Squandered Opportunities Haunt No. 23 Virginia Tech Baseball In Loss To No. 7 Duke

Jordan Little and Virginia Tech played a hard-fought 11 innings on Friday against Duke but came up short. (Virginia Tech athletics)

With 18 runners left on base and a blown save in the ninth inning, numerous squandered opportunities came back to bite No. 23 Virginia Tech baseball in its 9-8 loss to No. 7 Duke in 11 innings on Friday night at English Field.

Despite head coach John Szefc being ejected early in the ballgame, the Hokies (24-11, 11-8 ACC) scored six unanswered runs across the fifth and sixth innings, but allowed the Blue Devils (28-10, 12-7) to tie the game in the ninth and take the lead in the 11th in a hard-fought thriller that elapsed almost four-and-a-half hours.

“We knew on a Friday night with how we shuffled the rotation that they were going to need to be tough,” associate head coach Kurt Elbin told reporters after the game. “And they responded, especially after going down early. To be honest with you, I thought that was probably one of the best games we’ve played all year. … In games against good clubs like that in this league on a Friday night, you gotta make sure you take advantage of those opportunities. And we didn’t.”

That rotation shuffle saw left-handed reliever Jeremy Neff make his first ACC start of the season, where he was solid, tossing two innings of one-run ball with three strikeouts. But Tech still wound up using eight arms in the 11-inning marathon, with several key bullpen pieces unable to provide the length that the team desperately needed.

Szefc got tossed at the tail end of Neff’s outing, coming out of the dugout to vehemently argue a balk that was called just before the southpaw delivered the inning-ending strike three. First base umpire Mike Jarboe urged the skipper to stay put, and when he didn’t, he was ejected and had to watch the remainder of the game in the Weaver Baseball Center.

Jacob Exum, who hadn’t given up a run in ACC play coming into the game, yielded four in the top of the third as Duke jumped out to a 5-2 lead. Preston Crowl entered and threw two solid innings, allowing just one run, which opened the door for the Hokies to get their offense going.

In three of the first four innings, Tech had at least two runners aboard with one out or fewer, but was only able to turn that into two runs on a double from Chris Cannizzaro in the first. Those solid at-bats restricted Blue Devils ace Jonathan Santucci’s outing to just four innings, as he wasn’t able to record an out in the fifth, where the Hokies were able to flip that script.

A rally created a merry-go-round on the bases where a Clay Grady RBI walk, a Christian Martin RBI fielder’s choice — along with a costly error that prevented a potential inning-ending double play — and a Ben Watson two-run single tied the game at 6 runs apiece.

Still, the Tech bullpen continued to teeter. In the sixth, Brady Kirtner walked the bases loaded, leading to usual Saturday starter Wyatt Parliament coming out of the bullpen for the second time this week. 

The Rutgers transfer delivered with electricity, stranding the three runners aboard before tossing two more innings of one-run ball with four strikeouts as his fastball once again topped out at 97 mph in his new role.

“It feels good,” Parliament said. “It’s definitely a different mindset coming out of the pen. I came out of the pen at Rutgers, and I started a little bit there. I’m used to both roles.”

Right after Parliament’s heroics, Hokies catcher Henry Cooke slugged a two-run home run to left center field — his third longball in as many games — to give Tech a late lead.

That opened up Jordan Little’s sixth save opportunity of the season, where he was previously a perfect five-for-five. It took just four pitches for that to change, as Duke’s star third baseman Ben Miller cranked a no-doubt 430-foot solo home run to left field to tie the game at eight. 

Little was able to rebound with back-to-back strikeouts to give the Hokies the chance to walk it off in the bottom of the ninth, but they were unable to do so, going down in order at the hands of Charlie Beileinson, one of the best relief arms in the ACC.

Still, Little’s blown save created some problems for Tech’s lineup. Sam Tackett replaced Eddie Micheletti — who was 3-for-4 with a walk in the game — in right field in a defensive substitution, then was pinch hit for in the bottom of the ninth where the Hokies could’ve used the George Washington transfer’s bat. In extras, true freshman Carter Newman played in right.

The Hokies and Blue Devils traded scoreless 10th innings before Duke finally broke through in the 11th. With Little still on the mound, Macon Winslow worked a full-count leadoff walk before Wallace Clark wore a fastball on the arm. On the very next pitch, Miller struck again, poking the go-ahead RBI single through the left side of the infield to put Duke up, 9-8.

Down to their last out, the Hokies had one last push as Carson DeMartini roped a two-strike fastball for a double to put the tying run in scoring position. That brought Cannizzaro to the plate, but with Eddie Eisert sitting on deck pinch-hitting for Newman, Duke elected to intentionally walk Cannizzaro for a better matchup.

Four pitches later, Eisert grounded out to second to end the ballgame.

Missed opportunities were the story of the game for Virginia Tech, particularly at the plate. On the night, the Hokies hit 1-for-7 with the bases loaded — they didn’t score with every duck on the pond in the first and seventh innings — and 6-for-26 with runners aboard. They were 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position and 1-for-12 with two outs, too. They just weren’t good enough situationally outside of the fifth-inning rally.

“We got to spots in the game where we got guys on, and then the game called for a little bit of flip, maybe being a little more selective, staying off changeups and offspeed down, that’s what they throw early in counts,” Elbin said. “And I felt like we got to some spots where we kind of expanded a little bit. So it’s just staying with our approach, shrinking the zone and just making sure that [their pitchers] are the ones that are struggling at that point, and we just can’t give them any free outs. And at times we did, and that was a little disappointing.”

Tech will look to even up the series on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra with its freshman ace Brett Renfrow making his first non-Friday start of the season against Duke’s two-way phenom Kyle Johnson.

“I think it takes a really tough team to come back in that game,” Parliament said. “We got hit really early. But that just shows our character as a whole team. No one really points fingers or blames anyone. Everyone just keeps going.”

Box Score: No. 7 Duke 9, No. 23 Virginia Tech 8 

2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Should have never pulled Parliament. And that’s not said in hind sight. I questioned the move as soon as I saw the change.

  2. Raza, I say again, you are a skilled reporter! You really capture the spirit of the game.

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