No. 21 Virginia Tech Dominates No. 2 Miami In Series-Clinching Win

There was no doubt and very little drama for No. 21 Virginia Tech on Friday night. No wondering if the bullpen could hold the lead once Drue Hackenberg, who didn’t throw a single pitch in the fall because of his summer workload, handed the baseball off to Sean Fisher once he departed following the eighth inning.

There was, however, a loud, resounding 13-2 victory for the Hokies (23-8, 9-6 ACC) over No. 2 Miami (27-8, 13-4 ACC) at English Field. In typical Virginia Tech fashion, the offense scored early and often (four runs in the first and fourth innings) and Hackenberg shoved, which resulted in a fifth-consecutive series win for the Hokies. 

“[Hackenberg] is just very calm and collected,” Tech head coach John Szefc said after the win, the 500th in his career. “There’s no up and down with him.”

And they didn’t just take the series from Miami; they’ve manhandled the Hurricanes. On Thursday, Tech won by seven. And on Friday, the Hokies controlled the game from the first pitch to the last. They’ve now put up 25 runs on the Hurricanes in two days.

“That’s maybe one of the biggest wins I’ve had since being here,” Szefc said.

A year ago this weekend, the Hokies began their stumble from sole possession of first place in the Coastal Division to becoming the last team to qualify for the ACC Championships. Tech had a 2-15 stretch during their last 17 conference games, which began when Georgia Tech took 2-of-3 from VT in Blacksburg.

This year, the narrative is a bit different. Miami, who had only lost back-to-back games for the once this season before this weekend, came into Blacksburg as the bully. The Hurricanes had just whipped up on then-No. 3 Virginia in Coral Gables, Fla., when they swept the Cavaliers last weekend. 

But Virginia Tech didn’t bat an eye, handing Miami its first ACC series loss this season.

Szefc knew he had a good team coming into the year, and his players believed it. Everyone on the inside knew it. The public is just now seeing it come to fruition.

The fireworks started early when Tanner Schobel beat out a hard-hit infield single with two outs in the bottom of the first inning. Jack Hurley doubled him home from first on a 1-2 pitch that one-hopped the visiting bullpen in right field. Then Eduardo Malinowski singled home Hurley on a base hit to center field. 

And finally, to cap the inning off, the Cade Hunter resurgent season surged once more when he homered over Miami’s bullpen and slammed the home run hammer for the fifth time in the Hokies’ last six games.

The Hurricanes countered for a run in the second when Mike Rosario singled Jacob Burke home, cutting the lead to three. But Tech’s offense added another run in the third when a Malinowski fielder’s choice manufactured a run and gave the Hokies their second four-run lead of the night.

Then, the floodgates opened in the fourth. After Carson DeMartini tripled when Burke lost the baseball in the lights in center field, Nick Biddison extended his hit-streak to 12 games when he singled home DeMartini. Gavin Cross walked on five pitches, which set up a Schobel RBI single, good for his sixth RBI of the weekend.

Lastly, Malinowski smoked a double to the left field line that drove in Schobel and Cross to extend the lead to 9-1 once Hunter flew out to Burke ending the fourth.

“During the pregame, we were really focused on our approaches,” Malinowski said. “They were super-duper good. I just hit the ball where it was pitched and it was a super good night.”

From there, Hackenberg cruised. Aside from two singles and an error that resulted in a run, he set 11 of the last 13 hitters he faced, pitching a career-high eight innings on 114 pitches along the way. He was met with a Tech crowd that was eerily similar to a regional round crowd that was loud from the first pitch to the last out. 

“I try and zone in on the plate,” Hackenberg said. “I try and just block [the crowd] out and not worry about it. 

He was met with hugs, high-fives and handshakes as he walked off the mound and into the dugout for one final time on Friday night. 

And for the first time since Virginia Tech reached a NCAA Regional with Pete Hughes in 2013, it feels like baseball fans have something to cheer about in Blacksburg.

Advertisement

Red-Hot Bats Carry No. 21 Virginia Tech In Thursday’s Win vs. No. 2 Miami

Carson Palmquist knows exactly what it’s like to be Connor Bovair, a North Carolina pitcher that surrendered the first two of Tanner Schobel’s seven home runs in his last nine games. And the Miami ace also knows how NC State’s Matt Willadsen and Chris Villaman felt when they yielded the same result to the Virginia Tech shortstop.

Palmquist, you see, entered Thursday night’s game with a 2.76 ERA in eight starts. He was named to multiple All-American lists to begin the season. And yet, he was the latest victim of the Hokies’ lineup. 

Long before No. 21 Virginia Tech’s (22-8, 8-6 ACC) 12-5 win over the No. 2 Hurricanes (27-7, 13-3 ACC) — which ended Miami’s 14-game win streak; the nation’s longest-active streak — Palmquist challenged Tech’s high-powered lineup. And like just about every other pitcher this season, he lost. 

That’s not a surprise, though. When you face a lineup that leads Division I in home runs per game (2.45 entering Friday night), you’re bound to struggle.

“I know it’s a long game, but it’s kinda the way you wanted to start that off,” Tech head coach John Szefc said after the win. “You go [double], single and [Schobel] goes three-run homer and we had four-straight hits off [Palmquist], who’s as good of a left-handed starter in the country.”

Schobel’s first homer of the night in the bottom of the first, which measured at 377 feet, was his ninth of the season as he adds to his legend as the Hokies’ shortstop. He came out of nowhere last year, Szefc said at the beginning of this season, with seven home runs before adding three more in the Cape Cod League over the summer. He’s already one of the most feared hitters in a lineup that features plenty of pop.

Schobel’s three-run bomb — after Nick Biddison extended his hit-streak to 11 games with a hustle double to lead-off the bottom of the first and Gavin Cross followed with a single — was the spark VT’s offense needed to get rolling. 

Then, he hit another home run in the fourth. This one: a two-run dinger to left field that cleared the wall by 20 feet more than his first did.

