If Nick Biddison had just been a tad later to a baseball he couldn’t have hit any harder, if the baseball had carried just a little bit further, if it was late February or early March with the Blacksburg wind blowing out to center field, then maybe the final inning – or innings – would have played a little bit differently for No. 4 Virginia Tech.
But the baseball, instead, settled into Oklahoma center fielder Tanner Tredaway’s glove on the warning track in front of the wall in left-center field. It was the second out of the ninth inning in one of the biggest moments in Game 1 of the Blacksburg Super Regional. Two pitches and a fly out to right field later, the Sooners (41-21) took a sigh of relief once the final out was recorded in their 5-4 victory over the Hokies (44-13) on Friday afternoon at English Field.
Virginia Tech has been in this position before. The Hokies haven’t dropped two games in a row since their five game slide – three at Georgia Tech, another at James Madison and the last a one-run loss to Pitt back in early March – and came back to win the Pitt series on Saturday and Sunday. Then, after dropping the first game of a weekend series, they did it again against then-No. 7 Louisville in mid-May. Since the Pitt loss back on March 18, they’re 32-7.
“I mean, we’ve been here before,” reliever Henry Weycker said after the loss. “We were here against Pitt and Louisville and ended up winning those series. Everybody’s calm, we’re all in a good place right now and I think we just need to move forward and look to the next game.”
But to get there throughout the season, Virginia Tech used a strong offense, a rock-solid bullpen and gusty starting pitching. It got two of the three outcomes once Griffin Green departed with no outs and two runners on in the second inning. And to his credit, he’s thrown 72 ⅔ innings this season after throwing just 18 as a reliever last spring and 17 ⅔ in the Cape Cod League last summer. That, along with a blister on his middle finger, have affected his recent outings going back to his Villanova start on May 7.
The Hokies got another 4 ⅔ inning outing from Weycker – his third of the season which tied a career-high in innings pitched – once he came on in the second inning and left with two outs in the sixth. He struck out five and yielded two runs, eating a chunk of innings and saving the rest of the bullpen – a combination of Christian Worley, Kiernan Higgins, Graham Firoved and Jonah Hurney – for the rest of the weekend.
“It was really important for him to go that long,” head coach John Szefc said. “He was very good just looking at his line. He came in and stabilized things to give our offense a chance to come back. He’s done it before.”
Weycker has stabilized things all season. He did it on a Sunday at Boston College. Then again at Virginia. Both outings saved the game and it didn’t allow for Szefc to desperately dig into his bullpen for arms that were tired from previous outings in a given weekend.
It goes back to last season. He was expected to be a key arm in the bullpen in 2021 but an arm issue arose in the team’s first ACC series that season when he had to warm up and cool back down multiple times in one of the weekend’s games.
He’s headlined the bullpen this year, along with Firoved, Higgins and Hurney. He helped turn the bullpen, in what was a liability last season, into a strength. And it soon became one of the reasons that the Hokies always believed they could excel in this exact playoff matchup.
They just had to get here. They had to stare down last week’s Regional – which they swept – as the team with a target on their back. And they did so by scoring 46 runs, proving that they still had one of the top offenses in the nation.
Virginia Tech has used its youth, mixed with veterans that have gone through this grind before, to push the Hokies deep into the postseason. The goal is to knock off Oklahoma, who came into Blacksburg in 2013 to steal the regional. And Virginia Tech’s head coach.
But on Friday, five Oklahoma runs came across to score before the Hokies could muster one.
Green walked John Spikerman on four pitches to lead off the afternoon before yielding the game’s first run when Spikerman stole second and Blake Robertson drove him in with an RBI single. He worked himself out of the inning two batters later, but hit the first two hitters with pitchers in the second to end his day.
“I think he probably wasn’t at his best,” Szefc said. “He wasn’t throwing a ton of strikes at that point. He’s had some issues with the middle finger on his pitching hand that probably affected him. It’s been a day-to-day thing. We were just trying to change momentum a little bit.
“They had scored three runs, and their numbers say that they have had issues against left-handed pitching.”
Then, Weycker and his slider went to work once Szefc called for him out of the bullpen. The lefty quickly got a fielder’s choice (1-5) to nab Wallace Clark at third before two runs scored on two separate RBI singles from Kendall Pettis and Spikerman, 3-0. All three runs were charged to Green, but Weycker finally got out of the inning with a ground ball double play to shortstop.
The scoring from there stopped for a while. The Hokies got their lead off hitter on in the second, fourth, fifth and sixth innings but had no runs to show for it. Between innings two through five, Tech left six runners on base.
Oklahoma’s starter, Jake Bennett, worked around eight hits and two walks to yield four runs (one earned) in his seven innings of work and struck out eight on 103 pitches. Szefc called Bennett “one of the toughest lefties [Tech] has faced all year.”
Weycker, though, matched Bennett pitch-for-pitch while the Hokies’ offense worked to figure Bennett out. Weycker used his slider to strike five hitters out, working around seven hits before yielding two runs in the sixth.
He surrendered a two-out double to Jackson Nicklaus and then an RBI single to Brett Squires before Szefc yanked him for Firoved, who surrendered Pettis’s second RBI single of the day to push the Sooners’ lead to 5-0.
In the bottom of the sixth, though, Virginia Tech finally started its claw back when Cade Hunter reached on a fielding error and Carson Jones homered for the eighth time in 10 games since he was penciled into the starting lineup on May 17.
Then, trailing 5-2, Tanner Schobel reached on a throwing error with two outs in the seventh. Jack Hurley followed with his 14th blast this season – a 419-foot homer that banged off the batter’s eye out in center field. It brought Virginia Tech to within a run, 5-4, giving the Hokies seven outs to work with as the tying-run stood at the plate.
But the run never came around to score. All seven hitters were set down – Trevin Michael, who picked up his 10th save of the season, handled the final six – and the closest the Hokies got was Biddison’s long flyout that settled into Tredaway’s glove in center field.
“We’re a tough group, mentally we get over things pretty quickly,” Hurley said, “so I think a lot of us have already turned the page and are looking forward to tomorrow.”