No. 2 Miami Salvages Final Weekend Game vs. No. 21 Virginia Tech

Tanner Schobel led the way for Virginia Tech on Saturday despite the loss. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

Tanner Schobel strode to the plate with the bases loaded as No. 21 Virginia Tech eyed a series sweep, trailing by six runs in the bottom of the seventh. The Hokies’ shortstop had hit seven home runs in his last 10 games coming into Saturday afternoon’s game and he wouldn’t be denied another.

After taking two balls and a strike to begin his at-bat, Schobel took a deep breath before stepping back into the right-handed batter’s box. He watched Alex McFarlane’s fourth pitch come in before unloading on the baseball, which carried up and away over the left field wall, trimming No. 2 Miami’s (28-8, 14-4 ACC) lead to 7-5. 

But after CJ Kayfus hit a solo homer off Jonah Hurney in the eighth inning, Tech’s luck ran out, even as it attempted to mount a comeback. The tying-run came to the on-deck circle in the ninth inning at English Field, but the Hokies (23-9, 9-7 ACC) dropped the potential series sweep Saturday afternoon, 8-5.

“We’re kinda moving in the right direction,” Tech head coach John Szefc said. “I think we’re very good, but we’re not great. And to do what we’ve done for the past five weekends, I’ll take it.”

After Jordan Geber gave Tech three solid two-run innings on the mound to start Saturday’s game, Henry Weycker, Kiernan Higgins and Hurney combined to pitch the final six innings. Meanwhile, the Hokies’ offense fell silent to the Hurricanes’ starter Alejandro Rosario, who blanked them in seven shutout innings in late February last year. His day didn’t last as long this time around, but he only yielded one run in 4 ⅓ innings.

“[Rosario] did a good job of working in and out, and getting out of tough situations,” Schobel said. “But I also think we put some bats on the ball and it just went to the fielders today. But that happens; that’s baseball.”

Once he left with an out in the fifth, the Miami bullpen got the same results as Rosario did, until Schobel’s grand slam.

Schobel’s grand slam gave Virginia Tech some life. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

After taking the first two games — and the weekend series from the Hurricanes for the second time in two years — it’s very clear where Virginia Tech stands in the college baseball landscape: the Hokies are competitors. 

For how long without a true Sunday starter, who knows? But for now, they’re in the hunt for their first NCAA Regional bid since 2013, and this weekend proved that they’re deserving of one – even if there was a misstep on Saturday.

“Our younger players weren’t used to losing in high school the way we were [last year],” Schobel said about what’s different about this year’s team. “The locker room wasn’t the best place to be sometimes, but I think this team is a lot closer and I’ll think we’ll keep it rolling.”

They laugh and share high-fives during batting practice and warm-ups everyday. They play loose no matter what the score or the situation is. And those that still doubt this team — if there are still any after this weekend — are washed over like white noise.

The heads, though, are beginning to turn, and those close to the team are starting to look at how the ACC standings are beginning to take shape. Entering Saturday, Tech had the third-best record in the conference. All Szefc can do is prepare for the next chance to win a series to stay in contention to make — or even host — an NCAA Regional.

But in order to even turn their attention to a potential regional bid, the Hokies will need to find a Sunday starter. They’ve tested out Ryan Okuda — who has given inconsistent results — and Weycker, but neither have stuck. That’s what forced Szefc’s hand to turn to Geber, a grad transfer from Mount St. Mary’s. He started 10 of his 11 games last season with a 3.88 ERA.

He’s slowly been eased back into competition after he suffered an injury in a car accident during the semester break over the winter. Szefc has had high-praise for the right-hander throughout the season, even if the results he was yielding weren’t favorable.

But Geber turned in three innings for the Hokies on the bump on Saturday. He struck out Kayfus and Edgardo Villegas to begin the afternoon before a two-out triple put Yohandy Morales on third. But he bounced with his third strikeout of the inning when he got Maxwell Romero on four pitches to end the frame.

John Szefc’s crew is rolling at the right time. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

“I thought [Geber] was pretty good out of the gate,” Szefc said. “We needed that guy to go out there and give us that start, and he did but we just struggled in the middle innings there. … It was a good step there and a good step for our team.”

The offense, which scored 25 runs in the first two games this series, was at it again early when Jack Hurley doubled home Gavin Cross from first — who blew through third base coach Kurt Elbin’s stop sign — to take an early lead. 

“I think it gives us confidence when we score first,” Hurley said. “It gives our pitcher confidence to go back there. But with our offense, our pitcher can still have the same confidence, even if we don’t score in the first inning.”

And Geber responded on the mound with a scoreless second inning. But his start began to unravel in the third once Romero doubled Kayfus and Morales home, giving the Hurricanes their first lead of the series, 2-1. He worked out of the inning by getting Jacob Burke to pop out to Schobel at shortstop. 

That’s where his day ended as Weycker took the bump. He worked a spotless fourth inning, but the wheels began to fall off the wagon in the fifth. He yielded a single to Ariel Garcia to begin the inning but quickly got two out before intentionally walking Morales. Then, Romero singled home Garcia and Weycker was pulled for Higgins.

Higgins, who was put into a tough spot with runners on the corners, walked Burke on four pitches before serving up a bases-clearing double to Dominic Pitelli. And just like that, an inning the Hokies had entered trailing by a run quickly turned into a five-run deficit.

Tech began to mount a small comeback in the bottom of the fifth when Nick Biddison and Cross reached to put runners on the corners with one out. Schobel worked a full count, but struck out on a pitch in the dirt, which prompted Biddison’s attempt to score a run. But home plate umpire Doug Vines ruled that Schobel interfered with the play by not getting out of the way, calling Biddison out and blowing the Hokies’ rally dead.

Nick Biddison had an opportunity to close the gap, but Schobel was called for interference. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

“I’ve never seen that call made before,” Szefc said. “The home plate umpire said that Schobel had interfered with the pitcher, but the pitcher wasn’t even part of the play. The catcher was on his way back to get the ball. It was irrelevant.”

The score stayed at 6-1 until Burke hit a solo home run with two outs in the top of the seventh. Then, Christian Martin reached to lead-off the bottom half with a single before Biddison singled with an out and Cross drew a five-pitch walk. That all set the stage for Schobel’s grand slam in the seventh, which brought the score to within two.

But Miami turned to its closer Andrew Walters in the eighth, who has yet to allow an earned run in 20 innings this season. He set Virginia Tech’s bats down in the eighth before walking Carson DeMartini in the ninth to bring the tying-run to the on-deck circle. 

The Hokies went down quietly after that as Walters salvaged Miami’s weekend with a win.

“As long as we keep battling, our players are good enough, we’ll be in a good place,” Szefc said. “It wasn’t a roll over, I don’t feel it was that way. I felt like we battled well down the stretch.”

It wasn’t the result the Hokies were looking for, but taking two-of-three from the conference’s top team is a job well done.

Saturday Box Score: Link 

2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Thanks, Chris. So, Tech is now up to 25 in the RPI, but that is still behind 6 ACC teams. Does the RPI play the same role in deciding who is in the NCAA Tourney as it does in basketball?

    1. The RPI is used in baseball yes (Basketball doesn’t really use RPI anymore it uses the NET NCAA Evaluation Tool

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