Virginia Tech baseball had a big opportunity this weekend to extend its lead in the ACC Coastal. Georgia Tech was coming to town, and the Hokies had a two-game lead over the Yellow Jackets atop the division.
Instead, Georgia Tech took two of three on the road and pulled within one game of Virginia Tech. Pitt baseball also won the series against North Carolina to pull into a second-place tie with the Yellow Jackets.
“It’s a tough league. You have to be a man to play in this league,” John Szefc said. “You get your opportunity, you have to take advantage of it. For the most part we have this year, and today we didn’t. I’m not worried about our guys down the stretch. We’re going to come out, and our guys have been very good at moving on. I don’t see any reason why that won’t continue. We’ll just keep moving on.”
Bullpen takes a step back
After a rough stretch in March, it appeared Virginia Tech’s bullpen was trending in the right direction. The Hokies had found a number of consistent arms they could rely on, winning the last three ACC series.
However, the bullpen had its fair share of woes over the weekend. In the first game of the series, Virginia Tech led 6-2 entering the sixth inning. Peyton Alford had been pulled from the game after the fifth and the game was left in the hands of the bullpen. From there, the Hokies allowed 13 runs over the next three innings en route to the 15-11 loss.
It was much of the same in the rubber match on Sunday. Virginia Tech led 4-3 going after the sixth inning. Virginia Tech’s bullpen then allowed eight runs in the final three innings, losing 11-4. Pitching coach Ryan Fecteau used seven different pitchers in seventh, eighth, and ninth.
“It was probably one of the worst weeks we had all year going 1-3,” Szefc said. “Obviously our bullpen really did not perform very well at all this weekend.
“We’re trying to go matchups. It works when guys come in and they’re actually able to execute something. That clearly didn’t happen.”
Szefc also confirmed that Henry Weycker, one of Virginia Tech’s more talented relievers, likely would not return this season with an injury.
“They were trying to rehab him to come back, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Szefc said.
Chris Gerard Misses Start; Simonelli Shines
Virginia Tech’s ace Chris Gerard did not pitch this weekend. The southpaw reaggravated his groin injury in his last start.
“He did that last Sunday when he pitched against Wake,” Szefc said. “He’s not available right now.”
“Losing Chris was a big blow,” fellow starter Anthony Simonelli said. “He’ll be back soon before the ACC tournament. That’s when it really matters.”
In his place, Shane Connolly filled in admirably on Sunday before the bullpen blew the lead. Connolly lasted six innings, allowing three runs on six hits and one walk with seven strikeouts.
“I thought our starters did a really good job, we just didn’t have anything behind them,” Szefc said. “I think today [Sunday] is a byproduct when you’re down one of your best players in Gerard, everyone has to do more. We certainly weren’t able to do that today for sure.”
In the Hokies’ one win on the weekend, Simonelli was masterful on the mound. The right-hander fanned six batters over six scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and two walks. He ran a fastball in the low-to-mid 90’s that had Georgia Tech batters behind all game.
“Coming into the game, Coach Fecteau decided we were going to throw a lot of fastballs to Georgia Tech,” Simonelli said. “They were sitting on off-speed pitches the night before against Peyton and our relievers, so it was in our best interest to go fastball heavy. I threw a lot of fastball, cutters and mixed in some curveballs, change ups later in the game. I would say my fastball was working the best.”
Many times on Saturday, Simonelli openly wore his emotions on his sleeve. After a strikeout or a big out to end an inning, the junior would pound his chest or let out an audible, ‘Let’s go!’ It’s a mindset that the one-time Coastal Carolina transfer maintains to be true to himself.
— Virginia Tech Baseball (@HokiesBaseball) April 18, 2021
“With me, I get energized really well,” Simonelli said. “I feel like if I’m not being myself out there, I’m not being a good pitcher. I’m just kind of being lazy out there. Every single time I get a strikeout, you see me get fired up. I think it helps the team out, too, because if they see me being crazy out there, then they’re going to be crazy too. I think it’s been working out pretty well so far in the last couple starts for me.”
Simonelli is now 4-0 in seven starts on the season with a 3.47 ERA. He’s struck out 40 in 36.1 innings. More than anything, Simonelli is understanding what it takes to be a consistent starter in the ACC.
“His stuff was good,” Szefc said. “It was really good. He threw more strikes than he has in the past. He’ll get in three ball counts a little bit at times, but he’ll find a way to make big pitches when he has to.”
“I’m just going out there and competing every day,” Simonelli said. “Fecteau and Szefc tell me what I need to do, and I’m just going to do it for them. At the end of the day, if they ask me to go six innings, I’m going to go six innings. If they ask me to go two, I’m going to go two. I’m just looking forward to every Saturday or whatever day I throw on and going out there and competing.”
It was a disaster for Virginia Tech’s bullpen most of the weekend, but the one reliever who was up to the task was Graham Firoved. In the 7-0 win on Saturday, Firoved pitched the final three innings for the save. He didn’t give up a run, walking just one and striking out five.
In the triumph, Cade Swisher made things happen on the offensive end. The designated hitter went 3-for-3 from the plate, blasting his second home run of the season and four RBIs.
“Swisher had four RBIs and he was a big part of that win,” Szefc said. “He was probably our best offensive player yesterday. The better teams that I’ve been around over the years, you get contributions from a lot of different players. I don’t think that’s any different. It’s the same thing every year. If you’re able to get contributions from a lot of players, we’ll be pretty good down the stretch. If we don’t, we won’t be. It’s pretty simple, whether it’s hitters or pitchers.”
Virginia Tech returns to action from home on Tuesday against VMI before traveling to Raleigh for a three-game series with NC State. The Wolfpack (16-13, 9-12 ACC) are coming off a series loss to Notre Dame.
“As Coach Szefc always says, just flush it and move on,” Nick Biddison said. “That’s what you have to do in the ACC. It wasn’t our weekend, but we have NC State next weekend. We just have to move on and hope to make that our weekend.”