Virginia Tech Baseball Must Build On Recent Success

Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech is in a better position to move forward than it was back in 2013. (Ivan Morozov)

Several years ago, I was in Las Vegas for a bachelor’s party, and I decided to bet on a baseball game. It seemed like the perfect bet at the time, and looking back, I’d do the same thing over again if given a chance.

The Braves were in first place in the NL East, and they were playing the Padres, who at the time were in dead last in the NL West, and on that particular day the Padres were throwing a starter who had an ERA over 7.00. It wasn’t a small sample size, either. He had been in the majors all season. To top it off, the game was in Atlanta.

Surely the Braves would easily cover that 1.5 run spread, right? They were going to tag that sorry pitcher for a bunch of runs. The guy had an ERA of over 7.00 for a reason. So I bet on it. It seemed like a good idea at the time. And then I lost the bet. The Braves won, but they only won 1-0. For whatever reason, they couldn’t hit against a guy who everyone else had smoked all season. It was just one of those days. That pitcher (Jordan Lyles) ended up getting waived later that season, and he now plays Quadruple-A baseball for the Baltimore Orioles.

That’s sort of what Sunday’s anti-climactic Super Regional Game Three reminded me. Nah, Tech probably still wouldn’t have won even if they had hit Oklahoma starter Cade Horton. The Hokies didn’t pitch well enough. But let’s focus on that matchup anyway. Virginia Tech is one of the best hitting teams in the country by any metric that you use, and they were facing a redshirt freshman with a high ERA (5.88 after Sunday’s start) who had pitched more than five innings just twice all season. This was the Braves vs. the Padres all over again. We know what was supposed to happen. Except it didn’t. Horton was magnificent, pitching six innings and holding Virginia Tech to a season-low two hits.

I’m glad I didn’t bet on it. It happens. That’s baseball. However, a closer look at the metrics showed that Horton was trending in the right direction. Here are his last three starts, including Sunday’s game against Virginia Tech…

Texas: 5.1 innings, 1 earned runs, 2 hits, 2 walks, 9 strikeouts
Florida: 6.1 innings, 2 earned runs, 7 hits, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts
VT: 6 innings, 2 earned runs, 2 hits, 2 walks, 8 strikeouts

The longest three outings of his career have been his last three games. He’s trending up, and after struggling early, it looks like he’s finally figured out how to pitch. That means his season ERA of 5.88 is probably misleading.

Meanwhile, Virginia Tech’s pitching is trending down. Friday night starter Griffin Green lasted just one inning, and the Hokies basically had to pitch a bullpen game as a result. Things were outta whack, as Frank Beamer would have said, from the very beginning.

Go easy on Green, by the way. He was pitching hurt. John Szefc confirmed to reporters after Friday’s game that Green has a blister on his middle finger that impacted his performance. But I’ve heard he’s done damage to one of his fingers (either his index or middle finger), and I don’t mean a blister. I mean there is structural damage that is leading to a significant amount of pain. Pain killers don’t work because his hand gets numb and he can’t feel the ball. That’s why he was all over the place on Friday, and even if the Hokies had won the series, I don’t think he would have been able to pitch in Omaha.

It’s a tough break. After last season’s brutal run of luck on the injury front, the 2022 season had balanced that out as the Hokies had been able to stay healthy all season long. Up until the end, that is, when their Friday night starter got hurt. It’s a tough time to have that happen. In hindsight, Tech probably shouldn’t have started Green on Friday, particularly considering how well the bullpen ended up pitching for those eight innings of baseball. But that’s hindsight.

All the numbers and metrics indicated that Tennessee was the best team in baseball. Behind the Vols, the Hokies were one of a small handful of teams that could have been considered the second-best team in baseball. Guess what? Like the Hokies, the Volunteers got knocked out on their home field by unseeded Notre Dame. The No. 1 overall seed has won the National Championship just once in the modern era, which was Miami in 1999. That’s just the nature of playoff baseball. There’s a reason nine different teams have won the World Series in the last nine years. In playoff baseball, everybody is very good, and somebody has to lose. Virginia Tech was a really good team that happened to lose to another really good team. It could have just as easily been the other way around. I sure with that it was, because with Tennessee out of it I think the road is wide open to the National Championship.

It’s important that the Hokies build on their success going forward in both baseball and softball. (Ivan Morozov)

A great season has come to and end, and now it’s important that the program build on it. I’m not saying that Tech is going to be as good next year, because it probably isn’t. The Hokies are losing a ton of talent to the MLB Draft next month. However, it’s important to sustain the momentum of the program. The last time they made the NCAA Tournament, they got knocked out by Oklahoma in Regionals, and then the Sooners added insult to injury by poaching VT head coach Pete Hughes. Combine that with Tech’s poor facilities and the fact that Jim Weaver didn’t replace Hughes with a quality coach, the program actually went backwards after that NCAA Tournament appearance.

Things are different this time, though. The old English Field wasn’t as nice as some high school stadiums, but English Field at Atlantic Union Bank Park is a very nice facility and an enjoyable place to watch a game. The Hokies have a proven head coach, and they are backing him with financial support. He recently gave his top three assistants new titles (which means they got raises, I suspect), Whit Babcock has made major financial investments into player development, and there’s more coming, too.

