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.