There’s a magic that fills the brisk Blacksburg air any time Virginia Tech and Radford meet at English Field at Atlantic Union Park. The Hokies have won four straight meetings at home, with three of them coming by way of a walk-off, including Luke Horanski’s walk-off home run last year.
This year’s matchup saw the magic arrive a little earlier. After being stifled offensively with just four hits through the first six innings, Virginia Tech’s offense finally made some noise with a three-run seventh inning en route to a 3-2 victory over the Highlanders.
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh, Reagan Teegarden tied the game by plating Jonah Seagears with a double the opposite way in the left center gap.
“I just stuck to our two-strike approach and sat fastball away and tried to adjust an offspeed in. It worked out for me,” Teegarden said. “It’s just trying to trust myself. Go up there with a little bit of swagger and hit the ball hard. That’s really all I can do.”
RU 1, VT 3 pic.twitter.com/IZceXXBLJa
— Virginia Tech Baseball (@HokiesBaseball) February 25, 2020
The next batter, Fritz Genther, singled him home with a line drive to right field. Carson Jones and Nick Biddison followed with bloop singles before Carson Taylor drew a bases loaded walk.
“We had some tough at bats,” head coach John Szefc said. “We had some guys come off the bench and do their job. Seagears got on base. We had some good, grinded at bats after that. Teegarden and Genther gave us good at bats. To be honest with you, Taylor gave us a tough at bat. You walk with the bases loaded, but if he swings through a pitch and strikes out and doesn’t grind through it, maybe we’re still playing. That was the difference.”
Closer Zach Brzykcy entered the game with one out in the eighth inning with a runner on first as the Hokies clung to a 3-2 lead. The flamethrower immediately induced a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning and pitched a clean ninth with two strikeouts to secure the victory.
“[The slider] was my go-to pitch,” Brzykcy said. “The weather definitely helped. It was a little warmer today. Being in the position that I feel I should be in. Closing is what I should do and what I want to do. Being in there and knowing I should be in there really helped out.”
It was a nice bounce back performance for Brzykcy after he was coming off a rough outing over the weekend that saw him walk three batters in less than an inning of work. He admitted that he was rushing and didn’t have a feel for his mechanics in Saturday’s appearance, but that changed against Radford with command of his devastating slider and fastball that he ran up to 96 mph.
“Today you got to see what he is. I think we’re going to get more of that as we go,” pitching coach Ryan Fecteau said with a grin.
Virginia Tech has now won three straight contests dating back to the weekend series against Louisiana.
In the opening game of the series, Friday night starter Chris Gerard fired a gem. The sophomore lasted 7.0 innings, surrendering three hits, two runs (zero earned), and one walk with 12 strikeouts. However, the effort was wasted as the Hokies were shut out 2-0 by the Ragin Cajuns. Virginia Tech mustered just three hits, and blew a bases loaded, one-out opportunity in the eighth inning.
Gerard fell to 0-1 on the season, despite not allowing an earned run. Through two starts, the southpaw holds a 0.00 ERA with 17 strikeouts and one walk over 12.1 innings pitched.
“He’s just able to use all of his pitches at any point whenever he wants,” Fecteau said of Gerard. “Last year was the development of the cutter. This year, he’s added the changeup to the arsenal. You can’t sit on anything because he literally can throw any pitch in any count to any part of the plate.”
The Hokies responded on Saturday with a gritty, hard-earned win. The team manufactured two unearned runs in the first inning and scored another on a wild pitch in the sixth. Nick Biddison and Fritz Genther both had 2-for-4 days at the plate.
It was a gutsy ending for Tech. Holding onto a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the ninth inning, Peyton Alford struck out three straight batters with the tying run on third the winning run on base.
“He was the difference in that game,” Szefc said of Alford. “Technically when you have first and third and nobody out and you’re protecting a one-run lead, chances are pretty good that that run is going to score one way or another. He just took it to another gear and he was outstanding.”
“I told the guys after that, this is now our third year and the first two years we don’t win that game,” Fecteau said. “We find a way to lose that game. That to me was a great sign of this group getting over the hump a little bit. That was about as good as it gets.”
Anthony Simonelli earned his first win of the season, striking out seven over 5.0 innings. The former Coastal Carolina and St. John’s River SC product allowed just five hits, one run (zero earned), and one walk.
In the rubber match of the series, Szefc and Co. trotted Ian Seymour out to the mound. Seymour was dominant with 11 strikeouts over 6.0 frames on the bump in the 3-0 triumph. The southpaw gave up just two hits with one walk and no runs. He was named one of 15 Collegiate Baseball’s National Players of the Week after he started earlier in the week on Tuesday versus ETSU and combined to punch out 17 batters over 9.0 innings in the two starts.
“[Ian’s] been working his butt off,” Fecteau said. “He’s a little bit of a different pitcher this year. He’s starting to get a little more power in him. I’m really happy where he’s at.”
Henry Weycker and Nathan Starliper completed the shutout over the final three innings, with Starliper picking up his first career save. Carson Jones, Reagan Teegarden, and Carson Taylor all collected RBIs in the victory.
Fecteau’s pitching staff was the story of the weekend. The starting rotation of Gerard, Simonelli, and Seymour punched out 30 batters in 18.0 innings pitched with no earned runs.
“They’re all pushing each other,” Fecteau said. “They all know they’re interchangeable. The day doesn’t matter when they go. The momentum just carries to the next guy. They know they’re the strength of this team. They have been so consistent to start the season. They’re a big reason we’re sitting where we are.”
Including the bullpen, the Hokies pitchers faced 109 Ragin Cajun batters in 26 innings, striking out 41 batters. That’s striking out 37.6 percent of Louisiana batters faced and 1.58 strikeouts per inning.
“Our pitching and defense have been so good that it kept us in every ballgame,” Szefc said. “That’s the way it goes. If you pitch and play good defense you’ll be in it regardless of what you’re doing offensively.”
While the pitching has been a clear strength for Virginia Tech in the early stages of the 2020 campaign, the bats have lagged behind. Over the past four games, the Hokies have scored just 2.25 runs per game.
“Our position players are way better offensively than what they’re showing right now,” Szefc said. “We’ll get there. We have to get better at being more fastball efficient. Being able to move runners and execute and make productive outs.
“Every team is going to have something that they have to work on right now. Honestly, I’d rather have it be that than wondering what we’re doing on the mound or defensively. If you’re struggling there, you still have a chance to win games which is exactly what you’re seeing over the last four games.”
Virginia Tech stays home this upcoming weekend for series versus Bryant University. Fecteau previously spent six years as the Bulldogs’ pitching coach from 2011-2016.
Bryant will come to Blacksburg with a 2-5 record. They started the season 0-4, but won two of three against Georgia State last weekend. Last year, Bryant took two of three from the Hokies. First pitch on Friday is set for 4 p.m.