You might be wondering about that pile of dirt behind the left field wall. Tech has broken ground a new pitching lab that I believe will be ready later this year, and future plans also include a baseball-only weight room at some point. The program is on much more stable ground than it was back in 2013. The Hokies have an AD who knows baseball, and Babcock hired proven winner in John Szefc, who doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere either because Babcock is financially supporting the program.

The program has come a long way in a relatively short period of time. The Virginia Tech administration has done everything they can possibly do to be relevant in baseball, and it appears to have worked. Hosting regionals and Super Regionals, winning the Coastal Division and being the No. 4 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament should open recruiting doors that weren’t open before, with both high school players and portal guys. Any potential recruit now knows that he can accomplish all of his goals by playing baseball for Virginia Tech. That certainly wasn’t always the case, but it is definitely true now.

Of course, he can accomplish his goals at just about any other ACC program as well. This is a loaded conference, and if you aren’t moving forward, you are falling behind. The Hokies are moving forward right now in terms of facilities and program support, and it’s likely that we’ll see more consistent results in the future than we have in the past.

I’m also hopeful that the last two weekends continue to open the eyes of the fanbase that baseball can be fun in Blacksburg. There’s nothing anybody can do about the weather in Blacksburg for much of March and April, but when the weather is good, what’s stopping you from tailgating for baseball? That’s what we did over the weekend, and I thought it was fun. It could be even more fun with more experience and more advanced planning.

The last few months have been fun for the fanbase, and that came after a long period that wasn’t particularly fun. Probably the lowest point was December of 2020, and though it was fun watching the basketball and softball teams have success in the winter and spring of 2021, I think most of us knew what was coming with football season. Now that the head coaching issue is in the rear-view mirror, it’s a lot easier to sit back, be content, and enjoy what we’ve gotten over the last few months…

1: ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Champions
2: Softball No. 3 overall seed, Regionals and Super Regionals
3: Baseball No. 4 overall seed, Regionals and Super Regionals

That’s big-time success. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise, and don’t get too caught up in the whole National Championship thing, either. I’m not saying it shouldn’t be a goal, but at the same time, comparison is the thief of joy. I’m sitting here trying to imagine what it would be like going into the softball or baseball tournaments expecting to win the National Championship. Somehow I don’t think I’d have the same appreciation for those two teams if I expected things like that, which would be a shame. Yeah, I want to win one just like you all do, but I’m not going to let it affect how I view each of Tech’s programs or the athletic department as a whole.

In the past, we’ve seen the Virginia Tech softball and baseball programs achieve a high level of success, but both times they weren’t able to capitalize on it. Tech softball couldn’t capitalize on the Angela Tincher era, and the baseball program went backwards after Pete Hughes left in 2013. This time is different, though. Both programs are in a much better position to take advantage of their recent success and push forward. The facilities are better, the coaching is better and the financial support is better. Hopefully baseball in June is something we all get used to in the future.

38 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Baseball was fun when I was in school there. The old field, students sat on the field with coolers. Streakers on motorcycles…good times

  2. I haven’t watched this much college softball (none) and baseball in my lifetime. I really enjoyed watching our teams do so well this year, and will be tuned in next year! I was disappointed we didnt make it to the CWS, as we were planning to go. Thankful for great seasons this year for both teams. Go Hokies!

    1. Ditto these remarks!!!! I’m so jealous of those of you who could be there in person for both experiences!!

  3. (continued) perennial power. With that said, and the article storyline (building on success), an article about VT baseball recruiting needs, recruiting updates, updates on the upcoming draft, etc., might be helpful, especially while interest is peaked.

    Seems to me like recruiting high school players is difficult with the lure of professional baseball and $$$$. Getting commitments from good players, who are willing to come to VT, who are willing to continue to develop, and having the developmental pieces in place, is key to long term success. I’ll be interested to see if this is a one year thing or the norm.

  4. Good article. My interest in VT baseball hasn’t been this high in years. I wonder however if this is a one year thing or if Czecf is building a p

  5. Let me tell you a story. The U uses a 3rd place CWS trophy as a doorstop to a coach’s office. We must get over this hump in team sports. No more Mr and/or Ms nice guys.

  6. We’ve got a ways to go before “perennial power” and “known for baseball excellence” become synonymous with VT Hokie Baseball, but this is a terrific start!

    Think LSU, Mississippi State, Miami, CS Fullerton, …. many others. That’s the rep we want to have – and it starts now!


  7. Well for me, I got interested in college baseball for the first time. I am very impressed that the team made such a good run and will now follow them again. Was hoping they could make it the CWS to really get the program some positive press.

    The reality is “there can be only One” as a Highlander would say. VT baseball did themselves proud!
    On to next year and hopefully snagging a top notch picture.

  8. Always a nice job of filling the readers with a great observation of the facts. BTW – what’s the story with the air hammer, Chris?

