Virginia Tech baseball had its first test of the season by traveling to DeLand, Florida for a three-game weekend tournament to open the 2019 season. It passed that test with flying colors and returned to Blacksburg with a 3-0 record, with wins over Stetson, Manhattan, and Sam Houston State.
The Hokies didn’t miss a beat in their home opener, defeating ETSU 9-3 on Tuesday for a 4-0 start to the season. Through these four games, Virginia Tech has outscored its opponents 32-8.
“They’re a pretty competitive bunch of guys,” head coach John Szefc said. “We’ve pitched at a pretty high level. We played pretty consistent defense. We have some things to clean up just like any other team would at this time of the year. Being able to have a solid group of guys on the mound and guys playing behind them, it allows you to stay in every game regardless of what you’re doing offensively.”
Ian Seymour was on the bump for Virginia Tech’s opener against Stetson, a team that finished 48-13 last year before losing to North Carolina in the Super Regionals. Seymour struck out seven over five scoreless innings. Jack Dellinger added three scoreless innings, and Zach Brzykcy closed the door for the Hokies first shutout win to begin a season since 1997 with the 5-0 victory.
Virginia Tech rattled Stetson’s ace Mitchell Senger in the process. Senger went 9-2 with a 2.51 ERA and 114 strikeouts in 2018, and he was named to Perfect Game’s Preseason All-America Second Team this year. However, against the Hokies, Senger only went 4.1 innings, giving up three runs, and hitting five batters.
Following the momentum from the night before, the Hokies’ bats came out firing on Saturday versus Manhattan. Virginia Tech tallied 20 hits and put up 15 runs in the 15-3 win behind Luke Scherzer’s six scoreless innings. Freshman Carson Taylor notched four doubles in the game, tying a single-game school record. Through four games, Taylor is batting .563 with a 1.463 OPS.
“To be honest, [Taylor] just has great ability. He just has great baseball ability,” Szefc said. “As a hitter, he has tremendous hand eye coordination. He’s a big, strong kid. He’s very confident in his ability. He can hit right in the middle of the lineup and doesn’t get fazed by it too much. In order to do that, you have to be good.
“He’s still a very young guy who’s only played four college games. I think he’s going to get a lot better, to be honest with you. And he’s pretty exceptional right now, so we’re just lucky he’s with us.”
The Hokies closed the weekend tournament on a high note with a 3-2 triumph over Sam Houston State. Sam Houston State is no slouch either, going 39-20 last year, and 44-23 in 2017 before falling to Florida State in the Super Regionals. Freshman Chris Gerard started the game, and junior college transfer Peyton Alford came in in relief, each tossing four innings while only allowing one run. Brzykcy slammed the door shut for his first save of the season.
The sophomore’s fastball was clocked at 100 mph in the ninth inning. After going through some growing pains as a freshman where he walked 11 batters in 5.2 innings, Brzykcy demonstrated the potential to be Virginia Tech’s go-to guy in late innings.
“He’s able to be functional in the strike zone,” Szefc said. “Last year, he had a great arm, he’s always had a great arm since he’s been with us, it’s just a matter of does he have usable stuff. Last year it wasn’t quite that way consistently. This year he’s pitched twice, and it’s been very usable. He’s pitched in two tight situations. Give him a lot of credit. He’s really taken the next step so to speak. He’s still a work in progress just like all our guys are. His progress, you can see it, which I’m happy for him.”
The 3-0 start to the season was huge for the Hokies, especially when facing the pedigree of mid-major teams like Stetson and Sam Houston State. It’s what sets college baseball apart from some other sports.
“Just look at the NCAA Tournament in early June and you’ll see a lot of names that are not these huge national names,” Szefc said. “You have a lot of schools in the NCAA Baseball Tournament that don’t have the big football or basketball programs everybody identifies with. Sam Houston is one of those. Stetson is one of those.”
Going from the Sunshine State to the cold winter in Blacksburg certainly could have led to a slow start in Virginia Tech’s home opener, but instead the Hokies scored seven runs in the first inning against ETSU. The final score ended up at 9-3 to give Virginia Tech its fourth straight win. Through these first four games, Szefc has already called on 15 different pitchers. It speaks to the pitching depth that he spoke about in the preseason.
“It’s a dramatic difference from the past,” Szefc said. “We didn’t have that luxury when I first got here. That was a real big point of emphasis when we went out recruiting and building the future pitching staff…to make sure we had guys who were ACC-level arms. That they can handle multiple roles. They can make an immediate impact. That’s what they’re doing right now.”
Virginia Tech was set to hit the road and travel to UNC-Greensboro for a three-game weekend series, but instead inclement weather had other plans. According to a press release from UNCG, the series has been moved to Blacksburg, and the games will be played on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Times have not been announced as of yet.
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