No. 5 Virginia Tech Walks Off Villanova Sunday; Sweeps Two-Game Series

Hokie players mobbed Carson DeMartini after his walk-off on Sunday. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

The stakes were simple when No. 5 Virginia Tech’s day began on Sunday: Take care of business, pad the win column and sweep Villanova in a two-game series after beating the Wildcats by 10 runs the night before. Lose and run the risk of falling down in the RPI system and have its fate tested – at least a little bit. 

The Hokies control their own destiny as the projected No. 3 seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament with potential series wins over No. 7 Louisville and Duke over the next two weekends. But there was no reason to bring that into the equation … quite yet. 

After Saturday’s whirlwind of a night that began with a 7 p.m. first pitch — rain pushed the start time back by five hours — which included Tech falling behind by five runs after the second inning, only to claw back and score 15 runs over the final four, Sunday was the complete opposite. However, it was a little dramatic compared to the 15-5 win in game one. 

Tech chose the easy path, though it was quite difficult to get there. Winners of 23 of their last 27 and 13 of their last 15, the Hokies and Carson DeMartini walked off Villanova on Sunday, 3-2, exactly 365 days since their last walk-off victory. On May 8, 2021, Nick Biddison drove home Fritz Genther on a sacrifice-fly to steal a victory against Toledo.

“I don’t think they panic at all,” head coach John Szefc said of his players after the walk-off. “I think that they’re thinking, ‘we’re going to come back and win this thing.’ It’s just a matter of how it’s going to happen.”

But oh, how times have changed. A year ago, the Hokies were in the midst of their ACC free fall, dropping 15 of their final 17 conference games, and slipped into the conference tournament as the final team.

This season? Virginia Tech (33-10, 14-8 ACC) has won seven of its eight ACC series. And, if all goes right, VT could win the Coastal Division if No. 6 Miami continues its slide in conference play.

Drue Hackenberg has been really solid this season, and he shoved again on Sunday. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

The focus, however, was on Sunday – beating a Villanova team that can only play spoiler down the stretch. And the Wildcats almost did that after scoring two unearned runs off of Drue Hackenberg in the top of the seventh, who was nearly unhittable for most of the afternoon.

He yielded a single with an out in the top of the first but soon settled in after inducing a fly out and a ground out to end the inning. That’s when his offense gave him the lead as Biddison beat out an infield single to shortstop, swiped second four pitches later and then scored on Tanner Schobel’s 60th team-leading RBI this season.

Hackenberg, who’s just about shoved in nine of his 11 starts, brought his best stuff to the ballpark for the rest of the afternoon, setting down 13 of the 16 hitters he faced between the second and sixth inning. His sinker is his best pitch – his head coach John Szefc will be the first to tell you that – and of the 21 outs he recorded, two-thirds were via the ground ball.

“He only threw 70 pitches in seven innings,” Szefc said of Hackenberg. “He pitches really efficiently. … It was pretty vintage Hackenberg.” 

The true freshman nearly worked seven shutout innings until he drilled Villanova’s John Whooley with an 0-2 pitch with an out and DeMartini botched a potential inning-ending double play at third base that allowed AJ Hansen to reach. That set up Pat O’Neill’s two-out, two-RBI double that put the Wildcats out in front, 2-1, with an out in the bottom of the seventh. 

They could’ve – and should’ve – added another run when Cameron Hassert singled, but Jack Hurley’s throw from left field arrived as O’Neill was only halfway down the line. That allowed Cade Hunter to easily set up and tag O’Neill out at the plate.

Then, DeMartini had his first chance to play hero after his error when Lucas Donlon reached on an error to extend the bottom of the seventh. He unloaded on a 1-2 pitch, sending a screamer down the right field line all the way to the wall for his first double of the day. However, the inning ended after third base coach Kurt Elbin waved Donlon home, who was only rounding third as the baseball was thrown to the relay man, and Villanova teamed up to gun the tying run down at the plate.

“The thing about that was that they were going to have to go through the top of our lineup,” Szefc said.

Gavin Cross had the game-tying hit that gave the Hokies the walk-off opportunity vs. Villanova. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

Trailing 2-1, Henry Weycker worked a flawless eighth inning, which set the stage for the top of the lineup to do some damage off of Devin Rivera. And Gavin Cross, projected as a top-10 draft pick in July, delivered. He pulled a 1-1 pitch high over the right field to tie the game at two with an out in the eighth.

The “Hey! Hey! Hey!” chants sprang from the Hokies’ dugout and straight into everyone’s ears as Cross reached the dugout and was greeted by his teammates.

In the ninth, after two Villanova batters reached with no outs, Weycker and Kiernan Higgins teamed up to record three outs to send the game tied into the bottom of the ninth. Moreover, it gave Tech its first potential walk-off opportunity at English Field this season.

And that’s exactly what happened as Eduardo Malinowski singled to open the inning. But Tech added a flare for the dramatic when Hunter and Christian Martin were quickly set down. Then, Lucas Donlon walked after working his way back from down 0-2 in the count, which set the stage for DeMartini to be the protagonist once again.

“[Donlon] set that up,” Szefc said. “Probably the biggest at-bat all day.”

After taking a ball and fouling a pitch off, DeMartini delivered a ground-rule double into left-center field, scoring Malinowski from first and sending his team into a frenzy. DeMartini’s teammates chased him into center field, where he was met with pats on his backside, hugs and high-fives.

“We came back yesterday, came back today,” DeMartini said. “It just shows that – this team – there’s nothing standing in the way of us.”

Box Scores: Friday, Saturday

15 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. “That set up Pat O’Neill’s two-out, two-RBI double that put the Wildcats out in front, 2-1, with an out in the bottom of the seventh.” Wouldn’t that be top of the seventh, since Villanova was the visiting team?

  2. So it’s 1-0 bad guys in the bottom of the ninth? I’m confused on the holw walk off ground rule double thing.

    1. The score was tied 2-2, bottom of the ninth, runners on 1st and 2nd, when the ground rule double was hit.

  3. How could Malinowski score from 1st on a ground rule double to left-center field?

  4. Only in baseball- 2 pitches from Higgins and he gets the win ….. Take a win anyway it comes

    1. I was relieved with 1 out in the top of the 7th in a tie game. The reliever threw one pitch, we turned 2 and scored in the bottom to get him the win. Only in baseball.

  5. Can someone please explain this part of the article? I do not understand the meaning; “Hackenberg, who’s just about shoved in nine of his 11 starts…”. Thank you.

    1. Back when I played we would say a pitcher “shoved it up their a$$” when he delivered a dominating performance. I’m guessing that’s the modern abbreviated version…

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