With Omaha On The Horizon, Virginia Tech Continues To Find Ways To Win

Jonah Hurney was crucial for Virginia Tech in Game 2 of the Blacksburg Super Regional. (Jon Fleming)

Throughout the regular season, No. 4 Virginia Tech proved it was one of the most complete teams in the country, one worthy of hosting the NCAA Tournament.

Over the last two weekends, the Hokies have shown how difficult of an out they are in postseason play, and Saturday was a prime example.

However, the team’s starting pitching hasn’t lived up to expectations set throughout the year over the last few outings. Against Oklahoma, Griffin Green and Drue Hackenberg combined for just 3 ⅔  innings between Friday and Saturday.

Yet both times, Virginia Tech had an answer out of the bullpen. In Game 1, Henry Weycker took over after Green had a rough first inning. And after Hackenberg allowed three runs in the third inning of Game 2, it was Jonah Hurney’s time to shine.

Both had impressive outings at a crucial time. Weycker stabilized Tech’s pitching when needed on Friday, but Oklahoma had more firepower, winning 5-4. However, thanks to run support on Saturday, headlined by five home runs, Hurney earned the win in VT’s 14-8 victory over the Sooners. 

Hurney, Weycker and other bullpen arms are important gears in the machine that is this Hokies squad. Coupling that with an offense that is fundamentally sound and can score in multiple ways creates a breeding ground for consistent results.

The Hokies were stabilized by good pitching, and it helps that they scored some huge runs, too. (Ivan Morozov)

“We’ve got a lot of stale toast in our dugout,” Virginia Tech head coach John Szefc said after Game 2’s six-run win. “Stale, dry toast. The drier the toast, the better the performance. If you’re going to go up and down on a roller coaster or a ferris wheel, it’s not going to be good.”

Indeed, the Hokies haven’t experienced any wild rides in quite some time. They entered Saturday on the brink of elimination, but weren’t fazed. And they haven’t lost back-to-back games since mid-March, which feels like a century ago. 

Since dropping five contests in a row to Georgia Tech, James Madison and Pitt, they’re 33-7.

Virginia Tech has such a plethora of talent and a genuine camaraderie that most things, if all, don’t change from game-to-game. Even when faced with the occasional struggle, the confidence never wavers. 

“Nothing really different about the way we came into the game yesterday,” third baseman Carson DeMartini said. “Coach Szefc always talks about not making it more than it is. It’s still a baseball game. … Nothing really changed today, it just fell our way, and we’re going to go out tomorrow with the same mindset.”

Hurney is a great example. A former JUCO pitcher at Southwestern Oregon Community College, he’s originally from Hawaii. He’s playing on the other side of the country, far from home, and in the biggest moment of his career to date, with his family watching from the Big Island at 7 a.m., he wasn’t rattled when he took the mound; instead, he excelled.

Jonah Hurney: just a kid from Hawaii. (Ivan Morozov)

The 5-foot-8 junior from Kamuela entered in the fourth inning, replacing Christian Worley, who yielded a solo home run to the leadoff batter. He proceeded to get three outs, two via strikeout, and that was just the start of the most important outing of his career.

Hurney throws a fastball, a slider and a changeup, and his stuff worked against OU. His lone mistake was surrendering a solo shot to Tanner Tredaway to lead off the bottom of the fifth. After that, he got six straight outs, three on strikeouts.

And even when he was faced with a little bit of trouble — Peyton Graham doubled to left-center to lead off the seventh — he followed with three straight outs once again, two more on strikeouts.

“He’s a quiet kid, very humble, not really ever satisfied,” Virginia Tech first baseman Nick Biddison said of Hurney. “Everything he does is pretty professional. You don’t think that from a little small, crafty lefty, but what he does, he does it really well.

“He’s always been very good. I think he’s grown a lot since he’s been here. He’s got a long way to go, but I’m not surprised at all [about his Saturday performance]. We expect that out of him and everyone who comes in.”

Hurney finished with two career-highs: innings pitched (4) and strikeouts (7). He only gave up two hits and one run, working 14 batters on 45 pitches in the process.

Schobel scored in the fifth, which got VT going. (Jon Fleming)

While he was holding down the fort, the Virginia Tech offense kicked it into gear. VT led 5-4 when Hurney took the mound; when he departed, the lead was up to eight runs, 13-5, all of which came in a variety of different ways.

First, Tanner Schobel hit a solo home run on the third pitch of the fifth inning, which got the adrenaline flowing. 

Cade Hunter singled, Carson Jones reached on a fielder’s choice and Hunter scored after two passed balls. Conor Hartigan drew a four-pitch walk. Then with runners on the corners and one out, Eduardo Malinowski laid down a perfect safety squeeze that scored Jones from third. Finally, DeMartini roped a two-out single to right, scoring Hartigan, giving Hurney a five-run cushion, 9-4.

But that wasn’t the end by any stretch. Jones smoked a two-RBI single to right in the sixth, scoring Jack Hurley and Gavin Cross, while Hunter scored as Jones was caught stealing. To cap it off, DeMartini scored Tech’s 13th run thanks to two throwing errors in the seventh.

That’s all without mentioning Biddison’s two home runs — one on the second pitch of the game, the other in the ninth inning to close out the victory — and the two blasts from Cross and Hunter in the third, all of which were impactful.

Cade Hunter threw down the air sledgehammer in the third inning on Saturday. (Ivan Morozov)

“I’d like to think if you’re watching that game and you know anything about baseball, it’s telling you that we can score runs in different ways, and we will at times when we have to,” Szefc said. “In games like this, you take runs when you can get them. You just try to create them the best you can because the gap is never too big.”

The stage is set. Virginia Tech is playing for a College World Series berth. Sunday, 1 p.m. ET vs. Oklahoma on ESPNU. Win-or-go-home. Jordan Geber (4.78 ERA), VT’s normal game three starter, will likely get the start.

The Hokies are one win away from reaching a stage that so many people dream of playing on. They’ve worked all season to have this chance. But you can bet their approach won’t change, no matter how big the moment may be.

“It’s probably going to be a little emotional, we’re going to play with some fire,” DeMartini said. “We’re just gonna try to stay on the same ride, not on the roller coaster of emotions, just as plain as possible.”

3 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Didn’t have it from any area today. Hitters got dominated and pitchers were worn out from last of contributions from starting pitching all weekend

  2. I’d just like to say to Hurney’s parents, if they happen to read this, Aloha! Thank you. 👍 Aloha! 😀

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