Call it the Tanner Schobel effect. His three hits, two homers and five RBIs are a major reason why Tech is 8-6 in the ACC and has won four-straight series-opening games.

“I think when we play teams like UNC, NC State and Miami, everybody always expects them — with the big, sexy names — to come in and roll us,” Schobel said. “I think we play with a chip on our shoulder, and we’re gritty, and we know that we’re just as good or even better than all these teams.”

The Hokies loaded the bases with two outs in the bottom of the first and didn’t score any more runs, but it set the stage for Biddison’s 423-foot solo home run to lead-off the second inning.

And from there, Schobel — and the rest of the offense — continued to pile on. Schobel’s second home run off of Palmquist chased him from the game. Entering Thursday, Palmquist had limited one or fewer earned runs in his last four starts.

He allowed six runs on 10 hits, a walk and three home runs (tied career-high) on Friday, his worst start since allowing 10 runs to Boston College on March 11, a game Miami lost 12-11.

“The best guys,” Szefc continued, “they play the best when it matters. They can kinda elevate their game. That’s exactly what a lot of our guys did.”

On the other side of the mound, Virginia Tech threw Griffin Green. After yielding a lead-off single to CJ Kayfus, he settled in and set down the next nine batters. He was shoving through four scoreless innings until Mike Rosario tripled with an out in the fifth.

Then he struck out Henry Wallen on five pitches before Kayfus singled him home. Kayfus stole second and moved up to third on a bad throw from Cade Hunter. A few pitches later, he dove across the plate on a wild pitch to cut the deficit to four.

And on a 3-2 pitch, Edgardo Villegas smoked a solo home run, admired it and then flipped his bat before trotting around the bases. Green eventually worked out of the jam with a ground out after surrendering another two-out single, but the lead was cut to three.

“Baseball is a pitch-by-pitch thing,” Green said about his fifth inning. “If you go on the mound thinking about the pitch before, you’re going to be screwed. You just gotta have that confidence that you’re going to work through whatever.

Green would last another inning, striking out Rosario with a runner on third to end the sixth inning, as he waved his glove towards home plate and let out a roar towards the Hokies’ dugout. He walked Wallen to lead-off the seventh, prompting Szefc to pull him in favor of Graham Firoved.

All told, Green turned in another solid start on the mound, throwing six-plus innings, allowing seven hits and two walks that turned into three runs. Firoved replaced him and finished off the seventh. 

Conor Hartigan punched an RBI single over the second baseman’s head to drive in Eduardo Malinowski in the bottom of the seventh, adding another run to the lead, 7-3. But Miami wouldn’t go quietly in the eighth. 

Maxwell Romero lifted a solo home run on an 0-2 pitch to lead-off the inning, while Jacob Burke tripled and later scored on a one-out single from Zach Levenson. But after a mound visit, Firoved struck Rosario out and forced Renzo Gonzalez to fly out to Jack Hurley to end the inning with a 7-5 lead.

That’s when the pressure began to mount for Tech to add more insurance runs in the bottom half. And the Hokies did just that.

With two outs, Gavin Cross stepped up and doubled. Schobel was intentionally walked and Hurley drew a four-pitch walk with two outs, loading the bases. Malinowski then drew a six-pitch walk after falling behind 1-2, scoring Cross, and the Hokies weren’t done.

“He [Alejandro Torres] threw him [Malinowski] a 3-2 slider and he didn’t swing, give him credit,” Szefc said. “That’s arguably one of the best and biggest at-bats of the game.”

In perhaps the biggest swing of the night, Cade Hunter — the team-leader in RBIs with 44 — came through for his first hit of the day, doubling off the left-center field wall to clear the bases and give Tech a 11-5 lead.

“I knew he [Torres] was going to challenge me,” Hunter said. “I was right on it the entire at-bat. I kinda knew what he was going to throw me the entire at-bat so I kinda stayed with it and popped it into the oppo-gap.”

And after Hartigan’s second RBI single to extend the lead to 12-5, that’s where the final score stood. Jonah Hurney pitched a flawless ninth and the baseball found first baseman Nick Holesa’s glove for the final out as the English Field crowd gave the Hokies a standing ovation. 

They earned every last bit of those cheers Thursday night.

Virginia Tech Wins Series Over No. 21 NC State in Dominant Fashion

John Szefc has long talked about the importance of winning the first two games of a weekend series. It’s the Virginia Tech manager’s guiding principle – one that worked in his days at Maryland and continues to work now. 

First, it means his veteran-laden lineup works quality at-bats to get the starting pitcher out of the game. Then, Szefc hopes his starter will turn in a solid enough performance for his team to hang on and get a win.

He got both on Friday night and Saturday afternoon against No. 21 NC State.

Griffin Green threw seven quality innings in the first meeting and the bats exploded for 21 runs. Then, Drue Hackenberg worked seven more innings — a 33-minute snow delay was sandwiched between the second and third inning — and Tanner Schobel hit two home runs enroute to an 8-2 win on Saturday.

On Sunday, none of that worked when Henry Weycker — Szefc’s go-to left-hander out of the bullpen this year — gave up three runs and didn’t record an out in his first collegiate start. 

Meanwhile, the bats went cold aside from Nick Biddison’s RBI single in the fifth and the third home runs of the weekend for Cade Hunter and Schobel left the yard in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively. That led to a 10-3 loss on Sunday, but because the Hokies had won the first two games of the series, there was little to be upset about.

Saturday’s series-clinching result marked the Hokies’ (20-8, 7-6 ACC) fourth consecutive ACC series win — their first series victory over the Wolfpack (19-11, 7-7 ACC) in program history, too — after favorable weekends against Pittsburgh, then-No. 12 Notre Dame and then-No. 18 North Carolina.

The wins moved Tech to sole possession of third place of the Coastal Division before heading to Liberty (20-10, 7-5 ASUN) to play the Flames in Lynchburg on Tuesday. That leads into next weekend’s series (Thursday, Friday and Saturday because of Easter Sunday) with division-leading No. 2 Miami (26-6, 13-2 ACC), who swept No. 8 Virginia (26-6, 9-6 ACC) over the weekend down in Florida.

