Virginia Tech baseball (17-24, 7-14 ACC) has had its fair share of ups and downs in the 2018 season. This past weekend, the Hokies appeared to be on the rise, but quickly came crashing down.
Last Friday, Virginia Tech defeated Notre Dame 9-1 in South Bend. Freshman Ian Seymour fired seven innings of scoreless work, striking out five batters, and Sam Fragale knocked in four RBIs, including a three-run shot in the sixth inning. The Hokies did not commit an error in the game.
“I thought the first game that we played on Friday was one of the more complete games we’ve played all year as far as pitching and defense go,” said head coach John Szefc. “Getting a lot of timely hits, we executed really well. That’s really the way you’re supposed to play.”
On Saturday, Virginia Tech rallied to send the game in extra innings with three runs in the ninth to tie it at five runs. The Hokies even went ahead 7-5 in the 12th inning before losing 8-7 on a walk-off single. The next day, Virginia Tech trailed 6-3 late in the ball game and started to rally in the ninth. Fragale collected an RBI single to cut the deficit to one run, but he was ultimately left on base and the Hokies lost 6-5.
“Offensively in the last two games, we did a very good job of coming from behind and putting good at-bats together late in the game and kind of getting back in the game,” Szefc said. “On Saturday we unfortunately weren’t able to finish them off. That’s the way it is on the road sometimes. We played somewhat sloppy on Sunday and put ourselves in a hole. We were all over the place to be honest with you amongst the three games.”
Szefc and Co. have been devastated by one run losses all year long like they were in the Notre Dame series. In fact, Virginia Tech is 4-10 in one run games.
One adjustment that has been made is the move to send Fragale back over to his natural position at first base and insert freshman Michael Fernandez into the starting lineup at third base. Fragale had been struggling defensively (he had five errors in the Louisville series), and Fernandez has made the Hokies a better defensive team now.
“He’s [Fernandez] played pretty good defense,” Szefc said. “He’s played four relatively clean games defensively over there which has helped us a lot. You can’t really judge that move solely by offense. You have to judge it by defense as well. Both guys at this point have played better defensively. The production from those positions defensively over the past four games has been better than what is was before those four games.”
While the move was mainly an upgrade defensively for Virginia Tech, Fernandez has given the Hokies a boost at the plate as well. Fernandez is hitting .316 this year, and since he’s been given the nod as the starter at third, the Miami native is batting 9-for-24 (.375) with three multi-hit games. The transition back to first has also allowed Fragale to clear his mind and be more productive in the box. He’s hitting .280 for the year and since the move, Fragale is batting 7-for-22 (.318) with one home run and five RBIs.
Virginia Tech dropped the mid-week game at VMI on Tuesday, 9-7 on a walk-off two-run homer by the Keydets’ Peyton Maddox.
The Hokies return home to host No. 9 Duke (31-10, 13-7 ACC) this weekend. The Blue Devils currently sit in second place in the ACC Coastal standings, while Virginia Tech is in last place with some ground to make up to avoid missing the ACC Tournament for the third consecutive year. 12 teams in the 14-team ACC (Syracuse doesn’t play baseball) qualify for the tournament, held May 22-27 in Durham, NC.
“We’ve put ourselves in a little bit of a corner to be honest, with the amount of close games that we’ve lost,” Szefc said. “You can look at the standings and look at the math. It’s pretty simple. You don’t have to be a real smart guy to figure it out. We have to be productive in this [Duke] series. You’re playing a home series and you’re supposed to go out and win a home series. Hopefully we can do that and get a little bit of help from the other teams that we’re competing with for ACC Tournament spots.”
First pitch of the series from English Field at Union Park is scheduled for Friday night at 6 p.m., with games following Saturday (3 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.). Stay tuned for updates during the entire series against Duke by following @TSL__Baseball on Twitter.