Postseason play almost out of reach

Jacob Emert, SportsWar, on April 21, 2014
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Post-series records (full ACC standings at the bottom):

Duke 24-17, 12-9 ACC
Virginia Tech 18-20-1, 7-14 ACC

Friday night vs. Duke | Blue Devils 3 – Hokies 2 in 12 innings

WP: Nick Hendrix (2-1) 4.1 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 7 SO
LP: Brad Markey (2-5) 3 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO

Tech’s Sean Keselica and Duke’s Drew Van Orden went head-to-head in a fantastic pitchers’ duel for seven innings deep into Friday night.

Van Orden lasted seven innings and allowed only two hits and one run. Keselica, equally as good, went 7.1 strong innings and allowed two runs.

When Duke went to the bullpen to start the eighth, the brilliant pitching took a one-inning hiatus and the umpires took center stage.

Rob Huber took over the pitching duties for the Blue Devils and proceeded to allow one hit and walk three batters, including Alex Perez with the bases loaded to tie the game at two. Huber threw 28 pitches to record two outs, and 11 of them were strikes.

When Mark Zagunis came to bat with two outs in the inning and the bases loaded, Duke went to the bullpen for Nick Hendrix.

On a 1-1 count Zagunis hit a chopper to short, and hustling down the line, it looked like Zagunis was safe by half a step. The first base umpire saw something different though, and punched him out, ending the threat and taking what would’ve been the game-winning run off the board.

“Now I haven’t seen the replay, I haven’t seen anything, but I saw a play that was arguably the easiest call to make of the whole night, and I saw Mark clearly beat it out,” head coach Pat Mason said. “But like I said, I haven’t seen the video, just to the naked eye it looked that way.”

Zagunis didn’t need to see the replay.

“I was definitely safe,” Zagunis said. “It’s just a blown call. It sucks that we end up losing that game.”

Mason and Duke head coach Chris Pollard each left their respective dugouts to argue with umpires on more than one occasion.

“We got a Friday night, middle of the pack (teams), ACC, two frontline arms out there and we had Little League umpires who performed at a bantam league level,” Mason said.

In the top of the ninth inning, the game returned to the pitchers’ duel that it had been for most of the night. Sean Kennedy worked a scoreless ninth for Tech, and Hendrix sent the Hokies down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth.

Brad Markey took over for the Hokies in the 10th. For the second straight week, Mason’s plan was to use Markey out of the bullpen in order to secure a Friday night series victory and get ahead in the series.

Markey worked a scoreless 10th and 11th before giving up the winning run in the 12th.

With one out in the top of the 12th, Duke’s Christian Perez hit a line drive to right field. Tom Stoffel tried to make a diving catch, but he never really had a shot at it. The ball bounced past Stoffel and rolled all the way to the wall, allowing Perez to get to third safely.

Tech brought the infield in to try and keep the game tied, but that mattered little when Kenny Koplove hit a fly ball to left field, plenty deep to score Perez.

Hendrix, who worked a scoreless 4.1 innings, put the Hokies down in order in the bottom of the 12th to secure the first of three games.

Saturday vs. Duke | Blue Devils 13 – Hokies 3

WP: Trent Swart (3-1) 5.0 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO.
LP: Aaron McGarity (0-2) 3.2 IP, 6 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO.

Duke scored five of their first six runs with two outs as the Blue Devils trounced the Hokies 13-3.

The Hokies stranded runners on second and third base in the first and the third innings and they left the bases loaded in the third, missing multiple chances to jump out to an early lead.

Despite the lack of production with runners in scoring position, Mason doesn’t think that there was any residual hangover effect from the tough loss the night before.

“We came out of the gates, had bases loaded early, runners on second and third early, no not at all,” Mason said. “We were ready, we were ready.”

Tech left 17 men on base, the most in a game since they joined the ACC.

The Blue Devils ability to cash in on those same opportunities was the difference in the ballgame. Duke put up crooked numbers in the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th innings, and five of the first six Duke runs came with two outs in the inning.

Aaron McGarity started on the mound for the Hokies and allowed nine hits and six runs through 3.2 innings. While McGarity, a freshman right-hander, certainly didn’t have his best stuff, Mason didn’t think he did a poor job.

“I don’t think Aaron pitched bad,” Mason said. “I think the difference was a base hit here or there. He threw strikes; he was off the barrel a lot. The difference in the game, a perfect example of it was Alex Perez’s flare to left field that just floated foul and the very next inning Lumpa’s flare to stay fair for a double.