“You can take rankings and RPIs and all that stuff and throw it out the window when you get on the field,” Szefc said on Sunday. “Teams are good, they’re either gonna play good or they’re not gonna play good.” 

Last season, the Hokies took the Friday and Sunday games for their first program series victory against the Hurricanes, who were ranked third in the country at the time.

But on Saturday against the Pack, Hackenberg was as dominant as he’s been all season, yielding six hits and two runs. He struck out a career-high eight hitters and didn’t surrender a walk.

He also has more wins (6) than walks surrendered this season (5). His ERA now sits at 2.40 as he’s continuing to dominate the ACC as a freshman.

“When Drue pitches, you know what you’re getting,” Schobel said Saturday.

“Yeah, we’re always confident when he’s striking guys out,” Jack Hurley added with a laugh.

Hackenberg, who’s as humble as anyone could get, cracked a slight smile.

“Well, yeah, but our offense…” he said as his voice trailed off.

The bats, which ranked eighth in D-I in batting average, second in home runs per game and 12th in runs per game entering this weekend, certainly did their job with Hackenberg on the mound. 

The damage first came in the third inning when Carson DeMartini stole home after NC State catcher Jacob Cozart lackadaisically tossed the baseball back to the pitcher. DeMartini took off for the plate as Eduardo Malinowski backed out of the right-handed batter’s box. As the snow began to stick to the synthetic turf, DeMartini dove, his hand beating Matt Willadsen’s return throw back to the catcher.

“That was a real instinctive thing [for DeMartini],” Szefc said. “That was huge at the time because who knows where that game was going with the snow and every other thing and it’s like, you don’t want to leave the bases-loaded right there and have to wait out a snow delay. So that gave us a lead, but it was a big moment in that ball game.”

Then Schobel hit his first of two home runs in the fifth while Malinowski drove Hurley in with his second triple in as many days. Earlier in the inning, Hurley extended his hit-streak to 26 games, but it died on Sunday after Tech’s left fielder went 0-for-4. It fell six games short of Tim Buheller’s program record set in 1985, but he holds the school’s longest hit-streak since it joined the ACC prior to the 2005 season.

“It’s pretty cool, but it [was] kind of stressful every time I’d go up to hit,” Hurley said Saturday.

Then, after NC State’s Dominic Pilolli tripled down the right field line to drive in a run and J.T. Jarrett hit a solo home run to cut the deficit to 4-2, the Hokies added four more runs. Schobel hit his second home run of the day, Nick Holesa scored on a wild pitch, followed by Gavin Cross’s RBI groundout.

Jonah Hurney closed the game out, throwing the final two innings in the Saturday victory, allowing the key pieces in the bullpen to rest for Sunday’s potential sweep.

But that result never came as Virginia Tech threw eight pitchers out on the bump. A combination of Weycker, Ryan Okuda, Graham Firoved, Kiernan Higgins, Jordan Geber, Brady Kirtner, Grant Umberger and Ryan Metz surrendered 10 runs while the bats fell silent.

However, the weekend win was good enough for Tech to enter the D1 Baseball rankings for the first time since April 19, 2021. It’ll be ranked No. 21 heading into next weekend’s series with the Hurricanes.

Some days just aren’t your day. That’s baseball. And Sunday proved to be just that for the Hokies.

“Good weekend for us, as far as winning the series,” Szefc said on Sunday. “It just wasn’t a very good day for a lot of different reasons. We are in this situation where I think we have a very good team right now, and there’s a big difference between winning two games and three games on a weekend. A very good team wins two, a championship caliber team wins three.”

But the baseball gods were certainly with Virginia Tech on Friday and Saturday.

Virginia Tech Routs No. 21 NC State By 11 In Friday Night Showdown

Unpacking what happened during the bottom of the third and seventh innings at English Field between Virginia Tech and NC State wouldn’t take a ton of digging.

With the rain coming down steadily and the wind blowing out to center field all night, it was a battle that never felt fair, and an offensive onslaught that was backed by solid pitching never put the final score into question.

Griffin Green labored through some early struggles, allowing four runs to cross in his seven innings of work, but limited a powerful lineup that included the likes of designated hitter Tommy White. 

Once he settled in, Virginia Tech (19-7, 6-5 ACC) cruised from there as Green struck out five batters in the Hokies’ 21-10 win over No. 21 NC State (18-10, 6-6 ACC). It wasn’t the prettiest of starts, but it got the job done once Tech jumped out to its 8-2 lead in the bottom of the third.

“Once the offense gets going, it’s important to put up quick, efficient innings,” Green said. “I made an adjustment after the fourth inning – I pitched them more inside, especially to the righties to get weak contact.”

Virginia Tech crushed three home runs in the inning – via the bats of Conor Hartigan, Carson DeMartini and Gavin Cross – for the second time this season (the other instance came in the sixth inning of a 22-6 rout of Pitt back on March 19). It’s a lineup that’s become accustomed to launching so many big flies through the course of a game – it’s second in the nation in home runs per game, trailing only No. 1 Tennessee.

And as all three batters trotted around first base, each had a smile on their faces. DeMartini’s was the latest to appear, though, because of the 47.8-degree launch angle on his big fly that just snuck over the left field wall.

“If you look at the video, you’ll probably see me drop the bat and run with my head down because I thought I had gotten under it,” DeMartini said with a laugh. 

First, it was Hartigan’s three-run no-doubt homer to left field — set up by an Eduardo Malinowski triple and a Cade Hunter walk — that broke a 2-2 tie. Then Nick Holesa singled for DeMartini’s two-run blast, while Cross’s opposite field solo shot put icing on the cake.

“It was good to see Hartigan get it going again,” Tech head coach John Szefc said. “Give him credit for that three-run jack.” 

Green didn’t get the shutdown inning the Hokies needed right away in the top of the fourth – those came later – as NC State added two runs on a Noah Soles single. 

