Hokies win three of four over the weekend

Jacob Emert, SportsWar, on March 3, 2014
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Friday afternoon vs. Cincinnati | Hokies 4 – Bearcats 1

WP: Brad Markey (2-1) 8 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 8 SO
LP: Matt Ring (1-1) 5 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 BB, 2 SO
S: Like Scherzer (1)

Just six games into Virginia Tech’s season, plenty of question marks still surround the young team. The Hokies’ Friday night starter however, is not one of them. Brad Markey has proven his ability to dominate baseball games over his two years at Tech and did so again against Cincinnati Friday night.

For the sixth time in Markey’s two-year Tech career, he struck out five or more batters and walked one or fewer. He worked eight innings, striking out eight and surrendering just one run after a leadoff double in the seventh. After Ian Happ, Cincinnati’s second baseman and number two hitter, singled in the first inning on a bloop falling just onto the green turf to signify the outfield, Markey went on to retire 16 straight batters, a streak lasting until the sixth inning.

“That’s the name of Brad’s game,” coach Pat Mason said. “Pound the zone with all of his pitches. Throw any of them in any count. He really kept the hitters on their heels. Generally speaking that team likes to be very patient, but Brad forced them to swing, forced them to do things they’re not comfortable doing. He was awesome. He was awesome.”

Markey was provided a four-run lead in the second inning, one in which every Tech starter came to bat. Alex Perez and Brendon Hayden each hit a sacrifice fly in the inning and Sean Keselica ripped a two-run single up the middle. Miguel Ceballos, Saige Jenco, Tom Stoffel and Mark Zagunis scored in the inning.

Jenco continued his Road Runner-like season on the base paths, stealing his seventh and eighth bases of the year. He passed NC State’s Trea Turner for the ACC-lead.

“It’s huge for two reasons,” Mason said. “One, obviously it gives us the opportunity to score anytime he’s on base. Number two, our two-hitter, Tommy or whoever is batting second in the order, they’re getting on base too because the pitcher is so preoccupied with Saige, and now his reputation is proceeding him. Our number two hitter is getting all fastballs or getting balls in general, so it’s big. We need to start capitalizing on it more. I think he was on base four times today and he only scored 1 run. He had two steals, two walks, a hit, and we only scored one run.”

Saturday afternoon vs. UMass Lowell | Hokies 4 – River Hawks 3 (11 innings)

WP: Tanner McIntyre (1-1) 5.2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 6 SO, 4 BB
LP: Nick Boutoures (0-1) 1.1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 3 SO, 3 BB

Timely hitting has been a problem for the Hokies thus far in 2014, but given enough opportunities, something has to give.

With the game tied at 3 from the 6th inning on, Tech left the bases loaded in the 8th and 10th innings and stranded two more men in the 9th.  Alex Perez, Tech’s unconventional 3-hitter, came to bat with the bases loaded and no outs in the 11th. His single to right, scoring Kyle Wernicki, ended a streak of 40 consecutive Hokie at bats without a runner scoring.

A major reason for the problem has been lack of production from the heart of the order. Mark Zagunis, Brendon Hayden and Sean Keselica were all batting below .250 on the year following Saturday’s contest. The trio, which figures to be a primary source of offensive production for Tech, has 17 RBIs in the team’s first 7 games, four of which came on a Hayden grand slam.

“I don’t see them pressing really,” coach Pat Mason said. “Sean had a really good at bat yesterday, a couple more good at bats today. I think he pressed a little bit there on his strike out in the 8th. Their at bats are starting to come around, they are starting to swing the bats a little bit better. I think Mark needs to be a little more selective. I think he’s expanding his zone a little bit too much. But I mean, man those guys have been on the barrel a lot, but we just haven’t had the hit to break the game open yet.”

Starter Kit Scheetz cruised through the first two innings needing just 22 pitches against the very capable River Hawks lineup, but began to struggle when he came out for the third. He walked four batters over the next 1.1 innings, and Mason pulled him for Luis Collazo.

“The one thing we won’t do, we’re not going to accept free passes,” Mason said. “Kit clearly had lost his command there.”

Collazo worked one inning before handing the ball over to Tanner McIntyre. McIntyre struggled mightily in his first appearance of the season, but has settled down since and was fantastic in his 5.2 innings of relief.

Taking over in the sixth with the game tied at three, McIntyre stymied the River Hawks bats, allowing just 1 hit while waiting for some sort of run support.

The Hokies first three batters of the game scored to give them an early 3-0 lead, but then went through a glacially cold stretch at the plate that included 16 straight outs. They eventually were able to push one across in the 11th thanks to Perez’s clutch hitting, but it’s rare that so a team will be able to let so many chances pass by and still come away with a win.

Thanks to McIntyre’s pitching, however, Tech did. The win was the first walk-off of Mason’s head-coaching career and extended the Hokies current win streak to four games.

