No. 4 Virginia Tech Falls One Win Short of Omaha in Loss to Oklahoma

The bench between the dugout and the left field bullpen sat empty with no relievers in sight as the season unraveled for No. 4 Virginia Tech.

On the mound in the middle of the diamond, Jordan Geber withered. The Hokies had surged during the regular season with the ACC’s best record and winners of nine-straight conference series. They had assembled one of the nation’s best lineups and pitching staffs before the season began – only no one outside of the team knew that they would be here back in February.

Flash forward to June. Thanks to Carson DeMartini’s two-run blast in the bottom of the third that was a no-doubter, the score in Game 3 of the Blacksburg Super Regional was tied at two.

In the dugout, however, fifth-year head coach John Szefc watched Tech’s season end like this: a graduate transfer that suffered a preseason concussion worked his way back after re-learning how to pitch. He yielded a solo home run and then another on a sacrifice fly once he was pulled with an out in the top of the fourth. And then, over the course of the final five innings, Oklahoma pushed six more runs across to stun Virginia Tech, 11-2, and punch its ticket to the College World Series in Omaha.

“I’m going to speak for all of us and say that this sucks pretty bad,” catcher Cade Hunter said. “We didn’t get it done on the offense today, and that’s pretty much the moral of the story. Not too much to be happy about, but we can still celebrate the season and what we did together.”

It was a thrilling season that melted into the agony of defeat on Sunday afternoon. A team that began the season 0-4 in the ACC ripped off 19 wins in its final 24 conference games – a run that surprised, well, just about everyone. Except the team.

They knew they were going to be good. But how good was the question they had entering the season.

Clad in all-white uniforms, the Hokies hung over the railing in the third base dugout and watched the Sooners gather by first base once Jonah Seagers’s strikeout ended their season. They’ll spend the summer wondering what could have been, especially after the first game of the series was only lost by a run, 5-4, and the weekend marked their first home series loss in 2022.

Szefc and Virginia Tech weren’t sure what the answer was. Why they lost by nine in their final game of the year or why their pitching that carried them to wins in all nine of their home series this season suddenly faltered. And they weren’t sure why they scored just two runs on Sunday after scoring 14 the day before.

“We didn’t use the pen all that much throughout the whole year so we could go to the tank when we needed to,” Szefc said. “We had to go to the pen pretty early [this weekend]. I think our guys were pretty effective in how they pitched the last couple of days, but it just didn’t happen today.”

But in the grand scheme of things, it’s just another loss. Sure, it stings now, but the 2022 Virginia Tech baseball team will forever be remembered as the best. It’ll be the standard that future teams will look up to, just as the team this season looked back on the 2013 squad, which hosted a regional for the first time in program history.

Sunday started with Geber on the bump. He was sedated in the hospital in early January, earned ACC Pitcher of the Week after throwing seven combined scoreless innings in a week against Liberty (three) and then-No. 7 Louisville, and was named Tech’s Game 3 starter in a win-or-go-home game.

He surrendered two solo homers in the first inning – the first was off the bat of Peyton Graham and the other was courtesy of Tanner Tredaway that snuck inside the left field foul pole – but buckled down to fire two shutout innings in the second and third.

After the first seven Virginia Tech bats were set down in order, Eduardo Malinowski singled to left field with one out. DeMartini followed that up with his homer to left to tie it at two apiece.

Then, Geber struggled. He yielded his third solo homer of the afternoon in the top of the fourth to Tredaway, his second of the game. That was followed by Brett Squires’s RBI single that scored another run. Szefc pulled the plug and then Henry Weycker let up a sacrifice fly that scored the third run of the inning that pushed the score to 5-2.

That’s when Oklahoma starter Cade Horton settled in. After DeMartini’s homer, he set down nine straight batters from the third inning until Nick Biddison walked to lead off the sixth. He struck out eight batters – six on his slider, one on a fastball and the other was a change-up – while the only two hits he gave up came in that third inning against Malinowski and DeMartini.

Oklahoma scored two more runs in the fifth on back-to-back RBI doubles from Blake Robertson and Tredaway that increased the lead to 7-2. Over the final four frames, the Sooners added a run an inning. By that point, it was too little, too late for Virginia Tech.

The players, ones that envisioned this type of success before the season began, were understandably bummed after the game. But those players – Gavin Cross, Nick Biddison, Tanner Schobel and Cade Hunter – were under-recruited coming out of high school. None were ranked as a top-200 prospect, and all four will most likely be taken in next month’s MLB Draft. It speaks to the development of Szefc and his staff – one that he’s very clearly fond of.

“I wouldn’t trade anyone on this staff for anyone,” Szefc said.

After the final pitch had been recorded in Jimmy Crooks’s glove, the Hokies watched the Sooners celebrate. Once Oklahoma had left the field, Virginia Tech formed its circle of trust around home plate, as it had all season after each game. Only this time, the players weren’t split between pitchers and position players. The entire team came together as one. They talked and reminisced on the squad’s historic season.

“When we first came here, Coach Szefc, Elbin and the crew recruited us, we were bad,” Cross said. “One of the things that we wanted to accomplish as early as we could was kind of turn the program around [and] take it places we haven’t been. I think everyone involved – coaches [and players] – I think we’ve all done that over the last two or three years. [We] kind of changed the way that Virginia Tech baseball is looked at and hopefully continue that in the future.”

Once the circle broke up, the fans that stayed gave the team a standing ovation.
“We love you guys!” someone yelled. “We’ll get to Omaha next year,” another screamed.

The players and Szefc nodded in acknowledgement of the crowd, thanking them for sticking around. Behind them, Oklahoma continued its celebration, while the Hokies headed towards their locker room into an offseason they believed had come too soon.