“Aaron does definitely need to get better. He needs to be able to damage control. He needs to be able to finish an inning, a lot of things that you expect from a rotation arm,” Mason said.

The Hokies scored one in the seventh and two in the eighth, but it was a case of far too little, far too late.

With the series secured for the Blue Devils, Tech’s objective shifts to avoiding the sweep. With their backs up against the wall and their chances of reaching the ACC tournament fading, the Hokies understand the need to win at every turn.

“It’s obviously not where we want to be, so we want to come out tomorrow and avoid getting swept and make sure we get at least one win on the weekend,” Phil Sciretta said.

When asked about the importance about bouncing back and earning a win Sunday, Mason gave his first one-word answer of the year: “Extremely.”

Sunday vs. Duke | Blue Devils 2 – Hokies 0

WP: Matt Matuella (1-1) 8.2 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 3 BB, 7 SO
LP: Jon Woodcock (1-2) 5.1 IP, 4 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO

For the second time in the series, Duke’s starting pitcher stymied the Virginia Tech bats.

This time for the Blue Devils it was Matt Matuella. Matuella reached the high 90s with his fastball and pounded the zone as he recorded 26 of the 27 outs on the afternoon in Duke’s 2-0 win.

“The kid today is a really good pitcher, and he just threw strikes,” head coach Pat Mason said. “Nobody expected an offensive day with this type of wind blowing straight in. He didn’t have us on our heels. He just threw strikes. We made a good adjustment the second time through the order. Today, I didn’t think we didn’t swing it that well. They played good defense.”

Thanks to a good start by freshman lefty Jon Woodcock and then Luke Scherzer’s performance in relief, the Hokies were never out of the game despite not being able to put any runs on the board.

Scherzer threw 2.2 scoreless innings.

The lack of runs, not just on Sunday but all weekend long (the Hokies scored five runs in three games), comes as a surprise, mostly because the Hokies were hitting well 1-9 coming into the weekend. Before the series, Tech was second in the ACC in team batting average and had five starters hitting above .300.

While they were able to string 13 hits together on Saturday, all weekend long the Duke arms did a pretty good job of keeping Tech runners away from home plate.

“We just have to keep grinding our at bats out,” Brendon Hayden said. “Right now we just hit kind of a cold spot in our lineup for some reason. We just have to get back to work and pick it back up on Tuesday.”

After a leadoff walk and then a double, Duke had runners on second and third with no outs in the top of the second. A sacrifice fly to centerfield off the bat of David Perkins gave the Blue Devils the one-run lead. They added one more to it in the sixth on a well-executed safety squeeze play.

Tech was in need of ACC wins coming into the weekend. After being swept, that need becomes amplified ten-fold.

“We control our own destiny from here on out,” Hayden said, recalling the postgame talk from Mason. “We’re chasing three teams and we just have to win from here on out.”

It won’t be easy, though.

Tech’s .333 conference winning percentage puts it tied for 11th in the ACC with North Carolina State. The top six teams in the conference make the round robin portion of the ACC tournament, the 7, 8, 9 and 10-seed must win a play-in game to reach that portion of the tournament.

Tech holds the tiebreaker over Maryland and Pittsburgh, both who are currently in a better position than the Hokies. Still remaining on the schedule are road series with NC State, Georgia Tech and North Carolina, all of which are jostling for positioning as well.

Mason knows the task of making postseason play will not be an easy one, but he has the combination required to make it happen.

“It will take us to hit like we did against Pittsburgh, pitch like we did against Maryland and field like we did against Duke,” Mason said. “We won’t lose the rest of the year if we do that.”

Atlantic Division

1. Florida State, 16-5, 30-9
2. Clemson, 12-8, 24-15
3. Wake Forest, 12-9, 25-17
4. Maryland, 9-11, 24-14
5. NC State, 7-14, 21-17
6. Boston College, 5-16, 14-25
7. Notre Dame, 4-16, 16-22

Coastal Division

1. Virginia, 16-5, 30-7
2. Miami, 15-5, 27-13
3. Duke, 12-9, 24-17
4. Georgia Tech, 11-10, 25-16
5. UNC, 10-11, 23-17
6. Pitt, 9-12, 22-17
7. VT, 7-14, 18-20-1


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