Sunday, Game 1 vs. UMass Lowell | River Hawks 6 – Hokies 4

WP: Thulani Denaro (2-0) 2 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 0 SO, 0 BB
LP: Luke Scherzer (0-1) 2.2 IP, 5 H, 3 ER, 1 SO, 0 BB
S: Steve Xirinachs (2) 1 IP, 2 H, 1 ER, 0 SO, 0 BB

After River Hawks shortstop Danny Mendick singled in Kelly Rooney in the third to take a 1-0 UML lead, the Hokies found themselves trailing for the first time since February 22. Tech’s deficit grew to 3 in the top of the sixth, but the middle of Tech’s order punched back.

Alex Perez led off the with a single to left and Mark Zagunis, who had hit the ball hard all afternoon, doubled under the glove of the right fielder who was charging hard. Brendon Hayden then hit a sacrifice fly to deep center to score Perez and advance Zagunis. Keselica, who surprisingly wasn’t intentionally walked (he bats in front of .138 hitting Ryan Burns), hit a sacrifice fly of his own.

In the bottom of the seventh Matt Dauby doubled to left and ninth place hitter Kyle Wernicki got his fifth hit in as many at bats to tie the game.

Neither team was able to score in the eighth, and for the second straight game the Hokies and River Hawks were tied at three heading into the 9th frame.

Jacob O’Keefe led off the top of the 9th for UML with a single to left and two batters later, after a sacrifice bunt and another single to left, Luke Reynolds came to bat with runners on the corner. Luke Scherzer, Tech’s third pitcher of the day, got ahead on Reynolds 1-2, but caught too much of the plate with his next offering. Reynolds hit a deep fly ball to center over the head of Logan Bible, who was playing in, for a triple.

Jimmy Ricoy, UML’s next batter, hit what should have been a sacrifice fly to left field, but Ryan Burns dropped it. Either way, UML scored three runs in the ninth.

Matt Dauby lead off the 9th with a no-doubt home run to left, but that was all the Hokies could muster. Their win streak ended at four.

Sunday, Game 2 vs. Cincinnati | Hokies 9 – Bearcats 6

WP: Sean Kennedy (1-0) 1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 ER
LP: Connor Walsh (1-1) .2 IP, 2 H, 4 BB, 3 ER

By all accounts, Brendon Hayden’s three-run walk-off home run in the 9th inning of Sunday night’s win was excessive. Just a fly ball to the outfield would have scored Alex Perez, who was standing just 90 feet away.

Hayden got his pitch though, turned on it and hit it a country mile over the right field wall.

“I knew that (Cincinnati pitcher Connor Walsh had) been wild all day and that if he located a fastball in the zone I could get it out to the outfield I could get it done for us.”

Get it done he did.

The Hokies scored three runs in the eighth frame to tie the game at six, but left some runs off the board when Kyle Wernicki grounded into an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded.

It was the lone down moment for Wernicki on the weekend, who was red-hot for the past three games. After starting the year 0-for-8 at the plate, Wernicki was 5-for-6 (including a stretch of five straight hits) during games 2 and 3 of the weekend. He added another hit in game four, as well as a fantastic diving catch in left field to keep the game tied in the sixth.

Sean Kennedy worked out of a bases-loaded jam of his own in the eighth, and set the stage for Hayden’s heroics.

Four the third time in three games the Hokies received less than six complete innings from their starting pitcher. Sean Keselica, who Pat Mason said was on a pitch count because he had pitched on Tuesday, lasted only 3.1, and allowed three runs in that time. Phil Sciretta replaced him in the fourth.

Making his first pitching appearance for the Hokies, Sciretta proved he could handle the stage, and worked 3.2 solid innings, allowing just one unearned run — the run was unearned because of a throwing error on his part. He struck out five and walked zero, and kept the Hokies very much in the ballgame.

Jon Woodcock, who threw just four pitches – all balls – Friday night against Cincinnati, allowed two earned runs and three hits in just 2/3 of the 8th inning. Justin Kelly replaced Woodcock and got the final out of the third, but not until after he walked Cincy’s Justin Glass and allowed two men to advance on a wild pitch.

“In terms of the bullpen, we didn’t really return anyone from last year’s squad so we don’t really know what we have down there,” Mason said. “So we’re trying to use some guys and see who shows, like Phil Sciretta today. That kid proved he’s going to be a piece of the puzzle. Some other guys didn’t perform up to expectations, but that is kind of the idea in scheduling four games in a weekend. It kind of forces us to use our bullpen and try to see what we have and who we can rely on and see who can help us in certain situations moving forward.”

The Hokies started off with freshman Mack Krupp in the ninth. Krupp walked the only batter he faced before Mason went to Kennedy in the bullpen.

While it is better to figure out your issues, which are caused by a lack of experience (Tech only has two seniors, Brad Markey and Tanner McIntyre), in non-conference play, thus far through 2014 the pitching less Markey and a few relievers has been ineffective.

All things considered, the Hokies came away with the win even if it wasn’t pretty. Like Wernicki said, “6-3 looks a lot better than 5-4.”

The Hokies return to play Wednesday night against William & Mary at English Field.


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