Drue Hackenberg surrendered a fair amount of hard contact, but the rain fell harder. Brian Edgington was just about untouchable, and was the difference that Virginia Tech (15-10, 2-8 ACC) failed to overcome in a 9-5 loss to No. 5 Virginia (24-2, 8-2 ACC) on Friday night.
Hackenberg allowed eight runs to score in his four innings; Edgington allowed just two unearned runs on four hits and three walks with eight strikeouts on 97 pitches in six innings.
“It was my fault, we shouldn’t have played tonight [in the weather],” Tech head coach John Szefc told reporters after the loss. “The game should have never started, I mis-read the radar, so I’ll take the blame on this.”
The rain dropped all night – pretty hard in the first few innings before letting up in the fifth – but by that point, the Hokies already trailed by eight runs. Yet, once it let up, Tech battled back in the eighth, using a three-run homer by Brody Donay to squeeze the score a little bit closer, 9-5.
There’s still a good amount of baseball to play this weekend — and the rest of the season — but Tech’s losses are starting to mount up. Sure, a loss to UVa stings, but the Cavaliers are arguably playing some of the best baseball in the country. They’ve won 24 of their 26 games, including seven in a row.
Coming in, both teams were buzzing after the Hokies’ dramatic ninth-inning victory against VMI on Wednesday, while the Cavaliers dominated Old Dominion the same night. But the final out of one contest, in a sport with as many games as baseball, only starts the countdown to the next.
“I would say tonight, yes,” Szefc said when asked if this year’s Virginia team is as good as the one that won the national championship in 2015.
The Hokies’ season can be chalked up to late, heart-breaking losses and innings where they crooked numbers — though those haven’t been as frequently lately. There are fewer and fewer chances they have in terms of turning a season around, though, it’s happened many, many times in the sport.
And that starts with the Hokies getting their players healthy. Henry Weycker, Christian Worley and Kiernan Higgins, three of the team’s top relief arms, were all injured coming into the weekend — and Szefc had hoped to get his trio of relievers back this weekend. He confirmed that Weycker and Higgins are available for the remainder of the UVa series.
“Worley isn’t in a good place right now,” Szefc said. “I wouldn’t say we’re in a great spot, but it’s certainly better than it was last weekend.”
But even with or without the back-end of the bullpen, the plan was for Hackenberg to work as deep as he could with a lead in hand. But right away, it was scrapped when Jake Gelof doubled home a run three batters into the game, followed by Kyle Teel’s sacrifice fly and then Ethan O’Donnell’s RBI single that ran the score up to 3-0 before the Hokies had the chance to hit.
Tech almost got those runs back right away when Clay Grady singled to lead-off the home half of the first and then was advanced to third on Jack Hurley’s one out infield single. But, in a way that symbolized the rest of the night and the last few weeks for Tech, Carson DeMartini went down looking at a pitch a few inches below the zone. And finally, Christian Martin swung through strike three four pitches later.
In the second, Hackenberg labored some more, yielding a three-run homer to Ethan O’Donnell that went 394 feet before throwing a flawless third that included two ground outs and a strike out. Virginia tagged Hackenberg for two more runs in the fourth on Gelof’s second double of the evening.
Though it wasn’t pretty, Hackenberg threw 105 pitches and, in turn, ate innings so the bullpen didn’t have to throw as much with two games left this weekend.
Hackenberg’s opposition, Edington fired five scoreless innings before giving up two unearned runs in the sixth inning. The first came on Brody Donay’s deep fly ball to right field that Casey Saucke misplayed, which allowed DeMartini to score and Donay to reach third base. Then Carson Jones doubled Donay home — all with two outs.
If there were any silver-linings in this one for Tech, it was the emergence of Jacob Exum, a freshman right-hander that figures to factor in as a big piece in the bullpen in the coming years. He’ll head up to the Cape this summer to pitch for the Bourne Braves, but Virginia Tech got a taste of what was to come when he fired five innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts after relieving Hackenberg.
“He was our best player tonight,” Szefc said. “He gave us, probably, our best outing of the season. It’s just a shame the game started out the way it did.”
Exum’s outing allowed Tech to pull within four runs on Donay’s three-run blast in the eighth — just about the only breath of life the Hokies’ bats showed for most of the night.
“My off-speed was on, which is always good,” Exum said. “Basically, I was just getting ahead in the count and trying to do my job.
But that was as close as Tech got once Sam Tackett and Jack Hurley reached base, bringing the tying-run to the on-deck circle as Szefc watched on, searching for answers as DeMartini flew out to right to end the night.
Box Score: No. 5 Virginia 9, Virginia Tech 5
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Kudos to Exum for five solid innings. Last year, so many things went right. This year, we are not so fortunate. We need to get healthy. Then, which players lead the charge toward maintaining our spot as a top 25-level program?
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