“I think [the team] probably changed me a little bit as a person, certainly as a coach, but I think definitely as a person,” Szefc said. “I don’t know a whole lot of 50-plus year old guys that can say that. Once you get to be our age, you kind of get set in your ways. These guys changed my ways in a very good way and that’s something I’m really thankful for.”

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Virginia Tech Blasts Oklahoma, 14-8, To Force Game 3 In Super Regionals

Some 414 feet from where the baseball landed, in the seconds after it dropped beyond the left-center field wall and the crowd exploded, was this sequence of Virginia Tech shortstop Tanner Schobel: he raised his arms, balled his hands into fists, smiled and slammed an air home run hammer into the turf just in front of the third base dugout.

Soon after, the moment broke. He high-fived his teammates and returned to the dugout to grab his glove and hat to play defense in the next inning. His homer pushed the Hokies’ lead to 6-4 and, though it seemed small at the time, it was the jumpstart No. 4 Virginia Tech needed. The Hokies’ four-run fifth inning in a do-or-die Game 2 in the NCAA Super Regional helped them sidestep elimination with a 14-8 win over Oklahoma at English Field Saturday afternoon.

They beat the Sooners because Jonah Hurney was dominant out of the bullpen and the offense, which only posted four runs on Friday, clicked once again. The Hokies hit five homers – two from Nick Biddison, one from Gavin Cross, another from Cade Hunter and, of course, Schobel’s blast – and scored 14 runs using both the long ball and small ball.

“I think we were disciplined; swinging at pitches that we should, looking for balls over the heart of the plate,” Hunter said of Tech’s offense after the victory. “With our guys, we can put the ball out at pretty much any part of the field and that’s what we did.”

Schobel’s blast off of Carter Campbell began Virginia Tech’s backbreaking rally in which it scored eight runs over the fifth, sixth and seventh innings. There’s still uncertainty about Schobel’s future in Blacksburg – whether he stays another year to become a surefire first round pick or jumps ship to the MLB Draft in July as a second or third round pick – but for now, he’ll stay a Hokie for at least another day.

“I think obviously … [it was] a really fun game to watch for a lot of people,” Tech head coach John Szefc said. “[The game had] a lot of offense, a lot of different pitching changes. I think it was like an exercise in toughness for our guys. They showed you how tough they are [and] how good they are, again. They’ve been showing that for a long time.”

The question on everyone’s mind from the beginning was how long Drue Hackenberg could last. Outside of a five-run outing at Virginia in early May, he was dominant in every start during the regular season, but he hasn’t been the same since then. Entering Friday, he had thrown 90 innings this season – more than the average workload for a freshman, especially one that hadn’t thrown a competitive pitch all fall.

He was given a 1-0 lead two pitches into the afternoon when Biddison’s solo shot led off the game. But he only lasted 2 ⅔ frames, giving it all he had – three earned runs on three walks and two hits – and exited with the bases loaded in the third inning and a 5-3 advantage on the scoreboard after Tech added four more runs in the top of the third.

“This is every bit of a marathon, as any one of these NCAA Tournament games are, but it was important for us to get off to a good start,” Szefc said of Biddison’s homer. “He gave us that good start and it was good from there.”

Szefc trusted reliever Christian Worley to get the Hokies out of the jam on Saturday, just as he had last Friday during Tech’s NCAA Regional opening-round win over Wright State, and Worley delivered once more, striking out Jackson Nicklaus looking to retire the side. 

He started the fourth inning on the mound, but after yielding a solo homer to Brett Squires and walking Kendall Pettis to lead off the frame, Szefc quickly turned to Hurney out the bullpen.

Hurney, a Hawaii native who began his collegiate career with a junior college in Oregon, delivered one of the biggest appearances in his career. He quickly forced a fielder’s choice ground out at second and then struck the final two hitters – one one a change-up, the other on a slider.

It gave Virginia Tech the momentum and confidence boost it needed. With a 5-4 lead, Schobel homered to begin the fifth and then Tech scored eight of its final nine runs in the fifth through seventh innings to push the lead to 13-5. 

Hurney tossed three more innings where he racked up a career-high in innings pitched (4) and strikeouts (7). He got one of his whiffs on a fastball, another on the change-up and the five others came on his wipeout slider. 

He only threw one bad pitch that Tanner Tredaway used to hit a solo homer in the fifth. Other than that, he was lights out.

“I think I did a pretty good job,” Hurney said. “Just trying to do the job, execute pitches, and trust my team behind me.”

Hurney finally came out in the eighth inning once Szefc turned to Ryan Metz to get the final six outs. But that didn’t go to plan. Metz was only able to stick around for an out before surrendering three runs, while Graham Firoved yielded two walks and was quickly pulled for Kiernan Higgins.

A three-run eighth from the Sooners cut into the Hokies’ lead, 13-8, but Higgins quickly struck out two hitters to end the frame, sending it into the ninth. Virginia Tech got one of its runs back with Biddison’s second homer of the day in the final inning, and then earned the win with Higgins on the mound in the bottom half.

But without Schobel’s homer – and certainly Hurney’s outing – maybe Virginia Tech doesn’t hold on to win. Maybe the Hokies fold and are sent home for the summer. But they weren’t. 

As they have been all season, they were resilient. They’ll play one final time in Blacksburg in a winner-take-all Game 3 at 1 p.m. on Sunday afternoon on ESPNU.

No. 4 Virginia Tech Drops Game 1 of Super Regional To Oklahoma, 5-4

If Nick Biddison had just been a tad later to a baseball he couldn’t have hit any harder, if the baseball had carried just a little bit further, if it was late February or early March with the Blacksburg wind blowing out to center field, then maybe the final inning – or innings – would have played a little bit differently for No. 4 Virginia Tech.

