The Virginia Tech baseball team went 7-2 over a nine day stretch and now sits at 11-2 on the season. There is reason for optimism, though last year’s team also started 11-2 but failed to make the ACC Tournament.
The Hokies participated in the Irish Baseball Classic in Cary, NC over the weekend. The Hokies were ranked #25 in the Baseball America poll heading into the weekend, and they are now #24. They won three of four games: 7-3 over Rhode Island, 8-2 against Ohio, and 7-3 over Tennessee. Tech’s lone loss of the weekend came against #22 Notre Dame 3-0. The Hokies also went 3-1 in their previous four games, with their lone loss coming to Temple.
Everyone knew that Tech’s hitting would be good this season, but thus far their pitching has been very good.
It All Starts on the Mound
Nobody knew what Pete Hughes would get from his pitching staff this year. So far, Tech’s hurlers have given a lot more than expected.
Team ERA: 3.37
Opp. BA: .239
Team WHIP: 1.287
That’s pretty good from a pitching staff that was a big-time question mark coming into the season. At the same time, it only ranks 10th in the ACC, ahead of just Duke and Boston College. Of course, at this early stage of the season it’s tough to compare schedules.
Friday, 7-3 W over Rhode Island: Tanner McIntyre (5-9, 171, Sr., RHP) started the game, but only managed to go 3.1 innings. He gave up two earned runs. Brendon Hayden (6-6, 208, So., RHP), Jake Joyce (6-0, 192, Sr., RHP) and Clark Labitan (5-8, 175, r-Sr., RHP) combined to go 5.2 innings to close out the game, and did not allow an earned run. McIntyre went 7-0 with a 2.32 ERA last year, but all 20 of his appearances came out of the bullpen. He might be better suited to a long relief role.
Friday, 8-2 W over Ohio: Eddie Campbell (6-0, 184, Jr., LHP) went seven innings, allowing two earned runs. He struck out ten batters and walked four. It was his fourth appearance of the season, and his second start. So far he is 1-0 with a 2.40 ERA.
Saturday, 3-0 L to #22 Notre Dame: The Hokies got another excellent start from Brad Markey (5-11, 185, Jr., RHP). Markey allowed just two earned runs on five hits in eight innings. He didn’t walk a batter, and he struck out seven. Unfortunately he got no run support and he took the loss. He is now 2-1 on the season with a 2.14 ERA. He has walked just one batter in 21 innings of work. That might be the stat of the year (so far) for Tech baseball.
Sunday, 7-3 win over Tennessee: Devin Burke (6-1, 210, r-Jr., RHP) worked 5.2 innings, allowing two earned runs and striking out three batters. He gave up six hits and no walks. He is 3-0 on the season with a 1.40 ERA. Jake Joyce worked the final 3.1 innings to pick up the save.
Virginia Tech has not used #1 starter Joe Mantiply since the opening game of the season. Mantiply was roughed up by Kent State that day, and he’s been held out ever since because of “forearm stiffness”. It’s not clear when Mantiply will return. He had some arm issues last season, but he didn’t miss any games while going 5-6 with a 3.56 ERA.
Getting a healthy Mantiply back in the rotation would certainly help. However, he doesn’t need to push it. He was drafted in the 28th round by the Phillies last June, and a good senior season could improve his stock. Coming back too early and getting roughed up some more would hurt his stock, so Mantiply needs to take his time.
ACC Slate Set to Begin
After taking on William & Mary on Wednesday (if the weather is good…a big if in Blacksbug at this time of year), the Hokies will begin their ACC schedule with a three game series against Georgia Tech in English Field this weekend. Virginia Tech has come a long way since their first series against the Yellow Jackets back in 2005. In their inaugural season in the ACC, the Hokies took a beating:
Friday game: 10-0 L
Saturday game: 27-2 L
Sunday game: 11-1 L
That’s 48-3 over the course of three games. That’s obviously not a common margin of victory over the course of a three game baseball series. Virginia Tech’s talent level has improved exponentially since then.
Last season the Hokies went 35-21, but just 11-19 in conference play. They narrowly missed the ACC Tournament, despite finishing #37 nationally in the RPI. That’s how tough the ACC Coastal Division is in baseball. This year Tech needs to get off to a better start. Last year the Hokies started just 2-10 in league play.
Series 1: Lost 2 of 3 to UVA
Series 2: Lost 2 of 3 to GT
Series 3: Swept by Duke (at home)
Series 4: Swept by FSU
It was series #3, the sweep at the hands of the Blue Devils, that ultimately cost the Hokies. Tech went on to take two of three games from #6 Miami, win two of three over Maryland, and they also swept Boston College. However, they never got over that sweep at the hands of a team that went 21-34 overall and finished just 135th in the RPI.
The Hokies yell “Omaha!” when they break the huddle each day, but before they make it to Omaha they must first make the ACC Tournament (played this year in Durham Bulls Park). To do that, they have to be able to win 2-3 games against the Blue Devils. Watch that series against Duke (March 15-17). If the Hokies win it, they’ll be in decent postseason shape.