Teams are now halfway through the ACC baseball season, and it’s important for Virginia Tech to improve over the second half if it wants to avoid missing the ACC Conference Tournament for the fourth consecutive year.
As the ACC Conference Tournament is currently constructed, the top teams from the Atlantic and Coastal divisions, along with the next ten best teams based upon conference winning percentage regardless of division, are entered into the field. That leaves the bottom two teams in the conference missing from the tournament.
As it currently stands, the Hokies (20-14, 5-10 ACC) would miss the field, but there’s plenty of time to right the ship, beginning this weekend when Virginia Tech travels to Duke (18-15, 6-9 ACC), trailing them by just one game in conference.
“Every game we play in the ACC is important,” head coach John Szefc said. “We just have to do everything we’ve been doing better, even by a little bit. Every team who you play in the conference on the road is difficult.”
Last weekend, the Hokies had one of those difficult road series against Wake Forest inside the hitter-friendly confines of David F. Couch Ballpark. The Demon Deacons took two of three from Tech.
In Game 1, Virginia Tech jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first inning, but Wake Forest’s bats put up 12 hits, including three home runs, to win 8-3. On Saturday, the Hokies held a 6-4 heading into the seventh, but Bobby Seymour’s three-run shot put the Demon Deacons ahead, and they held on to win 8-7.
In the series finale, Tech struck early and led 8-0 after four innings. Wake Forest eventually mounted a massive comeback, but Jaison Heard limited the damage late to pick up his first save with the Hokies, winning 10-9.
“When you play at Wake it’s always going to be an offensive series because of the way that park is,” Szefc said. “They have good players. We had leads in all three games, we just didn’t hold them in the first two.”
Still, being able to bounce back on Sunday for an all-important ACC win was integral for this ballclub moving forward.
“Coach Szefc talks about it all the time,” senior Luke Horanski said. “When you total up the wins and losses in the ACC at the end of the year, every one matters. That’s why a game like Wake Forest on Sunday meant a lot to us.”
In Sunday’s win, Kerry Carpenter, Nick Biddison, and Dalton Harum all hit moonshots to catapult the offensive fireworks. Horanski also tallied three hits and three RBIs to finish 6-for-11 with a home run and five RBIs over the weekend. It was a load lifted off the catcher’s shoulder after going hitless versus Clemson in the previous series.
“I had a slower start to the year that I wasn’t expecting,” Horanski said. “Now that I feel like I’m out of that, I have the same confidence back. I think everything in hitting is just confidence. A series like Wake for me was really good coming off that Clemson series where I didn’t do so hot… after a good weekend like that, I want to build off that momentum and take it into Duke this upcoming series.”
Following the trip to Winston-Salem, Virginia Tech returned home for two mid-week tilts. On Tuesday night, the Hokies defeated Marshall 7-0, and the shutout was the 500th win at English Field at Union Park.
“Baseball has been a strong tradition here for a long time,” Szefc said. “It’s nice to be here and have a team going when a milestone gets hit like that.”
Freshman Nick Biddison ignited the charge for Tech when his grand slam (the second of his young career) put the Hokies up 5-0 after the second inning. In his first season, Biddison is hitting .279 with five home runs and 24 RBIs, good for third on the team. He credits his progression this year to hitting coach Kurt Elbin.
“Before in high school, with my talent you could kind of just let it work and not really have a mental side to it,” Biddison said. “Now, Elbin kind of harps on having an approach. Picking out a pitch and sitting fastball, or sitting offspeed, whatever you want. That’s really helped me a lot.”
Szefc pointed to two guys in particular who were critical in maintaining the shutout for Virginia Tech. Ryan Okuda pitched three innings, allowing just two hits and striking out three batters in middle relief. Connor Yoder then entered the game in the eighth with a runner on first and a 2-0 count on the batter, but he promptly shut down the Thundering Herd offense.
“Okuda was really good in the middle there,” Szefc said. “He never went to a three-ball count on a hitter. Yoder for me got what you would call a college save in the eighth. That inning could have gotten bad, and he came in and faced a guy with a 2-0 count, which is difficult, and got an out on it. He did a really good job in that inning right there to basically stop any kind of issues.”
After Tuesday’s win, the Hokies headed west to face East Tennessee State on Wednesday. The Buccaneers came into the game with a record of 23-8, but Virginia Tech won a hard-fought game, 4-2.
Carson Taylor’s RBI triple broke the tie in the seventh, and Zach Brzykcy closed it out in the ninth for his third save of the season.
It was the Hokies’ third consecutive win, and they’ll be on a high note heading into the critical weekend series against Duke. First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 6 p.m. and it can be seen on ACC Network Extra.