Before that, though, the Wolfpack scored on a solo home run from left fielder Dominic Pilolli in the first inning, tying the score at one. Then, after Tech added another run on a Gavin Cross single, Josh Hood tied the game again with a groundout to DeMartini at third.

But after Soles’s two-run knock in the fourth brought the Pack to within four runs, Green settled in and the offense took over once more. Hunter smoked a home run to center field that smacked off the batter’s eye above the camera well – good for Tech’s longest home run of the season (467-feet) – in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Jack Hurley then doubled to lead-off the sixth inning, extending his season-opening hit-streak to 25 games, a new program ACC-era record. He only trails Tim Buheller’s program record set in 1985 by seven games.

Cross added another RBI single, scoring Nick Holesa in the fifth, and hit his second solo home run, this one off the right field scoreboard in the seventh. Sandwiched in between was Nick Biddison’s two-RBI single two batter’s prior.

Following that, the floodgates opened and emotions ran high. It became an 11-run seventh inning that saw DeMartini, Cross and Hunter hit their second home runs. 

It included six hits, six walks, two hit-by-pitches, two pitching changes and two ejections. The bottom of the seventh lasted for more than 45 minutes from the first pitch to the time Gherig Ebel flew out to end the inning.

“In all my years of college baseball, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen an 11-run inning,” Szefc said.

All told, if the 10-4 lead entering the inning wasn’t in doubt, then the 21-4 mark at the end of it pretty much solidified the win as 17 different Virginia Tech players appeared in the inning.

The plan was for Green to head back out to the bump for the eighth inning. However, after his long sit, Szefc decided it was best to work Christian Worley, Peter Sakellaris and Jackson Ritchey in the final two innings. Worley surrendered two runs in the eighth, while Sakellaris yielded three in the ninth and Ritchey gave up the last run.

And finally, when Ritchey struck Soles out, those in the crowd that stuck around through the rainy, cold early April weather gave the Hokies a standing ovation. Virginia Tech earned every single one of those claps Friday night.

After 2021 Collapse, Hokies Look To Keep This Year’s Ship Righted

It felt like a February morning in Blacksburg, Va., with country music playing out of the overhead speakers and Virginia Tech easing into game preparation with a few rounds of batting practice and warm-up tosses in the outfield. It was March 19 — the morning after the Hokies had lost their fifth-straight game and started 0-4 in ACC play.

There was laughter, smiles and plenty of confidence to go around the diamond. The Hokies didn’t feel any pressure to come out and win that day against Pitt because, well, they believe their nine will come out and beat your nine any day.

Their 18-7 and 5-5 ACC record can back that up.

“I’ve had no complaints, really,” Szefc said after Tuesday’s 6-2 win over Marshall. “Our guys have been pitching well, hitting well. Our mild contributors have become bigger contributors. We’re getting a lot of good production from our better players.”

That cold spell — three one-run losses to ACC teams in a week with a three-run midweek loss to James Madison — was sandwiched in between VT’s 10-1 start. That included two quality wins over Wright State and another against East Carolina, and most recently, eight wins in the last nine games.

And after its 22-6 win against Pitt on March 19 — Tech’s first conference win of the season, sparked by six home runs and six doubles to go along with Drue Hackenberg’s six-inning start — the tide began to turn.

“It definitely gives us some more confidence,” Jack Hurley said of the 22-6 win on March 19. 

And the belief certainly oozed. 

In the Sunday rubbermatch, VT used four pitchers — most of its main bullpen pieces — and home runs from Nick Biddison and Conor Hartigan sparked Tech to a 7-1 win and its first conference series of the year.

“Like I said yesterday, [the first series win] was long overdue,” Tech head coach John Szefc said on March 20.

Since, Virginia Tech’s accomplishments include a ninth-inning comeback win at then-No. 12 Notre Dame — the rest of the series was canceled due to snowy weather — and a series victory at then-No. 18 North Carolina this past weekend for the first time in program history.

Tech took the series at home against the Tar Heels last season, too — one that put the Hokies on the national landscape. They left that series 7-2 overall record (4-2 ACC) and continued on to as high as No. 17 in the rankings and were 14-7 in conference through a mid-April sweep of Wake Forest.

But from there, Virginia Tech struggled. Loss after loss in conference play began to pile up. The Hokies, once atop the Coastal Division standings on April 16, went 2-15 in the ACC as the injuries to their pitching staff continued down the stretch and they stumbled into the ACC Championships for the first time in Szefc’s tenure.

They lost all three of their weekend starters and their best bullpen arm to professional baseball over the off-season, but they’ve somehow gotten better. What’s led to the Hokies’ resurgence? A balanced lineup? Inexperienced, but effective, starting pitching? A deeper bullpen?

Yes, yes and yes.

Virginia Tech boasts a potential top-10 draft pick in Gavin Cross. He moved from right field to center and has continued to build upon his breakout 2021 season that saw him shoot up the draft boards.

But he isn’t the most dangerous hitter in the lineup this season. Rather, it’s been Jack Hurley, who struggled at times last year as a freshman (.251).

Entering this weekend, fresh off being named to the Golden Spikes Award Midseason Watch List, Hurley leads the nation in batting average (.464 in 97 at-bats), ranks second in slugging percentage (.928) and third in on-base-plus-slugging percentage (1.459). He also boasts a team-leading 34 RBIs and is tied with Eduardo Malinowski for the team lead with 10 home runs.

Hurley’s riding a 24-game hit streak into the weekend, too, which is tied with Steve Domecus’s record for the longest since Tech joined the ACC prior to the 2005 season. Tim Buheller’s 32-gamer set in 1985 is the longest in program history.

Combine Hurley’s superhuman season with Cade Hunter’s revitalized year from behind the plate. He’s hitting .409 and has reached base in all 24 of his appearances. A year ago? He broke his hamate bone and only hit .178 in 18 games.

He complements Hurley and Cross well in the No. 6-hole and he’s hit a career-high eight homers and driven in 33 runs.

