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.