But the baseball, instead, settled into Oklahoma center fielder Tanner Tredaway’s glove on the warning track in front of the wall in left-center field. It was the second out of the ninth inning in one of the biggest moments in Game 1 of the Blacksburg Super Regional. Two pitches and a fly out to right field later, the Sooners (41-21) took a sigh of relief once the final out was recorded in their 5-4 victory over the Hokies (44-13) on Friday afternoon at English Field.

Virginia Tech has been in this position before. The Hokies haven’t dropped two games in a row since their five game slide – three at Georgia Tech, another at James Madison and the last a one-run loss to Pitt back in early March – and came back to win the Pitt series on Saturday and Sunday. Then, after dropping the first game of a weekend series, they did it again against then-No. 7 Louisville in mid-May. Since the Pitt loss back on March 18, they’re 32-7.

“I mean, we’ve been here before,” reliever Henry Weycker said after the loss. “We were here against Pitt and Louisville and ended up winning those series. Everybody’s calm, we’re all in a good place right now and I think we just need to move forward and look to the next game.”

But to get there throughout the season, Virginia Tech used a strong offense, a rock-solid bullpen and gusty starting pitching. It got two of the three outcomes once Griffin Green departed with no outs and two runners on in the second inning. And to his credit, he’s thrown 72 ⅔ innings this season after throwing just 18 as a reliever last spring and 17 ⅔ in the Cape Cod League last summer. That, along with a blister on his middle finger, have affected his recent outings going back to his Villanova start on May 7.

The Hokies got another 4 ⅔ inning outing from Weycker – his third of the season which tied a career-high in innings pitched – once he came on in the second inning and left with two outs in the sixth. He struck out five and yielded two runs, eating a chunk of innings and saving the rest of the bullpen – a combination of Christian Worley, Kiernan Higgins, Graham Firoved and Jonah Hurney – for the rest of the weekend.

“It was really important for him to go that long,” head coach John Szefc said. “He was very good just looking at his line. He came in and stabilized things to give our offense a chance to come back. He’s done it before.”

Weycker has stabilized things all season. He did it on a Sunday at Boston College. Then again at Virginia. Both outings saved the game and it didn’t allow for Szefc to desperately dig into his bullpen for arms that were tired from previous outings in a given weekend. 

It goes back to last season. He was expected to be a key arm in the bullpen in 2021 but an arm issue arose in the team’s first ACC series that season when he had to warm up and cool back down multiple times in one of the weekend’s games.

He’s headlined the bullpen this year, along with Firoved, Higgins and Hurney. He helped turn the bullpen, in what was a liability last season, into a strength. And it soon became one of the reasons that the Hokies always believed they could excel in this exact playoff matchup.

They just had to get here. They had to stare down last week’s Regional – which they swept – as the team with a target on their back. And they did so by scoring 46 runs, proving that they still had one of the top offenses in the nation. 

Virginia Tech has used its youth, mixed with veterans that have gone through this grind before, to push the Hokies deep into the postseason. The goal is to knock off Oklahoma, who came into Blacksburg in 2013 to steal the regional. And Virginia Tech’s head coach. 

But on Friday, five Oklahoma runs came across to score before the Hokies could muster one.

Green walked John Spikerman on four pitches to lead off the afternoon before yielding the game’s first run when Spikerman stole second and Blake Robertson drove him in with an RBI single. He worked himself out of the inning two batters later, but hit the first two hitters with pitchers in the second to end his day.

“I think he probably wasn’t at his best,” Szefc said. “He wasn’t throwing a ton of strikes at that point. He’s had some issues with the middle finger on his pitching hand that probably affected him. It’s been a day-to-day thing. We were just trying to change momentum a little bit.

“They had scored three runs, and their numbers say that they have had issues against left-handed pitching.”

Then, Weycker and his slider went to work once Szefc called for him out of the bullpen. The lefty quickly got a fielder’s choice (1-5) to nab Wallace Clark at third before two runs scored on two separate RBI singles from Kendall Pettis and Spikerman, 3-0. All three runs were charged to Green, but Weycker finally got out of the inning with a ground ball double play to shortstop.

The scoring from there stopped for a while. The Hokies got their lead off hitter on in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth innings but had no runs to show for it. Between innings two through five, Tech left six runners on base.

Oklahoma’s starter, Jake Bennett, worked around eight hits and two walks to yield four runs (one earned) in his seven innings of work and struck out eight on 103 pitches. Szefc called Bennett “one of the toughest lefties [Tech] has faced all year.” 

Weycker, though, matched Bennett pitch-for-pitch while the Hokies’ offense worked to figure Bennett out. Weycker used his slider to strike five hitters out, working around seven hits before yielding two runs in the sixth.

He surrendered a two-out double to Jackson Nicklaus and then an RBI single to Brett Squires before Szefc yanked him for Firoved, who surrendered Pettis’s second RBI single of the day to push the Sooners’ lead to 5-0.

In the bottom of the sixth, though, Virginia Tech finally started its claw back when Cade Hunter reached on a fielding error and Carson Jones homered for the eighth time in 10 games since he was penciled into the starting lineup on May 17. 

Then, trailing 5-2, Tanner Schobel reached on a throwing error with two outs in the seventh. Jack Hurley followed with his 14th blast this season – a 419-foot homer that banged off the batter’s eye out in center field. It brought Virginia Tech to within a run, 5-4, giving the Hokies seven outs to work with as the tying-run stood at the plate.

But the run never came around to score. All seven hitters were set down – Trevin Michael, who picked up his 10th save of the season, handled the final six – and the closest the Hokies got was Biddison’s long flyout that settled into Tredaway’s glove in center field.

“We’re a tough group, mentally we get over things pretty quickly,” Hurley said, “so I think a lot of us have already turned the page and are looking forward to tomorrow.”

Virginia Tech Advances To First NCAA Super Regional In Program History

Nine years after the Pete Hughes-led Virginia Tech squad was dumped in the Blacksburg Regional by Hughes’s future employer, Oklahoma, the Hokies had one more wait.

