virginia Tech is in the driver’s seat to host its first NCAA Regional since 2013. Ironically, that’s the last time the team made the tournament. 

But first, the Hokies travel to Marshall on Wednesday before ending the season on a 10-game homestand. Villanova and No. 10 Louisville come to town over the next two weeks while Duke rounds out the ACC schedule.

No. 7 Virginia Tech Sweeps Boston College, Sits In Second In ACC

Once No. 7 Virginia Tech head coach John Szefc takes the baseball on the pitcher’s mound from Griffin Green on Fridays and Drue Hackenberg on Saturdays, there’s almost no late-inning drama, no bullpen collapses and no questioning if the two gave their team the best chance to win.

That’s what typically happens almost every weekend, no matter where Tech is. It occured on the road at Notre Dame and at North Carolina. And it happened again at English Field against NC State and Miami in recent weeks.

The two teamed up once again to power the Hokies to a sixth-straight ACC series victory at Boston College this weekend. A 2-0 win on Friday, a 6-1 victory at Fenway Park in the 10th annual ALS Awareness Game on Saturday, and Tech’s first ACC sweep of 2022 with a 6-4 victory on Sunday.

With the sweep, Virginia Tech moved to 28-9 on the season and 12-7 in the ACC, good for second place in the league. No. 18 Notre Dame and No. 16 Louisville sit a half-game behind Tech. 

Green pitched in his home state of Massachusetts on Friday for the first time since starting Game 1 of the Cape Cod League championship series over the summer. He grew up a short 45-minute drive from BC’s campus. With about 40 family members and friends in attendance, he turned in another spectacular Friday start, a common theme for the 21-year-old this year.

The sophomore right-hander scattered seven hits and two walks in 6 ⅔ shutout innings, striking out seven hitters in the Hokies’ fifth-straight series-opening win – all of those guided by Green’s dominating presence on the mound. 

Offensively, it was a quiet game for an offense that entered the weekend scoring nearly 10 runs per game. The Eagles’ starter, Joe Mancini, matched Green pitch-for-pitch for the first six innings. He carried a no-hitter with an out into the sixth inning before Carson DeMartini singled to break up the no-no.

Then, Gavin Cross and Tanner Schobel led off the seventh with back-to-back solo home runs for the third time this season. That’s where the final score stood when Szefc took the baseball from Green with two outs in the seventh and Graham Firoved recorded his first save of the season after working the final seven outs.

On Saturday, Tech had a little more breathing room in its five-run win at Fenway Park, though Boston College got on the board first in the first inning when Parker Landwehr singled a run home with two outs off of Hackenberg.

But from there, Hackenberg settled in. He stranded five base runners across his final six innings. In the end, the true freshman yielded six hits and two walks on one run. He struck out seven on 104 pitches (73 strikes) before handing the baseball over to Kiernan Higgins for the final six outs – four of which came via the strikeout.

On offense, Tech trailed until Cross smoked a ground-rule double that scored Lucas Donlon in the third inning to tie the game at one. Through the first 15 innings of the weekend series, Tech had only scored three runs — very uncharacteristic of its lineup. 

That was until Jack Hurley broke the tie with a two-run homer in the sixth off of BC starter Henry Leake, who was dealing up to that point. Then Cross added an insurance run in the seventh inning for his second RBI of the day, 4-1. Finally, Schobel’s ninth-inning sacrifice fly and Hurley’s RBI single put the game out of reach as Higgins’s mid-90’s fastball mowed down the final three hitters in the bottom half.

It’s no secret that the Hokies have had trouble finding a consistent Sunday starter since the ACC season began in early March. They seemed to have discovered one, though, after Jordan Geber threw three two-run innings in a loss to Miami on April 17 and worked through another quality start on Sunday.

In his 4 ⅓ innings, he yielded two runs (one unearned), four hits and a walk. He struck out five as Szefc has seemed to have struck gold with a true Sunday starter. He’s longed to find one all season, trying out Ryan Okuda and Henry Weycker in the role, but neither have stuck. 

After his April 17 start against Miami, Szefc said that he had been grooming Geber to be a starter after landing him as a grad transfer from Mount St. Mary’s, where he started 29 games in four years. But he suffered a concussion in a car accident on his way back to Blacksburg during winter break in between the fall and spring semester, which bumped him to the bullpen to begin the year.

For now, it seems as if Virginia Tech has a formidable Sunday starter. He’ll likely get another chance next Sunday as Virginia Tech travels to Charlottesville to play No. 11 Virginia for a three-game weekend series.

But before that, the Hokies will host James Madison in a mid-week matchup on Wednesday. First pitch is set for 6 p.m. on ACC Network Extra. Back on March 15, Tech lost 5-2 to the Dukes in Harrisonburg.

No. 2 Miami Salvages Final Weekend Game vs. No. 21 Virginia Tech

Tanner Schobel strode to the plate with the bases loaded as No. 21 Virginia Tech eyed a series sweep, trailing by six runs in the bottom of the seventh. The Hokies’ shortstop had hit seven home runs in his last 10 games coming into Saturday afternoon’s game and he wouldn’t be denied another.

After taking two balls and a strike to begin his at-bat, Schobel took a deep breath before stepping back into the right-handed batter’s box. He watched Alex McFarlane’s fourth pitch come in before unloading on the baseball, which carried up and away over the left field wall, trimming No. 2 Miami’s (28-8, 14-4 ACC) lead to 7-5. 

But after CJ Kayfus hit a solo homer off Jonah Hurney in the eighth inning, Tech’s luck ran out, even as it attempted to mount a comeback. The tying-run came to the on-deck circle in the ninth inning at English Field, but the Hokies (23-9, 9-7 ACC) dropped the potential series sweep Saturday afternoon, 8-5.