The rest of the lineup includes second-year shortstop Tanner Schobel (.368 average and five homers), freshman third baseman Carson DeMartini (.334 average and eight homers) and Nick Biddison, who came off of shoulder surgery last season and has a .415 clip at the lead-off spot in the order.

“We’ve gotten a lot of different contributions from a bunch of different guys,” Szefc said Tuesday. “We have a lot of guys that have been very good and we’re trying to work guys in that haven’t gotten a ton of opportunities yet. We’re trying to get [Conor Hartigan] going a little bit if we can – the rest of those guys have been pretty consistent for the most part.”

This Virginia Tech lineup is deep — one that ranks second in the nation in home runs per game with 2.23, only trailing No. 1 Tennessee. That’s something everyone knew coming into the season, but it’s the pitching — namely the bullpen — that’s stepped up the most.

It’s rare for a head coach to publicly lay out an ideal pitching plan, and even weeks later, watch it unfold exactly how he wished. But that’s exactly what happened when Szefc turned — and continues to turn — to a combination of Henry Weycker, Graham Firoved, Jonah Hurney and Kiernan Higgins during Tech’s first true test against Wright State a few weeks ago.

“Higgins and Hurney have been very good, so have Firoved and Weycker,” Szefc said Tuesday. “We’ve played 25 games now so we’re almost halfway through the regular season so we’ve got some good ACC games coming.”

And the four, who all come out of the bullpen, have delivered results that were desperately needed last season with a 3.17 ERA in 64 and ⅔ innings. Tech, too, has gotten solid production from other relievers like Ryan Metz, Sean Fisher, Brady Kirtner, Ryan Kennedy and Peter Sakellaris.

Meanwhile, sophomore Griffin Green (3.58 ERA in 32 and ⅔ innings) and freshman Drue Hackenberg (2.37 ERA in 38 innings) have anchored the starting staff. When the two are on during a weekend series, it allows the offense to settle in and Szefc is able to set up the matchups he wants late in the game. And when the offense is clicking and Green and Hackenberg can work five, six or even seven innings, it’s been the recipe for success.

“We just got to stay healthy,” Szefc said Tuesday. “We lost [Anthony Simonelli] and [Chris Gerard] around the same time last year. It kind of put a lot of pressure on everybody else. We kinda need a few more pitchers to come along to be major contributors.”

Szefc has expressed, repeatedly, that Virginia Tech will do anything to win. The Hokies worry about tomorrow later. All hands are on deck. Every single night. 

As long as Tech can piece together a winning formula every night — one that has placed them as the first team among the “Last 4 In” in D1 Baseball’s midseason NCAA Tournament projections and predicts Tech will make the tournament for the first time since 2013 — and as long as it can avoid last year’s midseason slide, the Hokies will be just fine.

“We’re getting there,” Szefc said, “one guy at a time.”

Virginia Tech Storms Back Late to Stun No. 12 Notre Dame

Nick Holesa stood at second base while clapping his hands. Virginia Tech head coach John Szefc raced out of the dugout and pointed his finger at his first baseman before patting the backside of Christian Martin and Eduardo Malinowski as they reached the visiting dugout.

Then Szefc high-fived his guys as the Hokies’ dugout jumped and screamed all around him. Holesa had just laid down a bases-clearing safety-squeeze with an out in the top of the ninth as Matt Lazzaro air-mailed a throw to first base in an attempt to cut down Holesa. Instead, the error pushed the game out of No. 12 Notre Dame’s reach in Virginia Tech’s 10-5 win on Friday night in South Bend, Ind.

And all of a sudden Holesa, who came on as a defensive replacement for Cade Swisher in the bottom of the seventh, was the hero.

After a quick 2-0 start courtesy of Jack Hurley’s solo home run in the top of the second, which extended his hit-streak to 19 games, Virginia Tech (14-6, 3-4 ACC) was nearly buried in the fifth inning after Griffin Green surrendered two two-run homers.

Worried that there wouldn’t be a chance to play Saturday’s and Sunday’s game with the looming gloomy weather (Both games were canceled on Saturday morning), both head coaches treated Friday as an elimination game.

Saturday starter Drue Hackenberg threw for a bit in the bullpen before Szefc yanked Green with no outs in the fourth, but the questions began to pile up: Was there time for Hackenberg to hold the veteran Irish bats to give his team time to battle back? Would Hackenberg struggle and Szefc’s plan implode? Or was it the right move?

It turned out to be the perfect adjustment. For the first time in his collegiate career, Hackenberg was out of the bullpen, and he yielded a walk, three hits and a run while striking out four in three innings.

The only problem was that Tech couldn’t touch the Irish’s bullpen until Jack Hurley hit his second home run of the day in the eighth inning to pull VT to within a run, 5-4. 

And the Hokies looked all but dead when third baseman Carson DeMartini’s throwing error gave Notre Dame (12-5, 2-4 ACC) a chance for insurance runs when it placed runners on second and third with no outs in the bottom of the eighth.

That was until Graham Firoved forced a three-pitch flyout that was too shallow to even test Biddison’s arm in right field. He then struck out Zack Prajzner and TJ Williams, which allowed Virginia Tech to stay in it.

Then with backs against the wall, the Hokies rallied against a trio of Notre Dame arms: Aidan Tyrell, Jack Brannigan and Lazzaro.

The top of the ninth began with lead-off man Nick Biddison getting hit by a pitch. Tanner Schobel doubled down the right field line after that, driving Biddison home and tying the score at five. Hurley and Malinowski walked on back-to-back at-bats.

Cade Hunter followed that up with a go-ahead RBI single that scored Schobel and gave Tech a 6-5 lead. Then, on a full count with bases loaded, a pitch bounced off Sam Tackett’s face, scoring Hurley. That all set the stage for Holesa.

The Hokies’ first baseman squared around to bunt to give Tech a third insurance run. Instead, an errant throw allowed the bases to clear, giving the Hokies a five-run lead for Firoved to protect in the bottom of the ninth.