    1. The NCAA banned it for the Super Regionals, so Tech did the air hammer instead.

  9. Good read, Chris. Loved the line, “comparison is the thief of joy”. I embrace your optimism re: baseball (and softball too). Both teams were elite, and it’s such a pity that neither was able to advance to the next level. The challenge will be to maintain the momentum of both programs. As for the importance of winning a national championship, the collective psyche of Hokie Nation really needs an NC breakthrough in some – ANY – team sport.

  10. So fun watching this team. College baseball and specifically the ACC and the tournament are so fun to watch. Here’s to building on this success and becoming a sustainable powerhouse.

  11. 2, 5, 9 and 14 seeds advance with four “non-seeded” top 25 ranked teams. As fans, we were caught up in the #4 seeding when in reality it’s NCAA baseball with 25/30 teams in the hunt playing in this format. And yes, once again the ACC doesn’t make a strong showing in the final eight. Two national titles from the ACC in 75 years. (Miami titles pre ACC)

  12. Here’s the problem Chris, you HAVE to win a National Championship if you want to be truly elite. Especially with the NIL. Players are going to come and go more than ever, and if you don’t have that pedigree of a National Champion you’ll always have the “close but no cigar” syndrome tied to your program. Look at the softball pitcher from Michigan that just transferred to Oklahoma. Why OK? Because they are a powerhouse and just won the National Championship AGAIN. She has one year of eligibility left, so she went where she had the best chance to win a NC. No other reason than that. Heck, she’s from IL, a lot closer to MI than OK. The same exists with Baseball. You get over that hump and win a National Championship and you’re at a whole different level. Now you get looked at by the studs of the sport. As they say in cards, “the price of poker just went up”. By recognizing the importance of a NC it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re ‘caught up” in it, but rather we understand the doors it could open.

    Yes, as a fan I would LOVE a NC in some sport, ANY sport, but even more importantly what it would do for us long term. That’s the real benefit. These secondary sports (for lack of a better term) are the only real chance we have left for a NC. It won’t come in basketball, and sure as hell looks like it won’t come in football. So it’s ok to root for a NC when we have teams as talented as these were this year and to be disappointed because once again we failed on the biggest stage. Failure has always driven me more than success, and I bet it does for these players and coaches also. We should never lower our standards and accept an ending like what we just saw in baseball and softball. with the talent we had that should be unacceptable to everyone; players, coaches, and fans. And then we make sure our goal is to never let that happen again.

    We can look back and be proud of what we accomplished in a season, but the bar needs to remain high, especially in sports where we have a real chance.

    I think it’s hard for you and many others to realize what a NC can do for a program. It’s not a guarantee of future success, but a hell of a calling card to present to a top recruit. It gets you a seat at the table. And that’s ultimately what builds championship programs. Let’s win one and see what happens!

    1. Georgia Southern’s ace transferred to Tenn, this year, feeling he could be part of NC. Look how that worked out.

      1. There’s no “guarantees” in anything, but I’ll take my chances when elite players transfer to my school because they think we have the best chance for them to win a NC.

  13. “If we don’t win the last game of the Series, they’ll dismiss us” – Billy Beane
    Great job Hokies! You’re not dismissed.

  14. Softball has Chip as well as excellent support from the athletic department.

  15. Thanks Chris for a very objective view of the post season run. Tech is on the rise. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

  16. “Virginia Tech – This is Home”
    of ACC Champions
    Mens Basketball

    Would make a great T-Shirt

    1. You do realize that we are not ACC champions in Softball or Baseball this year, right? We didn’t win either tournament, which is what the ACC recognizes as the league champion. We were the regular season winners in each sport, but that doesn’t make us ACC champions unfortunately.

  17. We have a good program that should now only get better. Amazing seasons for both teams.

  18. Goal 1 Recruiting, Goal 2 Recruiting, Goal 3 Recruiting.

    Coaching is there, just need a few better players in Pitching first and in the line up second. This team exceeded early polling and ranking. May the Hammer be there next year, and some smoke off the mound.

    GO HOKIES!!!

  19. Hope VT can use this success to go find a couple dominant starting pitchers. That is all this team lacked to get to Omaha.

  20. Well done Chris. You leveraged your long association with VT Athletics and your understanding of baseball to produce a very insightful perspective. Great writing!

  21. Thanks Chris for non “woe is me/what could have been” article. Smack a few guys around and tell ’em this is good stuff.

  22. Sure was nice to have something to cheer about in mid-June. Now there is only about 2 months before things get started with football. Used to be we’d have the period from the spring game to fall football before we had anything to get excited about.

  23. According to Coach Szefc, Last year as a senior in high school Hackenburg threw 40 innings. This year he pitched over 100. He clearly hit the proverbial wall. He’ll be stronger next year.

    1. He pitched well into the last couple series in the ACC but at tourney time and regionals
      he was overwhelmed. Maybe too much pressure on himself. With another good season
      and the experience of having “ been there” we’ll see a different result. Hopeful.

  24. Interesting about Green’s injury. But I felt like all of our starters had already peaked.

    But that takes nothing away from the great season.

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