Virginia Tech Baseball Snaps Five-Game Losing Skid With Win Over VMI

Garrett Michel hit a grand slam in the fifth inning that propelled the Hokies past VMI on Wednesday. (Virginia Tech sports photography)

Wednesday for Virginia Tech, at the very least, was about righting the ship. Entering the afternoon, Tech had lost five straight games to a pair of the ACC’s two hottest teams, No. 16 Boston College and No. 17 Miami. It’s no secret that the defeats stung more than most would.

The Hokies were on the wrong end of a walk-off on Friday at Miami, followed by a 15-run loss in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader. A 12-9 result in which they surrendered six runs in the bottom of the eighth capped off the weekend in Coral Gables.

After all of that, they were able to begin to turn things around with a midweek victory over VMI, 11-0, at English Field on Wednesday.

“We’ve been scuffling a little bit, but we’re also playing really good teams,” Tech head coach John Szefc told reporters after the win. “We really hadn’t been playing complete games, so we kind of needed to kind of get that right a bit. We had a lot of guys out there that had success today.”

Tech (13-7) began the season 12-2 after taking its first ACC game against Boston College, yet fell to 12-7 after Saturday’s second loss. The team’s rebound against the Keydets (13-9) started with Carson DeMartini’s sacrifice fly three hitters into the home half of the first and ended with Tommy Szczepanki striking out Jacob Farrar.

Mixed in between was Garrett Michel’s grand slam in the fifth inning, the most impactful swing over three hours that blew the game wide open for the Hokies. It was their fourth grand slam of the season and the second consecutive game with one after Sam Tackett went yard in the second inning at Miami on Saturday.

“Honestly, off the bat, I didn’t even know it was gone,” Michel said. “I was touching first and then the outfield turned and they were looking for it, that’s when I knew.”

Tech is still tweaking its lineup and working out the kinks, in terms of replacing the four professional bats that were drafted in the first five rounds of last summer’s MLB Draft.

Against VMI, Virginia Tech added to its weekly beatdown of midweek opponents with three multi-run innings (the first, third, and fifth), which included a seven-run bottom of the fifth. Carson DeMartini collected three hits, and Hurley and Michel added a pair as well.

Hurley left the game in the seventh inning after fouling a ball off of his ankle. Szefc said that he hopes it’s only a bruise and that he’ll be healthy for the weekend. 

And on the pitching side, Kiernan Higgins, Andrew Sentlinger, Griffin Stieg, Grant Umberger, Luke Jackman and Tommy Szczepanski combined for nine shutout innings and just three walks in a game that was much, much needed for the pitching staff and was Tech’s first shutout of the year.

“[My outing] was a good mental boost, I’ve been struggling lately,” Higgins said. “It was just about getting back into things and really making sure that we’re getting back to where it needs to be for conference play and whatnot. I just want to make sure I’m a part of that.”

In a sport where 56 games are on the schedule, a few lulls are bound to happen each year. But what defined Tech’s response to its bump in the road last season (five-straight losses in mid-March) was its 35-8 record over its last 43 games after starting the season 10-6. 

It would be foolish to expect the same exact run — it’s not easy to replicate the same success in a sport that varies as much as baseball does year-to-year, especially at the college level with the amount of roster turnover programs see — but it wouldn’t be anywhere near a surprise to watch Tech turn its early ACC struggles around. 

“I would say yes,” Szefc said when asked if learning to lose before learning to win was important. “It’s just a matter of how long it takes you to learn to lose. I mean, every team is going to run into adversity. … We made a couple of adjustments yesterday coming off of Miami.

“We’ve tried to separate out the offense and defense, meaning if you have a not-so-good at-bat, don’t take that back out into the field and let it affect your defense. … You can talk about separating them, but you have to try to give them some tools to separate them.”

A season ago, the Hokies changed course against Pitt after winning their first conference game in five tries. They’ll enter the upcoming weekend with nearly the same ACC record they had before the second game of the Panthers series last year (0-4 in 2022, 1-5 in 2023).

“I think we’re relatively in the same spot [as last year],” DeMartini said. “We’ve run into two good teams in the past two weekends and it’s kind of how baseball goes. We’ve had some unfortunate weather events that have led to double headers, everyone feels like we’re in a good spot, in a good headspace.

“We’re not playing with our heads down or anything we want. … We just aren’t getting the results we kind of want right now.”

The talent is there, especially after a tough non-conference schedule that included two teams that’ll be in contention for NCAA Tournament berths (College of Charleston and Charlotte). And five of Tech’s six ACC games were competitive, winnable games.

“I think having a bunch of guys that went through what we did last year helps us not go into panic mode,” Higgins said. “It helps the younger guys understand that it’s a ling season, it’s not about where you start but more of where you finish.”

All it comes down to is a winning formula. Szefc and his staff pushed all the right buttons last season and made all of the right mid-season adjustments, especially after their five-game losing streak. The Hokies will face the same test — one they passed with flying colors in 2022 — this weekend at Pitt.

“We’re in a good place, we’ve just got to get some guys healthy,” Szefc said. “[Hurley] has to get healthy, we’ve got to get a couple arms healthy. We’re not quite as healthy as we were last year at this point, but we’ll be alright.”

Box Score: Virginia Tech 11, VMI 0 

2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Can the bullpen hold up against the rest of the ACC? That will dictate how our season goes.

  2. Seems like this team is a repeat of the men’s basketball team. Lots of hype and high expectations at the beginning of the year. Big losses in conference play to start, digging a big hole and then expecting to make it up with a big run sometime later in the year. Didn’t see it with the basketball team and don’t see it with the baseball team. Hope they prove me wrong. Long term, I like the direction this program is going. Maybe we can get more pitching talent to come to Blacksburg.

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