That’s exactly what he did. Working around two singles, Firoved held Notre Dame scoreless as Tech completed a much-needed, resume-boosting win to its NCAA Tournament hopes later this spring.

Next up for the Hokies is a Tuesday non-conference contest at VMI (8-15) before their second straight road ACC series of the spring against North Carolina (18-5, 5-3 ACC), which starts on Friday.

Sam Tackett, Ryan Kennedy Shine In Virginia Tech’s Win Over Radford

A smile and pure joy radiated from Sam Tackett while he slammed Virginia Tech’s home run hammer as a collegiate baseball player Tuesday evening. The sophomore — who has seemingly come out of nowhere after taking on a versatile platoon role  — exchanged high-fives with his teammates before sharing hugs with others after hitting a home run that cleared the wall by a mile.

Before Tackett crossed home plate, he watched where the baseball flew out of the ballpark, shared a celebration with the home dugout as he rounded third and took off his helmet before bumping it with Conor Hartigan.

Tackett, a utility infielder that’s seen time at third, second and first base this season, couldn’t stop smiling through it all.

He didn’t see any action last season after committing to VT as the ninth-best recruit from Kentucky in the 2020 class, according to Perfect Game. He’s hit the baseball hard all season, and carries a .292 batting average in 24 at-bats to show for it.

The pitch he saw, an 85-mph change-up that Radford’s Gene McGough hung belt-high, a mistake that Tackett normally hunts, was smashed 413 feet into the construction zone just beyond the left field wall. It was a solo home run in the second inning that tied the game at two apiece and ignited Tech’s 10-3 blowout win over the Highlanders, extending its winning streak to three games.

It was a bomb to the pull side, right-on-right power that’s been on display for all 19 games of Virginia Tech’s (13-6, 2-4 ACC) season thus far. Entering Tuesday, VT was tied for third place in college baseball in home runs with 41.

Only, it was the baseball off of Tackett’s bat that made the moment notable. It was an instant glimpse at the remarkable potential that the entire lineup has, now Tech just has to put it all together on a consistent basis.

“It was amazing,” Tackett said with a grin after Tech’s win. “I got to slam the hammer. It was just really cool.”

Tackett has played in 17 of VT’s games this season with eight starts — seven of which have come in non-conference play — but after hitting .306 and boasting a .445 on-base-percentage in the Valley League over the summer, head coach John Szefc was left with no choice but to play him. And Tackett has delivered on those results so far.

He later fouled out with the bases-loaded and picked up another RBI on a sacrifice fly to deep left field before he was pinch-hit for in the seventh inning, finishing the night 1-for-2 with two RBIs. Tanner Schobel added two RBIs — one coming on a ground-rule double — Gavin Cross knocked in a run on his fourth triple of the season, while Jack Hurley (18 games), Cade Hunter (nine) and Carson DeMartini (six) all extended their hit streaks.

The offensive outburst was in support of Ryan Kennedy, who bounced back after surrendering two walk-offs to then-No. 13 Georgia Tech two weeks ago.

He relieved Jackson Ritchey (two earned runs) to begin the second inning and didn’t allow a run in his four innings of work. The left-hander only yielded four hits and a walk while striking out three on 48 pitches (37 strikes).

“Usually you’re not gonna beat [Kennedy] with ‘free-bies,’ he’s not gonna give you a whole lot of walks,” Szefc said. “He’s gonna make you swing the bat. He came into a game in which we were losing 2-1, stabilized it and gave our offense enough time to grind through some runs.”

Three relievers would combine to finish the job, including right-hander Christian Worley (scoreless sixth inning), southpaw Jonah Hurney (shutout seventh and eighth innings) and Jordan Geber (one-run ninth inning).

Geber, a graduate transfer from Mount St. Mary’s, has had limited opportunities to pitch this season (four appearances). He’s continuing to transition from the starting role he had at St. Mary’s to a bullpen role at Tech.

“[Geber] is gonna be a major factor for us down the stretch, we’re just trying to get him to get him some experience,” Szefc said. “But as a grad transfer, if he can pitch with the velocity, he’s gonna be pretty good.”

As for Tackett, his home run might’ve been overshadowed by some of the bigger names such as Cross, Schobel and Hurley, but his hard work doesn’t go unnoticed by the rest of the team, nor his head coach.

“He’s our hardest worker,” Szefc said of Tackett. “He’s the first guy in the room, last guy out. I’m just thrilled for him.”

Tuesday marked a coming out party of sorts for Tackett. His first home run, his first trot around the bases, his first home run hammer slam — one that should be the first of many.

Bullpen, Offense Shine for Virginia Tech in Series-Clinching Win Over Pitt

It didn’t matter where Pitt placed its fielders on Sunday vs. Virginia Tech.

Whether in their usual spots, moved up, nudged a hair back or even shaded towards a left-handed hitter’s shift, it didn’t stop Cade Hunter. Simply put, his production and resurgent season behind the plate just won’t stop.

Not this weekend. Not in the midst of his eight game hit-streak. And not at any point so far this season, really, aside the two games he hasn’t recorded a hit. It’s that consistency he’s displayed in all 17 of his games this season that has put him in the centerpiece of the Hokies’ potent offensive production through their first 18 games this season.

It also pushed Virginia Tech to a 7-1 series-clinching win over the Panthers at English Field, bumping its record to 12-6 overall, 2-4 in the ACC. It, too, gave VT its first ACC series win — it had lost six in a row — since April 11 of last season when the Hokies swept Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C. 

A breath of fresh air, really.

“Like I said yesterday,” Tech head coach John Szefc said after his team’s win on Sunday, alluding to their series victory, “it’s long overdue.”

At the center of it was Hunter in Tech’s two bounce-back wins.

He dug in the left-handed batter’s box and pulled a no-doubt home run over the visiting bullpen in right field Saturday. For an encore on Sunday, he roped an eight-inning double to left-center that scored the final two runs of the afternoon, putting the game out of reach.

But how Tech got there, well, that was a little unconventional.

