Virginia Tech Baseball Sweeps Boston College

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Connor Coward
Connor Coward and the Hokies swept Boston College over the weekend. (VT sports photography)

Using a ninth inning comeback and a walk-off single by Jack Owens in the tenth, Virginia Tech (17-13, 6-6 ACC) defeated Boston College (8-17, 1-11 ACC) 4-3 to sweep the Eagles. Tech is now in second place in the Coastal Division standings behind UNC (22-6, 9-3).

In game one of the series on Friday night, the Hokies were powered behind an offense that exploded for 22 hits in the 16-4 victory. Sam Fragale led the charge by going 3-5 with two home runs and six RBI’s. Tom Stoffel was 5-6 from the plate with two doubles. Connor Coward picked up the win on the mound, going 5.0 innings and giving up three earned runs.

On Saturday afternoon, Virginia Tech had the bats firing on all cylinders again as they defeated Boston College, 10-6. It was again the Fragale and Stoffel show, as the pair combined for eight RBI’s, with each hitting a home run.

“He’s [Fragale] been extremely valuable,” said head coach Pat Mason. “Part of that equation, Sam hitting those home runs and driving in those RBI’s, there’s two parts to that equation. That’s Jack Owens getting on base, Ryan Tufts getting on base at an extremely high rate, and Tommy hitting in front of him getting on base. Not only is Sam executing, but he always has guys on base in front of him. With him hitting the way he is, it’s huge. It breeds confidence in our dugout. He’s our leader, he’s our captain. He’s walking the walk. It’s invaluable to have him the way it is.”

“That’s the Tommy [Stoffel] that I don’t want to say we’ve been waiting for because that’s sort of who he was as a freshman, then he missed a year with the injury and last year he was never really healthy enough to get himself in,” said Mason. “So now we’re 29 games into the season and he’s starting to really get comfortable again. Him and Sam, three and four right there, are obviously the heart and soul of our lineup.”

The Hokies completed the sweep on Sunday with the come from behind victory in ten innings. Kit Scheetz got the start on the mound and gave up one run over 4.2 innings. Packy Naughton came on in relief pitched the final 5.1 innings, giving up two runs and striking out five batters.

“I try to go out there every time and throw strikes, get ground balls, get some outs,” said Naughton, who picked up the win. “It’s a simple game. You have to go out there and do what you’re told. That’s all I’m trying to do. It’s one pitch at a time, one out at a time, one hitter at a time.”

Tech was stifled all game long against BC’s starter, Andrew Rapp. Rapp limited the Hokies to just five hits over seven innings, giving up two runs. He struck out eight batters.

“Rapp did a really good job,” said Mason. “I think we kind of had to scrape our runs, even in the first and second inning. He matched up well against our lineup. Statistically, he is their best pitcher so far this year. I think we hit some balls on the nose, but to the wrong part of the ballpark today. I thought he attacked our hitters. He was ahead of them all day. He didn’t really make any mistakes after that. He put our guys away and got a lot of soft contact. That kid did a really good job. He was at 80 some pitches in the eighth which is really tough to do against our lineup.”

Trailing 3-2 while entering the ninth, the Hokies had a runner on and were down to their final out before Jack Owens singled to extend the inning. Then, Ryan Tufts doubled off the wall to tie the game at three – a shot that was inches away from being a three-run walk-off home run.

“That was huge,” said Owens. “Down by one, you have to find a way to score some runs. We had a guy on second and Tufts did the job with what should have been a bomb, but the wind pushed it back and it hit the fence. It was a great swing.”

After Naughton shut down the Eagles in the tenth, the Hokies loaded the bases when Mac Caples was hit by a pitch, Marcus White drew a walk, and Rahiem Cooper reached on an infield single. The stage was then set for Owens, who delivered with the game-winning hit in the hole between the shortstop and third baseman.

“All of our guys set us up for that inning,” Owens said. “We found a way to get on base, and Coop beating out that single. I was just sitting fastball and he left a slider up a little bit. I kept my bat moving and it worked out well.”

Owens has been the spark plug for Tech atop the order in his first year with the Hokies after sitting out last year. The redshirt sophomore is hitting .400 with 54 hits on the year. In fact, Owens was tied for the most hits in the NCAA through April 2 according to NCAA.org.

“We lost Saige [Jenco] and I thought Saige was one of the best lead-off hitters in the conference,” Mason said. “Jack is performing at an equal if not higher level right now. He’s got a different energy about him too, which I think our guys feed off of. If he’s on base as much as he is, we have pitchers from the stretch against the meat of our order. It’s been good so far.”

Tech’s home run total was brought to 56 through 30 games, far surpassing the 34 home runs that the Hokies hit through 55 games in 2016.  They currently lead the nation in home runs per game (1.87) and total home runs (56).  Sam Fragale’s 12 homers ranks second nationally.  The team is also first in slugging percentage (0.534). The long ball has become the weapon of choice for Tech’s offense, but on Sunday the Hokies demonstrated that they can win without the home runs.

“In the second inning we got a couple free bases, then we double steal,” said Mason. “We have Mac [Caples] as the lead runner and double steal. Then we get the run in on a sac fly. We can manufacture runs. We prefer to bang it around. We talked about that, I felt we slipped up a little bit against Binghamton, not being able to execute like we did today. The ninth inning and tenth inning were similar, there’s some free bases involved. Mac get hits by a pitch, his willingness to not get out of the way of that pitch starts the whole inning. Marcus draws a walk and moves him into scoring position and Coop legging out an infield single. A ball didn’t leave the infield and we had the bases loaded with our best hitter up. It was important, but it is something that we talk about. We don’t want to restrict our hitters. We’re going to have to find a way to score runs and I thought we did a good job of that today.”

With the sweep, the Hokies brought their record to .500 in conference play, good for second place in the ACC Coastal standings. Tech now faces a tough stretch of five straight games on the road, beginning with a trip to Marshall on Wednesday, a weekend series at Clemson (who is tied for the lead in the Atlantic Division with Louisville at 10-2), and concluding with a week day game at Radford. Despite the difficult travel that will be involved, Mason isn’t concerned at looking too far ahead.

“It’s important, but we’ll just take one at a time,” Mason said. “We have to focus in on Wednesday at Marshall. Do what we need to do to continue some momentum and take that into Clemson with us. We’re not going to go down to Clemson trying to win three, we’re not trying to win two, we’re just trying to win Friday night.”
A crucial stretch lies ahead for Tech and only time will tell if the Hokies can pass each test with flying colors.

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