In an NCAA Regional feel, in a packed house at English Field, Virginia Tech wasn’t in a nine-inning spiral that left its fans biting their finger nails for the first time in a while. Tech didn’t have to hope the bullpen could cling on to a lead that felt safe enough once the starter departed.
That’s how it’s been for the past few weeks for the Hokies, but on Saturday, No. 5 Virginia filled that role. Virginia Tech’s offense could do very little wrong in a 12-10 win that evened the weekend series, which set up a rubber match on Sunday afternoon.
“They came out and they really supported us,” Tech head coach John Szefc told reporters after the victory. “I can’t thank those people [enough]. It was a really good night for college baseball. … But that’s what college baseball should be, especially in this state.”
Seven of Tech’s nine batters in the starting lineup picked up hits, and Jack Hurley was a triple away from the cycle after his third inning double. The top three hitters — Carson Jones, Clay Grady and Hurley — combined for six hits.
“That’s kind of what you need from your best players,” Szefc said of Hurley’s four-hit day. “Like, if our best players are playing good baseball, we’re going to be pretty good.”
Connelly Early, the Cavaliers’ starter who entered the day with a 1.59 ERA in six starts and was making his first in ACC play, exited after recording just six outs and surrendering six runs. Green departed after 4 ⅓ innings and a 11-6 lead in hand. He kept his team in the game and limited arguably Division I baseball’s best lineup to six runs.
The Hokies are still at the bottom of the Coastal Division and still have a hole to climb out of, but with Saturday’s performance, it almost seems as if it could be a season-changing victory. And headed into the rubber match, the Hokies are on the upswing — and that counts for something.
“We only gave [up] three bases the whole game,” Szefc said. “So, it’s about free bases, not walking people. Like, these for 10 runs, on a night when it’s blowing like crazy, they had to earn them.”
Virginia was, really, Green’s biggest start last year that launched him into national conversations when he shoved in seven innings of one-run ball. Saturday wasn’t nearly as good, but Green limited the damage as much as he could, bouncing back after a rocky start in the first inning where he yielded a run and then threw a scoreless second inning.
On a night where the wind constantly blew out to center field and four home runs left the park between both teams, Tech was prepared for a slugfest. And that started right away when the Hokies scored three runs in the bottom of the first.
Once Jones was hit-by-a-pitch off his helmet and erased on Clay Grady’s fielder’s choice, Hurley, for the fifth time in his last six games, roped a home run over the center field wall to start the scoring. But Carson DeMartini doubled five pitches later and then scored on Brody Donay’s single that was sent straight back up the middle.
“I lowered my hands a little bit just to change my mechanics up,” Hurley said. “But I’m really just confident right now.”
And, all of a sudden, after nine-and-a-half innings of fight going back to Friday night, the script was flipped when the Hokies ended the first inning with the lead, 3-1.
“I think [Friday], actually, there were some positives,” Hurley said. “We won the back half of that game and I think that gave us some momentum for today’s game.”
In the next half inning, Green did exactly what he needed to do. He set Virginia down in order, the shutdown inning that the Hokies have been searching for in the past couple of weeks. And following that, Tech scored three more via a Grady RBI single, a Hurley RBI double and Donay’s RBI fielder’s choice that added three more runs to push the lead to 6-1.
But Virginia struck back for three runs in the top of the third when Jake Geolf grounded into a bases-loaded double play that scored a run, which was then followed by Kyle Teel’s sixth homer of the season.
Then, as the Hokies do best, they hung a crooked number up in the third. For the third inning in a row, Tech scored three runs. This time, Jones singled home a run as did Hurley, who was three-quarters of the way to completing the cycle. He came around to score from second on an errant back-pick from Teel, the UVa catcher.
And after a six-pitch fourth from Green, Garrett Michel smashed his seventh homer of the season the opposite way that extended the Hokies’ lead, 10-4. Then, after Jake Gelof crushed a two-run shot in the next frame, Michel added another run with a double off the center field wall in the fifth.
“Our lineup is just so talented, we trust each other,” Michel said. “It’s just a matter of time until we get going.”
Once Green left, Henry Weycker entered for his first appearance in 15 days after working through an injury. He recorded two outs in the fifth, walked and then allowed a hit with one out, and he induced an inning-ending double play in sixth.
Brady Kirtner came in and shoved in the seventh and eighth innings before allowing three runs in the ninth that let UVa pull to within two runs. But Jonah Hurney shut the door and recorded the final three outs without weighing the wrongs and the rights for the first time in a while.
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It was a fun game to watch except for the ninth inning. Before the inning started, I said “Please, not drama”.
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