Defensive Woes Doom Virginia Tech Baseball In Loss To Stony Brook

Griffin Stieg was good on the mound for Virginia Tech on Sunday, but defensive errors hurt in the loss to Stony Brook. (Virginia Tech athletics)

A flurry of untimely errors and poor defense in the late innings doomed Virginia Tech in a 4-3 loss to Stony Brook on Sunday afternoon at English Field.

The Hokies (8-3) committed three errors across the seventh and eighth innings to allow three unearned runs to score, squandering their one-run lead in the process. Despite a ninth-inning rally, the Seawolves (4-7) were able to slam the door to escape Blacksburg with a win to prevent being swept. 

“It’s crazy,” Tech head coach John Szefc said of his team’s defense. “We should have lost by 10.”

Two of those three errors came on one wild sequence in the top of the seventh. With Jacob Stretch pitching for Tech, who was leading 1-0 courtesy of a sac fly from Eddie Micheletti in the third inning, Chris Carson stole second. Henry Cooke’s throw from behind the dish dribbled into center field, allowing the runner to advance to third. That’s when Ben Watson fielded the ball and airmailed it into the Hokies dugout, allowing Carson to score and tie the game.

An inning later, with Brady Kirtner relieving Stretch, Tech had a tailor-made 6-4-3 double play ball to get out of a jam and keep the game tied. After Clay Grady tossed it to Christian Martin at second, Martin’s throw to first was well wide of the bag, allowing the go-ahead run to come home.

Tech committed seven total errors in the series, six of which came in the last two games. Of Stony Brook’s seven runs over the weekend, only two were earned. 

“We have to play cleaner defense,” Szefc said. “We’re lucky to win a game in the last two days making that many errors. We won the series. That’s kind of what we’re supposed to do with the opponents we’re playing. We’re just gonna have to elevate that and clean it up going into the ACC if we’re going to have success at that level.”

The Hokies’ bullpen struggled mightily on Sunday, combining for 3 ⅓ innings and four runs on two hits and five walks. Kirtner and Jordan Vera particularly struggled with their control, which is starting to emerge as a theme. Kirtner walked two batters and frequently missed well off the plate while Vera was pulled from the game after facing just one batter, whom he walked on four pitches.

“We’ve got to figure some things out at the backend,” Szefc said. “We’re trying to figure out what the best matchups are with guys coming out of the bullpen. I don’t know that we know that right now.”

However, the Hokies received another tremendous start from Griffin Stieg. The sophomore went a career-long 5 ⅔ innings without allowing a run. He struck out a batter in each of the first five innings while yielding five hits and two walks on 91 pitches (65 strikes).

“I think I was just commanding the ball well,” Stieg said. “Changeup was really good, slider was good too. Tried to get ahead and just stay ahead. … We knew they’re very aggressive. So we were gonna be aggressive right back at them.”

Tech’s rotation of Brett Renfrow, Wyatt Parliament and Stieg each set season-highs in innings pitched this weekend as they get ready to gear up for conference play, which starts next weekend against Notre Dame.

“With ACC teams, you’ve gotta go longer and be better,” Stieg said. “I think being able to go out there and try and maintain your stuff for longer is definitely what the coaches are thinking.”

Like the bullpen, Tech’s lineup had a shaky Sunday. The bats were as quiet as they’ve been all year long with just six hits before the ninth-inning rally.

Sam Tackett led the way with a 3-for-4 day, but steady hitters like Chris Cannizzaro (0-for-4, two strikeouts), Carson DeMartini (0-for-3, strikeout) and Micheletti (0-for-3, two strikeouts) were completely shut down by the Seawolves and their tandem of good southpaws in Nicholas Rizzo and Erik Paulsen — who pitched three solid innings in relief while still batting as the team’s designated hitter.

“We knew that they were gonna throw those two lefties at us, which they did,” Szefc said. “Those guys did a good job, it was like a completely different look than what we had seen. … They shut us down. It’s kind of sad to say that, but that’s exactly what happened.”

Only two lefties in Tech’s lineup registered hits: Martin (2-for-5) and Watson (1-for-3). DeMartini had a particularly rough weekend, going 0-for-11 with six strikeouts and two errors. 

“We’ve struggled a little bit with it, but we’re working on it every day, getting better at it,” Grady said of lefty-lefty matchups. “It’s tough. They were just commanding their stuff. We swung out of the zone a little bit early. We had to battle with two strikes a lot. It’s tough when you do that. We just didn’t get big hits at the right time. That’s kind of what it came down to.”

Still, Tech was able to mount a rally in the ninth inning to make things interesting. Tackett and Gehrig Ebel led off with back-to-back singles, and after David McCann nearly tied the game with a home run, Cooke’s RBI single cut the lead to two. Two pitches later, Grady followed suit, making it a one-run game and putting the tying run in scoring position. But on the very next pitch, Martin grounded into a 6-4-3 double play to put the game on ice.

The Hokies welcome another New York school to Blacksburg as Binghamton (3-6) comes to English Field on Wednesday at 4 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra before Tech kicks off ACC play against the Fighting Irish (8-2) at home on Friday. 

“This is what the ACC is like: tight games late in the games,” Stieg said. “It’s tough, and I think it prepared us well just to see that. We haven’t really seen it yet. The games that we’ve lost, they’ve been a little bit out of reach. But this was a good thing: a little bit of adversity going into ACC play to hopefully get us motivated.”

Box Score: Stony Brook 4, Virginia Tech 3 

2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Hopefully the defense can be fixed but the pitching appears to be average at best. Not expecting much this year.

  2. Nice write-up Raza. Reading it was almost as painful as watching it yesterday. Defense can’t just “throw” the game away when you’re in the midst of a pitching duel.

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