After the weekend:
Virginia Tech Hokies 12-12-1 (5-7 ACC)
Virginia Cavaliers 23-4 (10-2 ACC)
Friday night at #1 Virginia | Cavaliers 2 – Hokies 1
WP: Whit Mayberry (2-1) 1.2 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 4 SO
LP: Brad Markey (2-4) 7 IP, 6 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO
S: Nick Howard (7) 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 1 SO
Brad Markey has not been perfect for the Hokies since taking over the Friday night responsibilities at the beginning of the 2014 season, but he has been far better than his 2-4 record indicates.
For the fifth time this season, Markey allowed two earned runs or less in a Friday night start. For the third time in those five games though, he left with the loss, this time a 2-1 defeat to the No. 1 Cavaliers.
“It’s definitely frustrating, but you can’t really put it on anyone,” Markey said. “(Our) guys were battling at the plate and did really well with the defense. The other team just played a little bit better at certain points and we came up a little short.”
After throwing six tremendous innings against a Virginia team that came into the weekend batting .288, third best in the ACC, Markey got tagged for two runs and three hits in the home half of the seventh. Only provided a one-run lead up until then, Markey’s stellar seven innings of two-run ball left him on the short side yet again.
Looking purely at the stats behind UVa’s staff coming into the weekend set, it would be easy to understand why the Hokies could only muster one run. The Cavaliers ranked 13th nationally with an ERA of 2.26, they limited opponents to a .199 batting average, and their Friday night starter, Nathan Kirby, had the second best ERA in the conference at 1.21. However, that isn’t the whole story.
That neglects the eight men the Hokies left on base, including a man on third in the ninth, two in the eighth and grounding into a inning-ending double play with the bases loaded and one out in the sixth.
“We’re a pretty tough team and we want to keep moving forward. You can’t dwell on that and I don’t think we did,” head coach Pat Mason said. “I think we kept competing the rest of the way. But obviously, that’s a huge opportunity for us to get some runs and break the game open.”
While UVA’s fantastic staff surely played a role, it was Tech’s inability to string multiple hits together that prevented them from having the ultimate success.
With one out in the top of the ninth, true freshman Ricky Surum did all he could to cure the clutch-hitting woes. After closer Nick Howard sent down Kyle Wernicki and Tom Stoffel for the first two outs of the inning, Surum obliterated a ball that off the bat looked like it was going to clear the left-center field fence.
“It just looked like the flight of a home run,” Mason said. “I think in the first half of the game that ball probably found its way over the wall. I mean hindsight, but it probably does.”
The wind, which had been blowing out steadily during the earlier innings, had died down, though, and Surum’s ball landed on the warning track, leaving the speedy shortstop on third.
Howard overmatched Andrew Mogg and his .100 batting average, striking out the sophomore for the game’s final out.
Saturday vs. #1 Virginia | Cavaliers 9 – Hokies 2
WP: Connor Jones (4-0) 4.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 3 SO
LP: Sean Keselica (2-1) 3.1 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO
Through six starts, Sean Keselica’s season on the mound has been a two-faced tale.
The lefty junior has experienced success for the most part when he faces a new lineup for the first time. Around the fourth or fifth inning though, when the opposing lineups see him for the second time he tends to get into trouble.
The trend stayed true Saturday against the Cavaliers in a 9-2 loss. Through the first three innings, Keselica looked as good as he has at any point this season, allowing one hit and one walk but no runs.
“I thought he was doing a good job of locating his fastball,” head coach Pat Mason said. “He was down, breaking ball was pretty good and he was giving those lefties a different look. Sean’s not super easy to hit left-on-left, so I think first time around the order he had an advantage on those guys. And he was throwing strikes.”
With the Hokies leading 2-0 thanks to a Brendon Hayden home run, Keselica again got into trouble the second time he faced Virginia’s lineup. The lefty allowed three hits and committed a throwing error while only getting one out in the fourth.
“Second time through he has struggled. It wasn’t a command issue,” Mason said. “He’s had some command issues in the past, but I thought he was throwing strikes. We’re going to have to lock in this week and try and figure it out because I think that’s maybe three straight starts that the second time though has been his Achilles.”
By the time he was pulled for reliever Tanner McIntyre, the 2-0 lead had turned into a 3-2 deficit. McIntyre and then Phil Sciretta were unable to stop the bleeding, as the duo allowed two more Cavaliers runs to score on three walks and a hit batsman.
Virginia added another run in the fifth on a solo homerun by Joe McCarthy and three more in the sixth to get the lead to 9-2. McCarthy finished the day 3-for-4 with 4 RBIs.
Despite the hefty deficit, the game could have, and according to Mason, should have been closer. Again, the story for the Hokies was their inability to come up with the clutch hit.
Over its nine half-innings on offense, Tech left 13 runners on base, including twice failing to score with the bases loaded and only one out.
“We’re not clicking all together,” Zagunis said. “It’s been one guy getting a hit here, one guy getting a hit there. You usually aren’t going to win games if you can’t string hits together.”
The Hokies left at least one runner on base in every inning except for the third and the eighth (Hayden’s two-run home run, his fifth of the year, came in the third).
Sunday vs. #1 Virginia | Cavaliers 7 – Hokies 4
WP: Whit Mayberry (3-1) 1.2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 3 SO
LP: Sean Kennedy (1-1) 0.0 IP (3 BF) 2 H, 3 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO
S: Nick Howard (8) 1 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 0 SO
Heading into the bottom of the seventh of Sunday’s contest leading 4-3, Tech was in good shape to avoid the sweep and steal a game from No. 1 Virginia. After all, their bullpen, which was shaky one day earlier, had been stellar for the previous 30-plus innings.
A 10-batter bottom of the seventh saw three unearned and one earned run score for the Cavaliers though, and Virginia took the lead for good en route to a 7-4 lead.
With one out, two men on and the game tied at four, Pat Mason chose to intentionally walk Joe McCarthy, who had been obliterating Tech pitching all weekend. The move paid off as Luke Scherzer got the next batter to ground into a force out at home, but after a two-out fielding error by Matt Dauby at third and two consecutive hit batsmen, the Cavaliers had gotten the last of their seven runs.
Just a half an inning earlier, the Hokies took the lead for the first time on the day thanks to the third of four hits from Alex Perez on the day. Trailing 3-2 with two outs, the Hokies finally got the clutch hit they had been looking for all weekend when Perez singled to center scoring Ricky Surum. The ball got under the glove of the centerfielder and allowed the speedy Saige Jenco to score all the way from first.
The bullpen couldn’t hold the lead though, and Tech ended up falling to the Cavaliers in the final game of what was a three-game sweep.
To quote head coach Pat Mason, “There are no moral victories after a loss.”
With that said, the young Tech team, while no doubt disappointed with letting two very winnable games slip through their fingertips, now know, if they didn’t before, that they can hang with the best the country has to offer.
The Hokies return to action Tuesday night at home against James Madison University. First pitch against the Dukes is scheduled for 5:30 p.m.