No. 21 Wake Forest Baseball Sweeps No. 11 Virginia Tech Behind Nick Kurtz’s Re-Awakening

Eddie Micheletti and Virginia Tech couldn’t find a groove against Wake Forest on Sunday. (Virginia Tech athletics)

Coming into this weekend, Wake Forest’s preseason ACC Player of the Year Nick Kurtz was hitting just .247 with six home runs and 17 RBI, struggling to find his offensive rhythm in conference play.

In Blacksburg, he found his groove in emphatic fashion.

Powered by a hat trick of homers and seven RBI from Kurtz, No. 21 Wake Forest completed its road sweep of No. 11 Virginia Tech with a 10-4 victory on Sunday afternoon at English Field.

The Demon Deacons’ (21-10, 7-8 ACC) star first baseman led the way in a balanced effort as seven starters recorded hits while their bullpen didn’t allow any earned runs. Though the Hokies (21-8, 10-5) put together perhaps their most comprehensive performance of the series, it wasn’t enough to salvage a win in their first series loss of the season.

“They’re good,” Tech head coach John Szefc said after the game. “I mean, they were ranked number one to begin the season. They’re probably not the number one team in the country, but they were this weekend.”

Across the three games, Wake’s slugger went 8-for-11 with five homers and nine RBI, bringing his batting avg up 52 points to .298 on the year.

“They got two big leaguers in the dugout, [Kurtz] and [Chase Burns],” Szefc said. “Those two guys, we’ll see them playing on TV.”

Kurtz’s first few longballs came in the first three innings and were two of the five hits relinquished by Hokies starter Griffin Stieg. He recorded his shortest outing of the season, going just 2 ⅓ innings and retiring seven of the 14 batters he faced without recording a strikeout. Like so many Tech arms this weekend, he struggled greatly with his control, throwing 23 strikes to 20 balls, walking a pair of Deacs.

“He didn’t command the zone,” Szefc said of Stieg. “He left balls up in the zone, and that was the end of that. His outing was pretty quick because of that. You can’t leave balls over the middle of the plate or have them up in the zone against these guys. That’s a different type of lineup over there.”

Tech was still able to hang around in the early going. After falling behind 2-0 in the first, it tied the game on an RBI single from Ben Watson where the ball got past Wake’s Jack Winnay in right, allowing the tying run to score. And after Kurtz’s second homer, Clay Grady roped an RBI single into right to make it 5-3 in the fourth, which could have scored two if not for an outstanding throw from Winnay to nab David McCann at the plate. 

That was the second outfield assist to throw out a Hokie runner at the plate following a questionable call to round third, taking the potential tying runs off the board.

The gap remained at two runs for a while as each bullpen held things down. Brady Kirtner relieved Stieg and delivered an excellent outing, tossing 3 ⅔ no-hit innings, only giving up one run on an RBI groundout. Behind him, Matthew Siverling pitched 1 ⅔ frames of one-run ball, with the lone score coming on a solo home run from Seaver King in the eighth.

“They did a good job, and they kind of kept us in it there for a while,” Szefc said. “We just didn’t score.”

That lack of scoring was due to Wake’s relief arms dealing themselves, combining for five innings in which they didn’t allow an earned run. The only Tech score came on a Henry Cooke single where Eddie Micheletti scored on a throwing error from Deacs shortstop Marek Houston.

Wake was able to leave no doubt with a three-run ninth inning, punctuated by Kurtz’s third homer of the ballgame, which he hit off Jordan Little. Though the East Carolina transfer has been excellent for the Hokies of late, he was shelled on Sunday, only recording one out while giving up four hits and three runs.

Being swept at home is always disappointing, but that feeling might resonate a little extra with the Hokies. Though they had faced some tough teams and adversity in the ACC thus far, Wake Forest acted as the benchmark test for a squad trying to prove that they’re true contenders in the league. The Deacs played like the preseason No. 1 team that was hungry to bounce back after being swept at home themselves a week ago, while the Hokies didn’t have the look of a first-place squad.

But perhaps more than the losses is the manner of them. It’s one thing to lose a three-game set, but it’s something else to get outscored by 12 runs, bat .188 and strike out 38 times as a team while giving up seven home runs and 17 walks.

“I think it was more of an us thing,” Ben Watson said. “Us not sticking to the plan we made before the game. I think we didn’t play to our strengths. We lost our identity a little bit this weekend.”

The season is long, and plenty of it remains. But if this series was Tech’s proverbial midterm, it certainly didn’t pass. And with matchups against No. 9 Duke, No. 10 North Carolina and No. 15 Virginia left, it’s not going to get much easier.

The Hokies stay home for an in-state midweek matchup with Liberty on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on the ACC Network Extra before taking a trip to Atlanta for a weekend series against Georgia Tech (18-11, 4-7 ACC), which currently sits second to last in the Coastal Division.

“There’s a lot of ups and downs in this league,” Szefc said. “It’s just a matter of weathering the storm. [Wake Forest] got swept last week. I don’t know how the hell that ever happened, but they did. We just have to weather and come back and be in a better place next week. And if we can do that, we’ll be fine. If we can’t, we won’t be fine. 

“It’s easy to handle it when it’s good, which we’ve done. But now we’ll see how we handle it when it’s bad.”

Box Score: No. 21 Wake Forest 10, No. 11 Virginia Tech 4 

2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. First match against a good team and we looked average. Once again pitching was average and bats went dead. Appears that we are not ready to run with the big dogs.

  2. WFU was good, weather was cold, VT too tight under pressure, but the good thing for the Hokies is that it will be warmer soon and there are series against No. 9 Duke, No. 10 North Carolina, and No. 15 Virginia to show their quality.

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