They had to wait for a finish that seemed predetermined when No. 4 Virginia Tech stepped out onto the field on Sunday night. After all, it had defeated Columbia a night earlier by 20 runs. It had to wait, because, in baseball there’s no chewing the clock and nothing more dangerous than an assumption. 

But the hunch that Virginia Tech was heading to its first Super Regional felt clear when it pushed across three runs in the first two innings and Ryan Metz threw 4 ⅓ innings of one-run ball in the start of his life. 

“This team has just been different,” Metz said after the Hokies advanced to the Super Regional. “I’ve been a part of five different Virginia Tech teams, all with different coaches, all with different mottos and the way they go about their business. This one has just been the most fun to be a part of in my opinion. The way these guys play, and we love each other. We go out and fight and just grit.”

It felt clear long before the Hokies beat Columbia for a second consecutive night, 7-2, to complete the NCAA Regional sweep of Wright State (Friday night) and Columbia twice, that was one-sided from the very beginning. But it started to feel a little less clear when Graham Firoved walked the leadoff batter in the eighth inning and a run came around to score after he was replaced with Henry Weycker. 

But Weycker, as he’d done all season, buckled down and held strong for the final six outs. After that? Well, it all turned into sheer celebration.

Because once the baseball settled into Nick Biddison’s glove and he stepped on first for the final out, the contest was over — really, really over — that Virginia Tech could claim Blacksburg’s first Super Regional. And when the Hokies did, when nothing stood between them and the promise of a chance, they sprinted towards Biddison at first in celebration. 

They smiled through their yells and bellows. They dogpiled on first base. The Hokies dumped a Powerade bath on head coach John Szefc. And Biddison and Cross, the two that jump-started Szefc’s rebuild when he arrived in 2018, slapped the Virginia Tech sticker on the regional bracket.

“It’s pretty cool,” Biddison said of getting the chance to put Virginia Tech on the NCAA bracket as regional champions. “Just to have that last little punch.”

Enter Sandman played over the speakers and it triggered the biggest cheers of the night.

The Hokies will either host Oklahoma or No. 13 seed Florida for a berth to the College World Series. They’ll arrive there after having been picked sixth in the ACC Coastal and starting 0-4 in ACC play. To that, they responded with a surge and nine-straight conference series victories.

They collected themselves after three one-run losses to open the conference schedule, in the midst of a five-game losing streak, to post 19 wins over their final 23 conference games. That journey started with a rebound against Pitt on March 19 after the one-run loss to drop them to 0-4 in the conference the night before. The Hokies were a freight train that couldn’t be stopped after that.

Then on May 21, Virginia Tech clinched the ACC Coastal title and the league’s regular season crown in the process.

The Hokies are the buzzsaw this year – they scored 46 runs in three games this weekend – and buried Columbia with 31 of them in back-to-back days. Sunday evening’s action all started when Metz worked around a lead off infield single in the top of the first and then Tanner Schobel’s two-run blast to left field in the bottom half. Biddison followed suit in the next inning with an RBI triple to push the lead to 3-0.

Columbia nudged a run back in the third when Tyler MacGregor tripled home Andy Blake with one out, but Metz handled the rest of the inning with ease. MacGregor’s hit came with two outs so Metz was quickly able to bounce back with a flyout to center field that ended the inning.

Virginia Tech loaded the bases in the bottom half of the third with an out against Lions’ starter Joe Sheets and that’s when he was pulled. Columbia went with Saajan May, who struck out Conor Hartigan and Carson DeMartini with cutters to end the frame and hold Tech off the scoreboard.

In the fifth, a similar situation arose. Carson Jones walked with one out and then Hartigan followed with a soft single through the right side to move Jones to third. That set up DeMartini’s second opportunity to put the game away. This time, he delivered.

The freshman sent a 2-2 pitch – a cutter that was low-and-inside – over the right-center field wall. He flipped his bat, trotted around the bases and slammed the home run hammer into the turf, which extended the Hokies’ lead to 6-2. 

“I wasn’t really thinking about that at bat,” DeMartini said of striking out in the third. “I tried to flush it [out] as quick as possible. Striking out with the bases loaded, that’s not fun. The guys before me that led up to that at bat, they put me in the position to do that. Without those guys there, I wouldn’t have been able to hit a home run.”

One batter later, Biddison followed suit, homering to left center. By that point, the Hokies led 7-1, and it felt like the game was over. And outside of the Lions pulling a run back in the eighth, it was.

Firoved shoved in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, finishing with 2 ⅓ innings while yielding a run and striking out five. Weycker, meanwhile, finished the job in the eighth and ninth and notched the final out, to which there was no planned celebration. Instead, all mayhem broke loose.

Most of the crowd stayed, close to 4,000, craning their necks, lifting their cell phones and bellowing “Enter Sandman.” They screamed until the Hokies left the field and continued to congratulate their team some more. The players met with their families, friends and strangers to celebrate, sign autographs and take pictures.

Biddison, one of Szefc’s first recruits, its backbone, its leader, the player that has gone through two major surgeries, jumped up and down once he slammed Tech’s sticker on the bracket. He jumped into his teammates arms because, arguably, no one deserved the moment more than him.

“It’s really special to win an NCAA regional,” Szefc said. “… I’m just so happy for our players and our coaching staff. I’m really happy particularly for Ryan Metz. Metz has been here for five years and got to start an NCAA regional championship game. Just think about that for a second. The guy is a survivor, he’s been here for a long time. Biddison has been through two shoulder surgeries and he’s lived to tell of it.”

This all began in the fall, through winter workouts and on February 18 when Tech beat down UNC Asheville at English in a 14-run runaway win. That was 107 days ago. 

Szefc wasn’t sure how his team would hold up. He didn’t know if the Hokies would stay healthy through the long season. Also, his pitching was unproven. There were a few mid-major transfers and some freshman talent that was unproven against ACC competition.