The Hokies used four pitchers en route to their win, but only threw Ryan Okuda — who’s moved from the Saturday start into the Sunday role — for two-plus innings. He set down the first five hitters he faced before hitting Pitt’s Bryce Hulett with a pitch, but induced a fielder’s choice ground ball to Tanner Schobel at shortstop to end the small threat.

He went back out for the third, but that’s where his start ended. He plunked Brock Franks and then walked CJ Funk on six pitches. That’s where Graham Firoved — and a well-rested bullpen that bullied Pitt for seven innings — provided a springboard for the rest of the afternoon.

Firoved, making his first appearance since surrendering two runs in ⅓ of an inning in the March 11 loss to GT, started off a little shaky. He yielded a walk, but from there he locked in. With a one run lead — supplied by Conor Hartigan’s second home run of the season in the second inning — Firoved struck out the next three hitters to keep the Panthers scoreless in the third.

“It’s a little weird for me, you know, I haven’t had much success early on,” Hartigan said about adjusting to his new platoon role after transferring from James Madison. “It all comes down to the same thing. It’s about believing in yourself, erasing any sort of self-doubt.”

Just like Firoved picked Okuda up in the third, lefty Henry Weycker did the same for Firoved after he loaded the bases with two outs via two singles and a walk. Weycker snuck two strikes on Kyle Hess before getting him to pull a weak ground ball to first base, and for the second inning in a row, Pitt left the bases loaded.

“All those guys did a really good job,” Szefc said of his bullpen. “Would you rather have your starter go five scoreless? Yeah, but it didn’t happen today. The guys behind [Okuda] picked him up and we didn’t use all of our best arms.”

The offense gave Weycker a little more of a cushion when Jack Hurley extended his 17-game hit streak with a single to center field that scored Schobel in the fourth. An inning later, Schobel singled home Carson DeMartini to extend the Hokies’ lead to three.

And from there, it was relatively smooth sailing for Weycker, who would last for another three innings. He surrendered a solo home run to Hess in the seventh, but that was all Pitt was able to muster offensively.

Nick Biddison countered the solo home run with a two-run bomb of his own to left field — his second in as many days — gave VT a 5-1 lead, while Hunter’s two-run double in the next inning put the game on ice.

“It’s definitely rewarding, it feels good,” Biddison said. “I was in a little slump last year, but that’s just baseball.”

Kiernan Higgins recorded the final six outs after replacing Weycker, who threw 49 pitches, in the eighth inning. He mowed down hitters with his fastball, striking three out, inducing a double-play and a flyout. 

As the bullpen — and the rest of the pitching staff — goes, so do the Hokies. As long as it’s throwing strikes, it’ll continue to get favorable results.

Virginia Tech Uses Jack Hurley’s Three Hits To Crush Pitt

It could have been the swing, the sound, or maybe even how the baseball continued to climb up and over the wall, because the Virginia Tech dugout was celebrating well before Jack Hurley’s sixth home run of the season smashed into the batter’s eye in center field.

Once the ball landed, the scoreboard ticked three runs in the Hokies’ favor on Saturday afternoon, and a mob of players jumped and swarmed Hurley as he slammed the home run hammer into the artificial warning track in front of the dugout. They smacked his helmet, his hands and his back, eventually letting go of him as a smile beamed across his face.

For a team that’s had a lot more down than ups in the past week, Hurley’s homer picked the team up in a place where it needed it the most.

And it delivered Virginia Tech (11-6, 1-4 ACC) a 22-6 win over Pitt (10-9, 1-4 ACC), right when the season-opening seven-game win streak was beginning to sink too far into the rearview.

Once 7-0 on March 1, the Hokies have fallen back to Earth, winning just four times in their past nine games. Entering Saturday, they had lost five-straight.

“It was long overdue,” Tech head coach John Szefc said about the team’s first ACC win after the game. “But it’s certainly nice to get one.”

Superhuman efforts of Jack Hurley, who finished out the day with a .485 batting average, delivered Tech its first win since March 8. His two hits extended his hit streak to 16-straight games to open the season, meaning he’s over halfway to catching Tim Buheller’s program record 32-game hit streak set back in 1985.

The Hokies hit a season-high six home runs and scored the most runs in an ACC game in program history against Pitt.

Hurley’s homer kick-started a four-run third inning, one in which Tech jumped out in front by six runs after Drue Hackenberg settled in after surrendering a lead-off double and a first inning run. And from there he went to work.

He shut down the Panthers for the next three innings before yielding a solo home run and a two-run shot in the fifth and sixth inning, respectively. Once Jack Anderson’s home run left the park in the sixth, it brought Pitt to within three runs, but Hackenberg labored through it. 

Even though Hackenberg didn’t have his best stuff on Saturday, he battled through on 89 pitches — 64 of which were for strikes — in six innings, where he struck out four and allowed four runs on 11 hits and no walks. He picked up his first ACC win in the process after Tech wasn’t able to capitalize on his Sunday start at then-No. 13 Georgia Tech last weekend.

“It’s just about attacking the zone,” Hackenberg said. “That’s just my mindset.”

In another start, Hackenberg once again left it up to the bullpen to record the final nine outs. And in a close game, that hasn’t been a sure thing this season after the bullpen coughed up leads in two of Tech’s three games last weekend.

When he left after the top of the sixth inning, the score was 7-4 in Tech’s favor. But the offense had other ideas.

The Hokies exploded for nine runs — eight of which came before the Panthers could record an out — in the bottom of the sixth, pushing the lead to 12.

“The run support is great,” Hackenberg said. “It gives me a ton of confidence.”

It began with a Nick Holesa double, which was followed by a Carson DeMartini RBI single through the middle of the diamond. DeMartini came around to score three pitches later on Nick Biddison’s third home run of the season. 

Gavin Cross was walked and then advanced to second on a Tanner Schobel single, then third once Hurley walked. And then Eduardo Malinowski, who leads the team in RBIs with 23, drove in Cross and Schobel on a ground-rule double that bounced over the left field wall. Cade Hunter then launched a three-run homer to right field and finally, DeMartini capped the inning off with his second home run of the afternoon to left field.

