Virginia Tech Baseball Takes Advantage Of 14 Free Passes In 13-3 Liberty Win

Virginia Tech was walked 14 times by Liberty in Wednesday’s midweek win. (Morgan Gay)

No. 16 Virginia Tech received 14 free passes and made the most of them in Wednesday night’s 13-3 midweek victory over Liberty in Blacksburg.

“They walked us 14 times,” Tech head coach John Szefc said afterwards. “Those guys do a good job. I mean, they’ve got good arms, you’ve just got to throw strikes. The game’s all about throwing strikes and getting ahead. I’ve been saying that for 30 years.

“It’s about throwing strikes and getting ahead. If you get ahead and guys are negative counts, you’ll have success. If hitters are sitting on 2-1 and three-ball counts, they’re going to have a lot of success.”

Though the Flames (15-17) got on the board first in the top of the third with two runs, the Hokies (22-8) responded swiftly with four of their in the bottom of the inning, courtesy of four singles in a row.

In a lineup that was shuffled around, first baseman Ethan Gibson was the one to get things going in the eight hole. He led off the third and singled to left, and Christian Martin did the same on the next pitch. After Clay Grady bunted to load the bases, Ben Watson’s RBI single pushed the team’s first run across.

Carson DeMartini walked in a run two batters later, and a two-RBI single to center field from Gehrig Ebel made it a 4-2 game. The Hokies never relinquished the lead.

“This weekend, we were down early and we didn’t really respond the way we wanted to,” Watson said. “So it was good to see us … respond better.”

Tech starter Madden Clement had an OK outing. He started well, striking out four in two innings while allowing just one hit and walking one batter, but got behind in the third. Liberty’s Brian McClellin singled to right to lead off the frame, and after Kane Kepley was walked, Brayden Horton brought both home with a two-RBI single to left.

The Hokies just about shut the Flames down for the rest of the game, though. Matthew Siverling (2-0) and Preston Crowl each threw two innings in relief, allowing just one run — which came on an RBI double from Horton in the seventh. David Shoemaker and Jacob Stretch held their ground from there.

“I thought Siverling did a really good job,” Szefc said. “He came in, he walked a batter but he quieted things down when it needed to be. He’s a veteran guy, fifth-year guy. … I thought he was really key to us having success.”

It was the bottom of the seventh where things unraveled. After Horton made it a one-run game, four different Liberty pitchers walked Virginia Tech batters on nine separate occasions. The Hokies had just one hit in the inning — a two-RBI single from DeMartini — but loaded the bases on seven different occasions. It hit through the order and what was a 4-3 game quickly turned into a 12-3 bruising.

A 4-3 game quickly turned into a 12-3 bruising for Virginia Tech in the seventh inning. (Morgan Gay)

Tech walked four straight times before DeMartini’s aforementioned hit. Then Ebel and McCann received back-to-back free passes, the latter of which was on a seven-pitch count, before Cannizzaro was hit by a pitch. Eddie Eisert pinch-hit for Gibson and walked, too.

The Flames finally recorded an out on the 12th at-bat when Martin hit a sac fly to center, but it was 11-3 at that point. Slowly but surely, the game turned on its head. Liberty didn’t have the composure while Tech did, which showed on Grady’s 12-pitch walk on the next at-bat.

“I thought we had some really good at-bats,” Szefc said. “We didn’t have 15, 16 hits, but we walked 14 times and had 40 free bases. You have to have good, quality at-bats and be patient and foul pitches off. The one at-bat that really stands out to me is Grady’s at-bat in the seventh where he fouls off [eight] pitches and it becomes a walk … and extends the inning.

“… It was a really good offensive game, even though we didn’t stack hit on top of hit on top of hit. That can almost get you going for facing some arms we’re going to face this weekend.”

DeMartini had a chance to close the door for good at the end of the inning but flew out to center. However, Ebel was given a free pass to open the eighth, and McCann doubled to deep left center on the next to bring the winning run home.

After being swept by preseason No. 1 Wake Forest over the weekend, the Hokies bounced back in proper fashion despite falling behind early. There’s an obvious difference in arm talent, but they played their game and it paid off in the end.

“We just caught a good team at a bad time,” Martin said of Wake Forest. “They’re pretty hot and we weren’t, but we needed this. We needed to score a lot of runs. Get a lot of guys on base, get a lot of pitchers innings.”

Now the challenge is to take that same mentality on the road to Georgia Tech. Virginia Tech (10-5 ACC) is in second in the ACC Coastal Division behind North Carolina (11-4) and has a chance to get back on the right track against the Yellow Jackets (20-11, 5-7), but it’s not an easy place to win. The 2022 squad learned that well when it was swept in its first league series of the year in mid-March.

“It’ll be our first game playing on dirt, so that’ll be interesting to see how that goes,” Szefc said. “… They’re always good, they always play us tough there. I think we have a good team. It should be a good weekend. It’s an important weekend for us to kind of keeping moving forward in the league.”

Box Score: No. 16 Virginia Tech 13, Liberty 3

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