After last year’s start and subsequent fall, it felt like this season was the year that Virginia Tech needed to take that next step in the John Szefc era. Making the NCAA Tournament seemed attainable.

The Hokies exceeded all external expectations – they hosted an NCAA Regional as the nation’s No. 4 seed – becoming the story of the year in the process. But they knew they were talented. And now, college baseball is witnessing Virginia Tech’s coming out party.

“Being [in Blacksburg], it meant the world,” Biddison said. “We could’ve won somewhere else, but I’m very glad we ended it in Blacksburg.”

Only 16 teams in college baseball make it to the Super Regional around. Virginia Tech is one of them.

No. 4 Virginia Tech Continues To Surge, Advances To Regional Final

Fans were still walking from the parking lot — with maroon hats on, a cheap ticket in their pocket, an empty seat waiting for them inside the ballpark – when Virginia Tech took over English Field. With a twist.

As the designated visiting team in the Blacksburg Regional’s “1-0” game, it took just a few moments for the Hokies to fill the buzz in the park. Columbia’s JD Ogden lacked control, walking Carson Jones with the bases loaded after plunking Gavin Cross and Cade Hunter with a pitch and yielding a single to Tanner Schobel. It accounted for the first of many runs to score in No. 4 Virginia Tech’s 24-4 win over Columbia on Saturday night. 

As a result, the celebratory “Hey! Hey! Hey’s!” in the third base dugout didn’t quit until the Hokies stopped scoring runs in the top of the ninth inning. The chants have become a tradition, just like the home run hammer, and all too common all season, if you ask their opponents. They scored 15 runs against Wright State on Friday and then scored 24 more to bury the Lions to the consolation bracket to face Gonzaga for a second time.

Tech will face the winner of Gonzaga-Columbia, who play in an elimination game at 1 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The winner plays VT at 7 p.m. later that night.

It’s the third time the Hokies have advanced to the Regional Final since 2010, but they haven’t made it past there yet. This year’s team is much more talented than in years past. In the Hokies’ past four games, they’ve scored 12 runs three times. Raw power and and pure talent goes a long way.

“Obviously, [it was] a really good night for our guys,” Tech head coach John Szefc said after the blowout win. “It’s very rare to see a score like that in an NCAA Tournament game. But you know, our guys played really well, so I’m just kind of happy that obviously with the outcome and the fact that our guys have put themselves in a really good position to come out here and win a regional tomorrow at home.”

Now back to the dugout in the top of the first.

Once Cross scored the first run of the game, the dugout high-fived, fist-pounded, shouted and celebrated Tech’s early lead. A runway was cleared for Cross down the dugout steps where a celebration was awaiting him. He hopped down the steps, shuffled towards his teammates and took off his maroon helmet to use as a prop. 

That’s when the home crowd, still filing into the stadium, took notice of the dugout celebration because they clapped and cheered along with Cross and his teammates. 

“This is why you come to Virginia Tech,” Schobel said. “The community is so supportive of their athletes regardless of their sport. … I think a reason you come to Virginia Tech is to play in front of crowds like that.” 

Even with the fans making noise, yelling and clapping, the Hokies’ shouts of “Hey! Hey! Hey!” could still be heard loud and clear up in the press box.

Columbia struck back with two runs off of Griffin Green, who was making his first start in 15 days, in the second inning. He departed once the inning concluded, setting up Jordan Geber’s latest appearance out of the bullpen. He surrendered a lead-off walk but quickly bounced back with a ground ball to Schobel at shortstop to turn a double play and then a second ground ball to Schobel that ended the inning.

That’s where all of Columbia’s offensive production stopped, while Virginia Tech’s was just beginning.

Conor Hartigan singled to lead off the fourth. Carson DeMartini walked. Nick Biddison was hit by a pitch that loaded the bases with one out. Cross struck out on a 3-2 pitch that nipped the zone, which set up Schobel’s bases-clearing double that gave Virginia Tech the lead back for good, 5-2.

Three runs had come around to score in the inning already with one out. After that? Eleven more. Fourteen total runs were scored by the Hokies in the top of the fourth – an ACC-era best. 

Jack Hurley singled a run home. Jones added an RBI single. Hartigan drew a bases-loaded walk in his second of three plate appearances in the inning. DeMartini tripled down the right field line that scored three more.

And that set Biddison up for his inside the park home run. He lifted a high fly ball to left field that Cole Hage lost in the lights – the second of three occurrences for him on Saturday night. Once the ball landed, Biddison was already halfway to third and scored easily. Despite not hitting a ball that left the park, the Hokies gave him the home run hammer to slam into the turf.

“I put a pretty good swing on it, but I got a little under it,” Biddison said. “And then I looked up and kind of saw the left fielder holding his hands up like he didn’t know where the ball and [first base] coach [Tyler] Hanson is in my ear yelling, ‘Go! Go! Go!’ so I just started running. Once I hit second and saw the ball hit the ground, I knew I was going to score.”

But that was the 11th run of the inning. Tech added three more on Hurley’s second RBI single of the fourth and a two-run double off the bat of Hunter. All of that happened with one out – Cross’s bases loaded strikeout as the fourth batter of the inning. In between all of that, 13 straight hitters reached base, pushing the lead to 15-2.

“We have guys top to bottom, most of the guys you guys haven’t even seen take at bats yet,” Biddison said of what makes his team’s offense so special. “I think that having all of us on one offense is very dangerous. And Coach [Kurt] Elbin wants us to hit the ball hard. Swing the bat hard. That’s what happens.”

Once the inning ended, Geber trotted back out for his second inning of work. He yielded a solo homer, but the Hokies added three more runs in the top of the fifth — Cross hit a two-run shot to right, while Schobel scored on a groundout from Hurley. Soon after, Geber bounced back with a scoreless bottom half before handing it off to some of the lesser-used pieces in the Hokies’ bullpen.

