Following a series loss to Virginia on May 2, Virginia Tech baseball was reeling. The Hokies had lost three straight ACC series and eight of the last 12 games overall.
Virginia Tech found its antidote last week. The Hokies won four straight non-conference games, including a mid-week game over Georgetown and a series sweep of Toledo, to stop the bleeding and regain their confidence. Now, John Szefc’s team sits with a 27-17 overall record and a 16-14 mark in the ACC, two games behind Georgia Tech who leads the Coastal Division.
The Hokies hit the road and head south this weekend, returning to conference play against Duke.
Virginia Tech Sweeps Toledo
It was a much-needed reprieve for Virginia Tech to have a series off from the ACC gauntlet last weekend, and it took advantage. The Hokies outscored Toledo 26-8 in the three-game sweep.
More than anything, key pieces of Virginia Tech’s bullpen may have found their form again after some recent struggles. Jaison Heard, in particular, appeared to get back on track. He fired 3.1 no-hit innings in relief of Peyton Alford. The scoreless appearance was promising for the senior after he allowed runs in five of his last six outings.
Similarly, Graham Firoved fired two strong outings, against Georgetown and on Saturday against Toledo, where he struck out six of the seven batters he retired in 2.1 innings of scoreless work. This came on the outset of a rough appearance against UVA where he walked three batters in one inning of work.
While the Hokies won comfortably in games one and three of the series with scores of 7-1 and 16-5, respectively, game two told a different story. Virginia Tech trailed 2-0 late in the seventh inning before it scored three unanswered, including Nick Biddison’s walk-off sacrifice fly. It represented a return to the type of games the Hokies were winning in the beginning of the season where they largely played the role of the comeback kids.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign was the return of Chris Gerard to the rotation in Game 3 against Toledo. Gerard had missed his last three starts following his exit against Wake Forest on April 11 with a groin injury. The Hokies eased Gerard back into live action with two scoreless innings of work. He allowed just one hit and one walk along with four strikeouts on 31 pitches. It fell right in line with the plan that Szefc revealed following the UVA series.
“I know coach [Ryan] Fecteau wants to have him pitch next weekend against Toledo,” Szefc said back on May 2. “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.”
Virginia Tech vs. Duke
Virginia Tech travels to Durham this weekend to face a Duke team that sits in the bottom of the ACC Coastal standings with a 21-20 overall record and a 10-17 record in conference. The Blue Devils beat Wofford on Tuesday and lost two of three on the road at Louisville last weekend.
Duke’s hitting has not been its downfall this year. In fact, the Blue Devils are hitting .280 as a team, good for fourth in the ACC. Joey Loperfido leads the team and is fifth in the ACC with a .365 batting average.
Where Duke falls short is in pitching and defense. The Blue Devils’ pitching staff enters the series with a 5.02 ERA along with 55 errors on the season, numbers that are 10th and 13th in the ACC. For comparison, the Hokies have a 4.65 ERA (seventh) with 41 errors (seventh).
Offensively, Tanner Thomas will look to continue his hot streak following the Toledo series. The senior saw his average rise from .269 to .308 after those three games. Thomas was 6-for-7 with five RBIs. He also walked five times, giving him an on-base percentage of .917 over the weekend.
On the other side, Anthony Simonelli will return to the mound on Saturday for “Simo Saturday.” He’s fresh off his two best starts of the year where he’s allowed just five hits in 14.2 innings pitched. That included a career-high 7.2 innings on Saturday against Toledo, where he allowed two runs and struck out a season-high eight batters.
First pitch on Friday is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday’s battles are slated for a 1 p.m. start time. The games on Friday and Sunday can be seen on ACC Network Extra.