“We’re kinda moving in the right direction,” Tech head coach John Szefc said. “I think we’re very good, but we’re not great. And to do what we’ve done for the past five weekends, I’ll take it.”

After Jordan Geber gave Tech three solid two-run innings on the mound to start Saturday’s game, Henry Weycker, Kiernan Higgins and Hurney combined to pitch the final six innings. Meanwhile, the Hokies’ offense fell silent to the Hurricanes’ starter Alejandro Rosario, who blanked them in seven shutout innings in late February last year. His day didn’t last as long this time around, but he only yielded one run in 4 ⅓ innings.

“[Rosario] did a good job of working in and out, and getting out of tough situations,” Schobel said. “But I also think we put some bats on the ball and it just went to the fielders today. But that happens; that’s baseball.”

Once he left with an out in the fifth, the Miami bullpen got the same results as Rosario did, until Schobel’s grand slam.

After taking the first two games — and the weekend series from the Hurricanes for the second time in two years — it’s very clear where Virginia Tech stands in the college baseball landscape: the Hokies are competitors. 

For how long without a true Sunday starter, who knows? But for now, they’re in the hunt for their first NCAA Regional bid since 2013, and this weekend proved that they’re deserving of one – even if there was a misstep on Saturday.

“Our younger players weren’t used to losing in high school the way we were [last year],” Schobel said about what’s different about this year’s team. “The locker room wasn’t the best place to be sometimes, but I think this team is a lot closer and I’ll think we’ll keep it rolling.”

They laugh and share high-fives during batting practice and warm-ups everyday. They play loose no matter what the score or the situation is. And those that still doubt this team — if there are still any after this weekend — are washed over like white noise.

The heads, though, are beginning to turn, and those close to the team are starting to look at how the ACC standings are beginning to take shape. Entering Saturday, Tech had the third-best record in the conference. All Szefc can do is prepare for the next chance to win a series to stay in contention to make — or even host — an NCAA Regional.

But in order to even turn their attention to a potential regional bid, the Hokies will need to find a Sunday starter. They’ve tested out Ryan Okuda — who has given inconsistent results — and Weycker, but neither have stuck. That’s what forced Szefc’s hand to turn to Geber, a grad transfer from Mount St. Mary’s. He started 10 of his 11 games last season with a 3.88 ERA.

He’s slowly been eased back into competition after he suffered an injury in a car accident during the semester break over the winter. Szefc has had high-praise for the right-hander throughout the season, even if the results he was yielding weren’t favorable.

But Geber turned in three innings for the Hokies on the bump on Saturday. He struck out Kayfus and Edgardo Villegas to begin the afternoon before a two-out triple put Yohandy Morales on third. But he bounced with his third strikeout of the inning when he got Maxwell Romero on four pitches to end the frame.

“I thought [Geber] was pretty good out of the gate,” Szefc said. “We needed that guy to go out there and give us that start, and he did but we just struggled in the middle innings there. … It was a good step there and a good step for our team.”

The offense, which scored 25 runs in the first two games this series, was at it again early when Jack Hurley doubled home Gavin Cross from first — who blew through third base coach Kurt Elbin’s stop sign — to take an early lead. 

“I think it gives us confidence when we score first,” Hurley said. “It gives our pitcher confidence to go back there. But with our offense, our pitcher can still have the same confidence, even if we don’t score in the first inning.”

And Geber responded on the mound with a scoreless second inning. But his start began to unravel in the third once Romero doubled Kayfus and Morales home, giving the Hurricanes their first lead of the series, 2-1. He worked out of the inning by getting Jacob Burke to pop out to Schobel at shortstop. 

That’s where his day ended as Weycker took the bump. He worked a spotless fourth inning, but the wheels began to fall off the wagon in the fifth. He yielded a single to Ariel Garcia to begin the inning but quickly got two out before intentionally walking Morales. Then, Romero singled home Garcia and Weycker was pulled for Higgins.

Higgins, who was put into a tough spot with runners on the corners, walked Burke on four pitches before serving up a bases-clearing double to Dominic Pitelli. And just like that, an inning the Hokies had entered trailing by a run quickly turned into a five-run deficit.

Tech began to mount a small comeback in the bottom of the fifth when Nick Biddison and Cross reached to put runners on the corners with one out. Schobel worked a full count, but struck out on a pitch in the dirt, which prompted Biddison’s attempt to score a run. But home plate umpire Doug Vines ruled that Schobel interfered with the play by not getting out of the way, calling Biddison out and blowing the Hokies’ rally dead.

“I’ve never seen that call made before,” Szefc said. “The home plate umpire said that Schobel had interfered with the pitcher, but the pitcher wasn’t even part of the play. The catcher was on his way back to get the ball. It was irrelevant.”

The score stayed at 6-1 until Burke hit a solo home run with two outs in the top of the seventh. Then, Christian Martin reached to lead-off the bottom half with a single before Biddison singled with an out and Cross drew a five-pitch walk. That all set the stage for Schobel’s grand slam in the seventh, which brought the score to within two.

But Miami turned to its closer Andrew Walters in the eighth, who has yet to allow an earned run in 20 innings this season. He set Virginia Tech’s bats down in the eighth before walking Carson DeMartini in the ninth to bring the tying-run to the on-deck circle. 

The Hokies went down quietly after that as Walters salvaged Miami’s weekend with a win.

“As long as we keep battling, our players are good enough, we’ll be in a good place,” Szefc said. “It wasn’t a roll over, I don’t feel it was that way. I felt like we battled well down the stretch.”

It wasn’t the result the Hokies were looking for, but taking two-of-three from the conference’s top team is a job well done.