Following a 7-0 start to the season, Virginia Tech baseball hit a little bump in the road. The Hokies lost two of three to Bryant University over the weekend series, and fell to Liberty on Tuesday, dropping their record to 8-3.
During the three-game battle against Bryant, Virginia Tech dropped the opener in a game where weather was a factor, moving the game back several hours. The Hokies committed four errors in that one and lost 6-4. The two teams returned to English Field at Union Park the next day for a Saturday doubleheader. In the first game, Tech pulled ahead in the eighth inning when Nick Biddison stole home. Zach Brzykcy preserved the 2-1 lead by striking out the final two batters with a runner on third. In the final game of the series, the Hokies were only able to collect six hits and lost 4-2.
On Tuesday, Virginia Tech made a quick trip to Liberty and dropped a 4-3 contest. Over the final six innings, The Flames’ Evan Brabrand and Garret Price limited the Hokies to three hits and no runs while striking out 11 batters. Liberty scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning.
It was the lack of offensive production that led to the 1-3 stretch over the past week. The Hokies have only averaged 2.75 runs per game as opposed to 6.75 during the first eight games of the year.
“We’re just trying to look for the right combo as far as lineups go, as far as putting guys in the right positions defensively,” head coach John Szefc said. “That’s where we’re trying to get in a better place. Offensively, we haven’t had a ton of run production lately.
“It’s not like we’ve been playing poorly, we’re just not doing anything spectacular to win games.”
Virginia Tech fans might have been spoiled by the 7-0 start. The hot start did a good job of masking the lack of continuity that exists on the current roster. 21 players are currently playing in their first season in Blacksburg.
“When you look at our lineup, typically we’ll have sometimes seven new guys in the lineup from where it was last year,” Szefc said. “That’s a big, big turnover. I think it’s a combination of that, and some of the arms we’ve faced.”
On the other hand, Virginia Tech’s pitching has looked the part the entire season, a vast improvement from previous years. The Hokies pitching staff currently holds a 2.76 earned run average and is allowing opponents to hit just .224. The number that the coaching staff probably enjoys the most is that Tech’s pitchers have only issued 46 walks. In comparison, the offense has drawn 64 free passes.
“With how the game is, you can have a year where your pitching is at one place and your hitting is at another, then they’re reversed,” Szefc said. “You just never know. You can’t really pin it on one thing.”
Now Virginia Tech is preparing to enter the part of its schedule where it’ll be judged the rest of the season. Beginning this weekend, the ACC portion of the schedule commences when the Hokies travel to Florida State. Szefc and Co. are relying upon the lessons learned over the first month of the season for the stretch ahead.
“I was talking to our assistants about it yesterday, and eight of the 11 [teams] we’ve played against are what I would call formidable, really solid mid-major programs,” Szefc said. “Good teams that are either going to be in the NCAA Tournament or have a really good chance to be in the NCAA Tournament. You talk about two against Greensboro, three against Bryant, one against Liberty, and throw Stetson and Sam Houston in there. That schedule is not a light schedule. It’s prepared us moving forward.
“I think our staff is really just concentrated on the preparation of our guys, and what we can take away from an unsuccessful outcome to turn it into a better one the next time. You can’t get too hung up, and I know we’re judged by the final score, but we’re also a major work in progress here.”
Virginia Tech will certainly have its hands full over the weekend as Florida State enters with an undefeated 11-0 record. At Mike Martin Field at Dick Howser Stadium, the Seminoles are 131-37 over the past five years. Florida State’s freshman outfielder Robby Martin leads the charge with a team-high .477 batting average and 21 RBIs. It’s a challenge that the Hokies will relish to open the ACC schedule.
“It’s a difficult place to play, and you have to have good players that are very mentally tough guys going to play in a place like this,” Szefc said. “Really all the numbers, our numbers, their numbers, when the game starts, it really doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t mean anything when you start playing. They still have to make pitches just like we do.
“You can play FSU at their place right out the gate and it doesn’t get any harder. That’s about as difficult as it’s going to get in this league, so you might as well start at the top and see how you measure up. Then, go game by game and go play the other 27 after this weekend.”
First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 6 p.m. from Tallahassee. The game can be seen on ACC Network Extra, or follow for updates on Twitter @TSL__Baseball.