After all of that, an inning the Hokies entered leading by just three runs, they now held a  16-4 advantage.

It set the stage for Ryan Metz to work out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh to hold the lead at 11 and then Hurley added another run to the scoreboard after hitting his home run second of the day off the batter’s eye — the seventh of his season.

Then again Hurley got another chance in the eighth, driving two more home on a ground-rule double. Tyler Dean finished the afternoon off on the mound in the ninth. 

“Felt great,” Hurley said after the win. “It definitely got the monkey off our back.”

Virginia Tech Loses Tough Draw in First Round of the Big Dance to FGCU

Virginia Tech center Elizabeth Kitley stood still for a moment with her hands on her hips before watching Florida Gulf Coast celebrate at halfcourt. She looked around the Xfinity Center as the final horn sounded on the Hokies’ 2021-22 campaign and started walking away towards the locker room.

The junior All-ACC first-teamer, All-ACC Player of the Year and Third-Team All-American scored 42 points (16-of-27), a program record in a single game. But, to her, none of that mattered.

“She doesn’t care if she scores two points or she scores 42 points; she wants to make sure she wins,” Tech head coach Kenny Brooks said. “That’s the thing she’ll be thinking about right now.”

It wasn’t the moment Kitley or her team envisioned when they found out they were one of the four five-seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament Sunday night. The Hokies had played their best season in the Kenny Brooks era — 13 ACC wins and a five-seed in the ACC Tournament before falling to NC State in the semifinal — but the reality of the scene quickly set in.

No. 12-seeded Florida Gulf Coast was jumping up and down, hugging and screaming at half-court. Kitley’s almost superhuman efforts weren’t enough as the Eagles used future first-round WNBA pick Kierstan Bell’s 22 points to knock off No. 5-seeded Virginia Tech, 84-81, on Friday afternoon in College Park, Md. 

“Obviously we’re very disappointed with the outcome,” Brooks said. “But it doesn’t change how I feel about these kids. The effort that they gave all year, very, very proud of what they accomplished. Stings right now because we had high aspirations for this group. So it stings right now but I’m very, very proud of these kids and the effort they gave all year long.”

The Hokies shot 50% from the floor but only took 17 shots from deep, taking advantage of the five-inch height difference Kitley had on the tallest Eagle inside. Where they hit six threes at a 35.5% clip, however, FGCU was better: 15 treys, 39.5%.

“They were pounding the ball inside on us pretty good, and we were a little slow to make an adjustment,” FGCU head coach Karl Smesko said.

It wasn’t the ending Kenny Brooks or his team wanted, but it was the one that showed on the scoreboard. Whether Florida Gulf Coast was a No. 12-seed or not, it up for debate. (For the record, a team that goes 29-2, even in a mid-major conference, is deserving of at least a No. 9-seed). But even that doesn’t change the result. 

The Hokies will head home much earlier than they anticipated after Florida Gulf Coast’s fast-paced offense moved the ball quickly on each possession. It waited for an open shooter on the perimeter, but if that was closed off, it would move the ball with ease inside. Of the Eagles’ 30 baskets, 19 were assisted. 

They took methodical care of the basketball, turning it over only three times. Tech won the rebounding battle (40-to-29), but with FGCU drawing Kitley and forward D’asia Gregg out to guard the 3-point line, it led to wide-open baskets for the Eagles inside the lane.

It happened multiple times in the second half when FGCU set all five of its deadly shooters on the 3-point line, forcing Kitley to bite, only for Tishara Morehouse to drive into the lane for easy points. With 1:08 left, it happened with Bell, who drove to the lane to give FGCU a two-point lead. From there, the Hokies never tied or led again.

But it didn’t start that way for Florida Gulf Coast. Of the 18 shots it took in the first quarter, 15 of them were from deep and just six found the bottom of the basket. Tech countered by pounding the ball inside and didn’t attempt a shot outside the arc. The Hokies faced a 24-20 deficit heading into the second quarter.

But they made up for it by outscoring the Eagles by five in the next period and used four 3-pointers — three from Aisha Sheppard who dropped all nine points in the game in her final collegiate appearance — to take a one-point lead heading into halftime. 

“We just kind of went with the flow of the game,” Brooks said. “Obviously we knew we had a size advantage inside. And once we found out that they were really trying to go one-on-one with Liz [Kitley], that’s where our focus was, to go there.”

And then the third quarter happened. Tech only shot 3-of-12 from the field while Florida Gulf Coast was 9-of-16, but a 9-for-12 mark from the line kept the Hokies within striking distance heading into the fourth.

That’s when Kitley took over. By herself, she went on a 12-4 run to open the final period of play, giving Tech a two-point lead on a step-back jumper, tying Brittany Cook’s single-game points record at 36 with 6:29 left. 

From there, though, Bell responded with a 5-0 run and Emma List countered Kitley’s record-breaking basket with a 3-pointer, giving FGCU a four-point lead with 3:33 remaining. That was before Gregg nailed a jumper and a layup to tie the score again at 74 with just over two minutes to go.

A miss by both teams set up Bell’s open drive to the hoop that put the Eagles back up for good. Kitley missed a step-back jumper with 49 seconds left, which allowed Florida Gulf Coast’s Karli Seay’s trey to make it a five-point, two possession game with 28 seconds left.

“You give them credit,” Brooks said. “They made timely shots. It was like they desperately needed to have that shot, it seemed like they made it.”

The clock ticked out as Georgia Amoore hit a three with half a second remaining and ticking out with it was Virginia Tech’s season and Sheppard’s career. She, along with Brooks, laid the foundation for the teams that come after her. 

She got the initial taste with an NCAA Tournament bid last season and through the successful ACC schedule Tech played this year. And through Brooks, the leap of faith Sheppard took, will always live on. It’ll live through next year’s team — one that’ll hope to crack the Sweet 16 — and in the years that follow.

The future is still bright for the Hokies, and the results will come.