And then Tech added on to the lead even more in the sixth. Hartigan’s groundout scored Jones and Biddison reached on a throwing error that allowed Eduardo Malinowski to score, extending the lead to 20-3. By then, Szefc had seen enough and began to use some of the depth pieces on the roster.

“If you look at our lineup top to bottom, there’s guys that hit the ball,” Hurley said. “Pretty much everybody can hit above 100 [miles per hour]. If you do that as many times as you can, it’s going to be a pretty good night.”

Ryan Okuda was the first to get the call. He tossed a scoreless bottom of the sixth before Gherig Ebel scored on a wild pitch to add another run to the Hokies’ total in the seventh. Okuda then worked around a one-out double by striking out the final two hitters in the seventh. That set up Nick Holesa’s run on a wild pitch once he reached on a walk in the eighth, and the Hokies’ scoring finally stopped once Ebel roped his first career home run over the left field wall, putting Tech up 24-3.

Sean Fisher yielded a bases loaded walk in the eighth and was relieved in favor of Grant Umberger, who got the final two outs in the inning. But by that point for Columbia, it was way too little, way too late. The Lions trailed 24-4 and didn’t put up much of a fight in the bottom of the ninth when they battled a combination of Umberger and Brady Kirtner for the final three outs.

Virginia Tech’s offense is dangerous – ask any team the Hokies have faced. Miami, NC State, Virginia. You name it.

Virginia Tech scored its most runs in a game since 2017 on Saturday night. Its offense looks like one of the best in the country night in and night out, and it’s been this way all season. Whatever pitcher a team throws out on the mound, Tech will more than likely crush.

Just ask Columbia. Or ask those fans that were still piling in during the early innings of the night if they could hear the noise.

Bats, Christian Worley Carry Virginia Tech In Regional-Opening Victory

There was a point around the sixth inning inside English Field when the math, to a tee, seemed very simple: Wright State was going to face some of the best pitchers No. 4 Virginia Tech had to offer. And if the Raiders couldn’t beat Drue Hackenberg, Henry Weycker, Graham Firoved, Jonah Hurney, Christian Worley and eventually Ryan Metz, the Hokies were going to move on to the winner’s bracket semi-final.

That’s exactly what happened when all nine innings were added up. Virginia Tech (41-12) beat Wright State (30-25), 15-9, in a slugfest. 

The bats woke up and Worley locked in and stabilized a struggling bullpen when he entered with the bases loaded, no outs and a 10-6 lead in the sixth. He also entered with an 11 consecutive inning scoreless streak, yielded a single that scored two runs and then struck out three hitters to close the innings with a two-run lead in hand.

Worley struck out five in his 3 ⅓ innings and ran his scoreless streak up to 13 ⅓ frames before he walked Avery Fisher with an out in the ninth and he came around to score on a two-out double that Metz surrendered. But by that point, it was already out of reach for Wright State, who trailed by seven runs heading into the ninth when Metz ended it with a four-pitch strikeout that gave the Hokies their first opening-round win since 1997.

Head coach John Szefc left nothing to chance, even with a hot-hitting Columbia team on the horizon at 7 p.m. on Saturday (ESPN+). He pushed the right buttons, including bringing Worley in for relief four batters into the sixth, and helped the Hokies start their first regional since 2013 on the right foot.

“He’s been tremendous,” Szefc said of Worley after Tech’s win on Friday. “Tonight, against Clemson, at [Virginia] – and I’m probably forgetting one in there – it’s not like he’s been pitching against poor teams, he’s been pitching against good teams in tight situations. None bigger than tonight in the NCAA Tournament, and he’s been effective.”

When the Hokies arrived on Friday, when they took stock of their pool play split in the ACC Tournament a week ago — a blowout win against Clemson last Thursday, followed by their worst loss of the year on Friday to North Carolina — they could take comfort in the simple fact: It was only one game. It didn’t end their season. It stung, wasn’t pretty, but it certainly tightened them up, but there was little reason to breathe in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings. 

“Baseball is baseball,” outfielder Gavin Cross said. “We had one bad game in Charlotte, but the offense has been good all year. Sticking with the plan the coaches gave us and going out there and playing as hard as we can.”

Hackenberg, who cruised through seven innings against the Raiders on March 6, had little problem for the first three innings. That was until he yielded two runs in the fourth and then three in the fifth. 

He came out after four-plus innings — he yielded a walk, then set up a double play until Carson DeMartini threw the baseball into right field, and finally a two-run double that brought Wright State a run away, 5-4. By then, Szefc had seen enough. 

Virginia Tech had given him a five-run lead to protect right away. 

Cross smoked a 432-foot homer over the right field scoreboard. Then he added his third of five RBIs with a single in the second inning that scored Lucas Donlon and moved Nick Biddison to third. He stole second, which prompted the catcher to throw down, giving Biddison enough time to scoot home. And finally, Cade Hunter added his 16th home run of the year on a solo shot off the batter’s eye in the third. 

But then, Hackenberg struggled. Weycker, who’s been a workhorse out of the bullpen all season, yielded a walk with a runner on second in the fifth. Then a catcher’s interference on a groundout to first loaded the bases with no outs, ending Weycker’s day after 10 pitches. That’s when Firoved surrendered a sacrifice fly and then struck out the next two hitters, which kept the score tied at five. 

And then the Hokies’ bats exploded in the bottom of the fifth. Jack Hurley and Hunter reached to begin the inning. With an out, Carson Jones knocked in the first of his two RBI doubles. Next, Lucas Donlon and DeMartini reached on two separate safety squeezes that scored a run apiece. Then, Biddison — his third of five hits — and Cross — who also picked up five knocks — both drove in a run. 

