Virginia Tech Baseball is in a slump, and it needs to correct things fast. Just a few weeks ago, the Hokies were fighting to host the NCAA Regionals from English Field at Atlantic Union Bank Park as one of the top 16 teams in the nation.
Now, Virginia Tech has lost three consecutive ACC series and seven of the last nine ACC games, including losing two of three at home this past weekend to Virginia. The Hokies’ (23-17, 16-14 ACC) focus will now shift toward getting back on track over the final three weeks of the regular season and securing a bid in the field of 64 for the NCAA tournament.
“We’re just very inconsistent,” head coach John Szefc said. “We score runs some days. We pitch some days. Our defense has been okay, I’d say. It’s not like we’ve been kicking it around that badly. If you just look at the scores of the games, it’s just very inconsistent.
“At some point either you’re going to play very well and be consistent or you’re not. After playing 40 games, we’re probably around that time where you’re going to have to be consistent or else you’re going to end up watching in the postseason. That’s just the way it goes.”
The Virginia Series
- Game 1: Virginia 18, VT 1
- Game 2: VT 6, Virginia 3
- Game 3: Virginia 6, VT 1
In front of an electric atmosphere at home, Virginia Tech laid an egg in the opener, losing 18-1 to Virginia. There’s no need to rehash what occurred then, so let’s move on to game two of the series.
On Saturday night, it was the Anthony Simonelli show for the Hokies on the bump. The patented “Simo Saturday” was in full effect. He baffled Cavaliers hitting all game long, tossing a career-high 7.0 innings. The right-hander allowed just two hits, two runs (one earned), no walks and seven strikeouts. In true Simonelli fashion, he wore his emotions on his sleeves throughout.
It was an especially encouraging start considering that last weekend against NC State, Simonelli lasted just 2.2 innings, allowing eight runs and five walks.
🔋 𝐂𝐡𝐚𝐫𝐠𝐞𝐝 𝐔𝐩 🔋
— Virginia Tech Baseball (@HokiesBaseball) May 2, 2021
“He was great,” Szefc said. “He’s been in that position a few times where we lost on a Friday and we needed him to come back and give us a good start on Saturday. He’s done that all year with the exception of last weekend. Obviously, this one was probably the best start of his career. [UVA head coach] Brian O’Connor said that to me [Sunday] pregame about how well he executed his pitches and did everything.”
Tanner Schobel and Fritz Genther each had two RBIs apiece to lead the offense. Graham Firoved wasn’t sharp in relief, and Shane Connolly had to be brought on for the save. With the tying run at the plate, Connolly ended the game with a strikeout.
“I felt good last night,” Connolly said. “I didn’t really have all my pitches, but got the job done.”
Connolly ended Saturday’s game and promptly started the rubber match of the series less than 21 hours later on Sunday. His night ended after 4.2 innings, giving up four runs on four hits with three walks and six strikeouts.
Still, after scoring in the first inning, Virginia Tech was held scoreless over the final 24 outs.
“I know when [Shane] came out of the game, it was four runs, but we didn’t lose the game because of how he pitched,” Szefc said. “We lost the game because we didn’t score any runs. If you score one run, on any day and especially a Sunday, you’re not going to win. I hate to throw blame, but we were not in a bad place as far as the outcome goes because of how we defended or pitched. Obviously, you don’t want to go into a game and give up six, but I would also think if we’re scoring runs and being productive, it’s probably a little bit of a different game.”
Virginia’s Nate Savino stifled Virginia Tech bats all game long. The southpaw needed just 65 pitches to get through 7.0 innings on the bump. Savino allowed the one run on six hits, no walks and two strikeouts.
Using a heavy sinker, Savino induced three double plays to get out of trouble. 14 of his 21 outs were recorded via ground ball.
“I think you have to give credit to their starting pitcher,” Szefc said. “He was sinking his fastball and our guys couldn’t get underneath it. I give him credit. He did a great job. He really did. Our guys couldn’t figure him out.”
“He started to get in a rhythm, and it just took us a little longer to adjust than what we wanted to,” added outfielder Tanner Thomas.
Blake Bales and Stephen Schoch closed the door for the Cavaliers’ bullpen to hand Virginia Tech its third consecutive series loss. With the win, Virginia has won four of the last five ACC series after beginning the season with five straight conference series losses.
“They’re good. They have very good players. They just do,” Szefc said. “I don’t know how else to say it. We ran into a really good pitching staff and if you’re going to win a series against a team like that, I don’t care what their numbers look like. I have no idea how their numbers are as poor as they are. I couldn’t even tell you offensively and as far as all of their losses go. That pitching staff is as good as any we’ve seen all year.”
Virginia Tech Baseball Injury Updates
Szefc provided some injury updates on some key players following the series versus Virginia. Starter Chris Gerard could return to action next weekend. In six starts this year, Gerard is 2-1 with a 3.41 ERA. He’s missed his last three starts with a groin injury.
“He threw a bullpen [Saturday] and he was good. He felt good,” Szefc said. “The tough thing is that the issue he has is when he’s pitching in the game against hitters. When you’re throwing pitches in a game, it’s a little bit different from a bullpen. There’s a lot more adrenaline going there, you’re using more effort when there’s a hitter in there in a game. The tale of the tape is going to be how he responds when he’s actually pitching in games.
“I know coach [Ryan] Fecteau wants to have him pitch next weekend against Toledo. Probably not a full start, but at least maybe one time through the lineup to get him back and back going, so that hopefully we’ll have him back for Duke. At this point, that’s where all the arrows are pointing toward.”
Gerard’s return to the rotation would be a big boost for a number of reasons. For one, Gerard is the most talented starter on the Hokies and experienced, in his third year pitching in ACC contests. On the other hand, his return would allow Connolly to move back to a permanent role in the bullpen where he can eat a lot of innings as a long reliever.
“I think I’m better out of the bullpen, to be honest with you,” Connolly said. “But I’m comfortable with both positions… I’ve been starting for a while, so I’m comfortable with starting, but I’m looking forward to getting Chris back. I think that’s going to be huge for the team, especially going into the postseason.”
Starting catcher Cade Hunter has been out of the lineup since he broke his hamate bone on March 19 against Clemson. Hunter was on the active roster in an emergency role this past weekend and is slowly inching toward complete health.
“The hitting will be the last thing that comes for him,” Szefc said. “I’d like to think he might be active and ready to play next weekend against Toledo. How much? It’s hard to say, but I think we’d like to get him in there to get some dirt in his cleats again next weekend.”
Virginia Tech takes the field this Wednesday for a mid-week tilt with Georgetown before staying home for an out of conference series with Toledo. The Rockets are 15-22 this season. It’s a chance for the Hokies to establish some winning ways again.
“It’s always about positivity,” Thomas said. “It’s baseball. Yeah, we started off really well, and I believe that we’re going to get going again. Baseball is happening to us right now. A lot of things aren’t falling our way and you just have to be patient. Just keep working hard throughout it. You can’t just put your head down and give up on it. It happens. This game revolves around failure. We just have to realize that and keep chugging.”