Small Ball Powers No. 13 Virginia Tech Baseball To Fourth Straight ACC Series Win

Ethan Gibson and Virginia Tech used small ball to beat Pitt. (Morgan Gay)

It’s no secret that Virginia Tech baseball is known for its slugging prowess. Ranking third nationally in slugging percentage, it’s a program that prides itself on its power-hitting and signature home run hammer.

But to capture its fourth straight ACC series victory, the No. 13 Hokies flipped the script and used small ball to plate the two go-ahead runs in the bottom of the eighth for a thrilling 6-5 victory over Pitt in front of a packed English Field crowd on Saturday evening.

A trio of bunts — a pair of safety squeezes from Ethan Gibson and Carson DeMartini and a single from Clay Grady — capped off an eighth-inning rally to give Tech (21-5, 10-2 ACC) its seventh consecutive series win of the season and its fourth in conference play, padding its lead atop the Coastal.

“We practice it all the time, it’s not like we figured we’d just try it,” Hokies head coach John Szefc said after the game. “I tried to tell the guys, you never know when it’s gonna happen. You can be pretty sure that when DeMartini comes up with the bases loaded in the eighth that they’re not thinking he’s gonna lay a squeeze bunt down. … You’re talking about three perfect bunts right there by guys don’t bunt a lot. Gibson’s probably our best bunter, that might have been the first bunt of DeMartini’s career.”

The unexpected stretch of small ball capped off a wild, back-and-forth rubber match featuring four lead changes and no shortage of drama.

Hokies starter Griffin Stieg delivered a solid performance, going 5 ⅓ innings while allowing four runs on seven hits and two walks. He tied a career-high with seven strikeouts along the way. 

That was matched by Panthers (12-13, 2-10) starter Ryan Reed, who gave up the same number of hits, runs and walks in his 4 ⅓ innings and was knocked out after giving up two fifth-inning home runs to Christian Martin and Chris Cannizzaro, which put Tech up 4-3.

When Stieg was chased out of the ballgame, it was a bit more complicated. After surrendering a leadoff single to Jayden Melendez, Jake Kendro hit a fly ball deep to left field, which was nearly caught by a leaping Cannizzaro before being jarred out of his glove as he collided with the wall, seemingly resulting in a two-run homer to put Pitt ahead. However, while Melendez barely moved between first and second base, Kendro jogged past him, resulting in an out for runners crossing. 

So rather than a home run, there was an RBI single with a putout at first base. And instead of a 5-4 Pitt lead, the game was tied at four runs apiece heading into the late innings. The Panthers grabbed that elusive lead in the bottom of the seventh with a two-out RBI single from Tyler Bischke off of Brady Kirtner.

Then came the bottom of the eighth and the Hokies’ bonanza of bunts. With two runners on and nobody out, Gibson laid down a perfect safety squeeze down the first base line, allowing Gehrig Ebel to score from third base. And after Grady reached on a well-placed bunt single to load the bases, DeMartini joined the party with an unexpected squeeze of his own to score the go-ahead run.

“We didn’t string together a lot of back-to-back hits this weekend, so we just kept hammering the bunt, and it worked,” Martin said. “So why not keep doing it? And nobody’s expecting DeMartini with 14 home runs to bunt there, but he does it and lays it down perfectly. It was awesome.”

Griffin Stieg was terrific for Virginia Tech on Saturday and set the table for Jeremy Neff, Brady Kirtner and Jordan Little. (Morgan Gay)

With the Hokies up 6-5, it created another save opportunity for Jordan Little, who has emerged as the team’s closer in recent weeks. As he did in each of his previous three outings, the East Carolina transfer came through, quickly retiring the side in order to record his fourth save in nine days.

“His stuff is good enough to [close],” Szefc said. “But, you have to be able to take it from [the bullpen] to [the mound]. Some guys can take their bullpen into the game. Some guys can take their BP into the game. And some guys can’t. He can, and I wouldn’t have maybe known it, but he clearly can operate in tight situations. There’s a lot of intangibles to that because a lot of guys can’t do that.”

With no shortage of emotion and passion on the mound, Little has provided an element of flair and theatrics to the Tech bullpen, even being dubbed as a “psychopath” on the bump by fellow reliever Jordan Vera. That high level of intensity has paid dividends for the Hokies all season long.

“It just happens in the moment,” Little said. “All the adrenaline kind of piles up. The fans definitely help with that too, hearing them scream. It’s just my competitiveness. … I kind of black out when I’m out there, to be honest with you. I just go up there and execute. And then sometimes I’ll let my emotions get the best of me. But I guess it’s all part of the game. I love this game and I’m very passionate about it.”

All in all, Virginia Tech might not have played as well as it would have liked against the worst team in the league. But continuing to win series in the ACC is what this team is striving for, and that’s all it’s done in 2024.

Up next for the Hokies is a trip to Huntington, W.Va., for a midweek rematch with Marshall — who Tech beat 4-2 in Blacksburg on March 26 — on Tuesday at 6 p.m. ET before returning home for the biggest series of the year to date against No. 12 Wake Forest (17-8, 4-6). 

“That’s the ebb and flow of this league,” Szefc said. “This time last week, we’re sitting on top of the world sweeping a series on the road. And today, that almost didn’t happen. On paper, that was a last-place team, right? But they certainly didn’t play like a last-place team. On paper, we’re a first-place team. Did we play like a first-place team? Eh, I don’t know, maybe. 

“We played well enough to win the series. Sometimes you’d rather win a little freaky than lose. I think it sets us up well to go into the next phase of the ACC season.”

Box Score: No. 13 Virginia Tech 6, Pitt 5 

4 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Thank goodness we didn’t lose to the absolute bottom feeders in the league. No doubt that they were “up” for this series. But great teams can deal with the target on their back. See what dook did to the Hokies in softball.

  2. I am on vacation in Mexico. I swear the score I read yesterday said we lost 5-6. Along with the Softball getting swept by Duke, I was in a foul mood. To find out we beat Pitt (and in super exciting fashion) really made my vacation and Easter Sunday even better.

    1. Watching game muted, listening to Evan Hughes via internet. On the HR/non-HR, there was some confusion by Evan; well, everybody I think. On replay, it appeared to me, Kendro (HR hitter) rounded first, Melendez (apparently thinking it had been caught) returned to tag 1st & advance to 2nd (while Cannizarro was on his behind) Guess I’ll never know if out was called on the field or if only after CJS protested, demanding review. If it was not called on the field, what the hell was the 1st base ump doing? On long fly ball to left, he had one job: watch 1st base. I had actually seen same thing happen watching a MLB game as a kid, long long time ago. Crazy.

      1. I was in the stands and the call on the field was at best late for the home run. I thought Cannizzaro had caught the ball and VT had a double-play – it was only after the replay appeal that I heard from a friend watching the game on TV that the ball had gone over the fence and the call was for passing on the base paths. If they are going to allow video replay they should have some mechanism for announcing the call (like in most pro sports) to the fans in attendance.

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