That gave the Hokies’ dugout, quiet for most of the UNC loss, a reason to bang on the padded railing and bring back the “Hey! Hey! Hey’s!” each time a player scored a run. The Hokies took a 10-5 lead and led by at least two the rest of the way. 

The big remaining question was how far could Firoved go and how Szefc could use his bullpen. Firoved has thrown multiple innings all season — it wasn’t a new task for him. But he yielded a lead-off walk and a single to begin the sixth. Hurney was next out of the bullpen and quickly surrendered an RBI double and another walk to load the bases.

With a 10-6 lead, Szefc turned to Worley to get the Hokies to the seventh. He struck out Gehrig Anglin, yielded a two-RBI single and then struck out the last two hitters of the inning. 

“I know the bases were loaded when I came in in the sixth and I just tried to slow the game down and let my stuff do its thing,” Worley said.

Szefc stuck with Worley for the seventh and he rewarded the decision in a 10-8 game with another scoreless inning. In the bottom half, VT added another run on Hurley’s sacrifice fly to left that scored Biddison.

Worley then, again, pitched another inning, this time with a three-run lead. He worked around a two-out walk in the eighth to run his scoreless streak to 13 innings, and then his offense rewarded him with four more runs to push the lead to 15-8. 

He went out for the ninth, but after surrendering a one-out walk, his night was done. Worley shook Szefc’s hand when he met him on the mound — a clear thank you from his head coach for stabilizing the pitching when it needed it the most. 

I struggled at the beginning of the year, and I knew I had to flip a switch,” Worley said. “I think [against] JMU, I came in and closed the game during the year. After that, something switched.”

Worley and Szefc watched Metz record the final two outs — once after yielding a two-out double that scored a run, ending Worley’s scoreless streak. But leading 15-9, Metz struck out the final hitter and Biddison slapped Virginia Tech’s sticker on the oversized cardboard bracket. 

“Just a really well-fought game,” Szefc said. “If you like college baseball, that was a good game to watch. … Not a lot that happened tonight surprised me.”

The Hokies will only go as far as their arms will take them. Friday’s result kept them alive and well.

Carson Jones’s Surge Was A Surprise; No. 2 Hokies Aren’t Complaining

Maybe Carson Jones will no longer mash a home run in every four plate appearances near the bottom of the lineup for No. 2 Virginia Tech – that would be a huge ask. He’s currently on a tear that only seems possible because he did it. Five homers in four games? Yes, that happened at English Field this past week for the Hokies.

He did it out of nowhere, too. He had only started once all year prior to last Tuesday’s win over Kansas State. That was back on March 13 in the first game of a doubleheader at Georgia Tech – he walked and then was pinch-hit for. In the two months until May 17, Jones appeared in four games, all either as a pinch-hitter or defensive substitution.

But his emergence gives his head coach a new toy to play with – in a playbox full of them – entering this week’s ACC Tournament, next week’s NCAA Regional round and potentially a Super Regional and the College World Series. 

John Szefc inserted him into the lineup prior to the Hokies’ matchup with Kansas State. The headline going into last Tuesday was Pete Hughes’s first visit to Blacksburg since leaving Virginia Tech to coach at Oklahoma after VT’s 2013 Regional loss to the Sooners. But coming out, the story was Jones, and he continued to chronicle it over the weekend. 

“It’s definitely a different mind set, having to come off the bench versus starting,” Jones said on Thursday. “It’s kind of tough – getting out there in a rhythm and out there playing is important. I didn’t get that during the season, but now I am, so I’m just going to run with it.”

His move into the order coincided with Virginia Tech’s sweep over Duke this past weekend and a Coastal Division title. That shouldn’t minimize how good the rest of the lineup has been. Jones’s historic week, though, would finish with an ACC Co-Player of the Week award.

Jones’s first homer came last Tuesday – nothing too special. He drove an 0-2 change-up that was left belt-high to the opposite way over the left field wall in the second. A solo home run in an 8-2 win didn’t leave the biggest mark on the scoreboard that day, but it was enough for Szefc to pencil him in the lineup on Thursday.

“I was excited,” Jones said on Friday after learning he was starting against Kansas State Tuesday. “I wanted the opportunity to get out there and show [the team] what I’ve been working on the last couple months. I feel like I did that.”

In his first ACC start since that March 13 loss to Georgia Tech, Jones would one-up his performance on Thursday. He hit two home runs, including one that brought Tech back to within two runs in the bottom of the fourth, 7-5. Then he smoked another to center field an inning later that became the game-winning swing that put his team back on top for good, 10-9. Tech won 15-11.

With a 1-0 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh inning on Friday, Cade Hunter led off the inning with a single to right. Jones, who was moved up from the eight-hole to the seven spot, crushed his fourth home run of the week – this one to right field. It proved, again, to be the game-winning swing when Duke tallied its first run in the eighth in the Hokies’ 6-1 victory.

“I’ve just been sticking to my approach,” Jones said after Friday’s victory. “I think right now the ball is looking pretty good, obviously, and sticking to what [Kurt] Elbin said we needed to do today. It’s been working so I’m just going to keep doing what I’ve been doing.”

And for an encore on Saturday, with VT up 4-2 in the seventh, he hit his fourth home run that weekend – a three-run shot that put the game just about out of reach for the Blue Devils. His fifth home run in the week essentially clinched Virginia Tech’s Coastal crown, the best regular season in the ACC and the No. 1 seed in the ACC Tournament – all firsts in program history.

Jones was only inserted into the lineup because Kurt Elbin, Tech’s hitting and third base coach, lobbied Szefc to put him there prior to Tuesday. Szefc agreed and there Jones was: playing right field and batting seventh against Kansas State.

“[Jones] works hard and we’ve got him in the lineup,” Szefc said on Friday. “He’s wanted that spot and I couldn’t be happier for him. You could’ve said the same thing about [Lucas] Donlon when we ran him out there at Fenway Park a few weeks back, and he’s been a great contributor. … Similar situation – just Jones’s swings have been pretty sexy in terms of home runs.”

Though, it was a surprise to see Jones’s name in the lineup last Tuesday. Szefc has loyally stuck with Conor Hartigan at the designated hitter and right field spot – for the mid-week games Gavin Cross is written in as the DH – through his highs and lows throughout the season.

When Jones went deep on Tuesday, that was a bigger surprise. And when he did it four times in three days against Duke, there was shock, astonishment and disbelief in the stands, on social media and even in the pressbox. 

But Jones believed in himself throughout the entire year. He kept true to his routine and knew that once his time came, he’d put on a show.

No. 3 Virginia Tech Clinches ACC Regular Season & Coastal Crown

When it was official that a year projected to be another lost year in the John Szefc rebuild turned into an ACC Coastal Division title, a projected Super Regional host and the ACC regular season title for the first time in program history, No. 3 Virginia Tech jumped, hugged and high-fived. 

The Hokies, though they knew they had the talent to compete with the best in the conference throughout the year, weren’t supposed to be here. 

Coming into Saturday, Virginia Tech controlled its own destiny after overtaking Miami as the Coastal Division and conference leader. The math was simple for the Hokies: win and the regular season crown was yours. Lose and put all your chips in on No. 14 Notre Dame beating No. 6 Miami. 

But once Miami’s game began an hour earlier than Tech’s and the Hurricanes jumped out to a 5-0 lead over the Irish in the first inning, the only option at that point was to take care of business against Duke.

Virginia Tech did just that with a 7-2 victory over the Blue Devils. It marked Tech’s 40th win – the first 40-win season since 2013 – and the first time a school’s baseball team and softball team won the conference’s regular season crown since Georgia Tech did it in 2005.

“It feels really sweet, I think it’s some justification for all the work that our staff and our players put in,” Szefc said after clinching the Coastal Division. “To be able to do it at home is a very unique thing. … To win a regular season championship in this league – which is arguably maybe one of the best in the country – it’s extra gratifying.”

There was a short point earlier this season when the celebrations didn’t seem possible. Not clinching the ACC’s No. 1 seed. Not potentially hosting an NCAA Super Regional. Really anything but jockeying for position as a middle of the pack team in the conference.

When Virginia Tech left Georgia Tech on March 13 after it was walked off twice and dropped all three games of the regular season, the Hokies traveled to Harrisonburg for a non-conference game against James Madison two days later. They lost that game as well. The following weekend, Tech hosted Pitt and dropped the series opener on March 18. 

“We had to learn to lose before we had to win,” left fielder Jack Hurley said on Saturday. “Learning to lose is really important, especially in this conference. We went down [to Georgia Tech] and we didn’t get too deflated. We used that as fuel.”

If you peeked onto social media then or had a conversation with a friend, the season seemed dead in the water. And it was almost fair to think after Tech rose as high as the No. 17 team in the country in 2021 then collapsed, losing 15 of its last 17 ACC games, and qualified as the last team to make the ACC Tournament.

“No, I didn’t expect this,” Graham Firoved, who recorded the final out on Saturday, said about his team coming into the year. “I knew we were going to have a good year and that we’d make a regional. This has by far exceeded my expectations.” 

But something changed during that Pitt series. Tech stayed healthy, for one, and its confidence never wavered. Griffin Green and Drue Hackenberg emerged as two of the ACC’s more reliable pitchers. The bullpen, which coughed up two leads to Georgia Tech, was stones the rest of the way. 

That combination, however twisted, was enough to make the Hokies the most dangerous team in the ACC. From the second Pitt game on March 19 to Saturday, May 21, Tech ripped off 19 wins over its final last 24 conference games.

The Hokies won the next nine ACC series with six against ranked foes – No. 12 Notre Dame, No. 18 North Carolina, No. 21 NC State, No. 2 Miami, No. 11 Virginia and No. 7 Louisville –  and two sweeps over Boston College and Duke. And it ultimately led them to a No. 1 seed and an opportunity to host a NCAA Tournament Regional.

But to Szefc, the expectations have been met, even if it took a few more years than he wanted the rebuild to take.

That project began in 2018 in Szefc’s first season. And through freshman recruiting, player development and the transfer portal, it’s all accumulated into a product that’s become can’t-miss-television.

Szefc got production from everywhere on Saturday. 

His recruits: Nick Biddison, Tanner Schobel and Hurley went deep with solo shots in the bottom of the first inning to sport Tech a 3-0 lead. Then Carson Jones, who was recruited with Gavin Cross and Cade Hunter, went deep with a three-run homer in the seventh to put the game out of reach, 7-3.

Szefc’s transfers: Jordan Geber, Eduardo Malinowski and Firoved all gave Tech big contributions in its division-clinching win. Malinowski smoked his second home run of the weekend in between homers from Hurley and Jones in the third. Geber, meanwhile, threw 4 ⅓ two-run innings before the lightning delay ended his start early. 

Then Firoved recorded the final 15 outs once the delay came to an end.

And once the ball settled into the glove of Jones out in right field for the final out, the Hokies made a mad dash to greet each other at the mound. 

Firoved and Cade Hunter hugged. Szefc was drenched in a Gatorade bath. Noah Johnson gave Kiernan Higgins a piggy back ride around third base and to home plate.

“We did it, we did it!” one player yelled. “We won, baby!”

That’s how it went until the players dispersed a half-hour later. They celebrated with their parents and their friends on the concourse. They hugged some more.

And that’s when Szefc walked back down to the field to meet with a few local reporters. His voice was a little hoarse, perhaps from the yelling he did once his team’s score was final. If baseball wasn’t back in Blacksburg quite yet in this exponential season, then it certainly was on Saturday afternoon.

“This is one of the best days of my life,” Firoved said.

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.