Bullpen Woes Hurt No. 23 Virginia Tech Baseball Again In Series Loss To No. 7 Duke

Matthew Siverling and the Virginia Tech arms weren’t good enough against Duke on Sunday. (Virginia Tech athletics)

One week removed from squandering a seven-run lead in a loss to Georgia Tech, No. 23 Virginia Tech relinquished a late five-run advantage in its 13-10 loss against No. 7 Duke on Sunday afternoon to drop a key ACC series in Blacksburg.

After taking a 9-4 lead in the bottom of the sixth, the Hokies (25-12, 12-9 ACC) were outscored 9-1 in the final three innings with all of the Blue Devils’ (29-11, 13-8) runs coming off Tech’s bullpen arms.

“We gave up 13 runs at home on a Sunday, that’s the reason [we lost],” Hokies head coach John Szefc told reporters after the game. “If you score 10 runs in a game, certainly at home, you should win. … In this league, you can never feel good [with a lead]. You can never feel confident about anything.”

Grant Manning, Matthew Siverling, Preston Crowl and Jordan Little combined to throw 2 ⅔ relief innings, giving up eight hits and nine runs on four home runs — three of which were yielded by Little in the final two innings, which tied the game, then gave Duke the lead.

Tech was able to get out to the early lead thanks to some offensive fireworks from the third through sixth innings, punctuated by a five-spot in the third with four unearned runs due to a pair of throwing errors from Duke’s star third baseman Ben Miller.

Coming into the series, the Blue Devils had the nation’s best fielding percentage (.984) with just 20 errors on the year. But they committed six this weekend and allowed eight unearned runs.

With a solo homer and RBI double, the Hokies offense was once again paced by Eddie Micheletti. The longball he raked in the fifth was the George Washington transfer’s 12th of the year, doubling his season total from a year ago with the Colonials.

“I think it’s really boosted my confidence at the plate,” Micheletti said. “I always thought I was a great hitter. I work extremely hard at it. And I’m always gonna keep working hard at it. And I think just the work is showing. And I’m going to keep working hard and hopefully keep helping my team win.”

While it was a bullpen game from the jump for the Blue Devils, the Hokies received a very solid outing from Sunday starter Griffin Stieg, who went 5 ⅓ innings and allowed four runs on eight hits while striking out six batters.

What followed was not nearly as solid.

With the two previous games each going 11 innings, both squads were in precarious spots with their bullpens. Each team had to throw a high number of arms — the Blue Devils used 13 pitchers in the ballgame while Tech used six relievers. Of those six, the aforementioned four allowed runs.

“It’s tough, man,” Szefc said. “That’s a top-10 team in the country. They just wear you out. You have to have a lot of bullets, and we used about all the bullets we had. And it wasn’t good enough.”

The first arm out of the Tech bullpen was actually Brady Kirtner, who got out of a sixth-inning jam by recording two outs on five pitches to preserve a three-run lead. The Hokies stretched that lead to five runs in the home half of the frame, so Kirtner was pulled — Szefc attributed the move to playing matchups. 

Yet, 16 pitches later, the game was tied via five Duke runs, punctuated by a three-run home run by Logan Bravo that knotted things at nine.

The Hokies retook the lead in the bottom of the seventh thanks to a bases-loaded wild pitch, which Duke immediately retaliated to with a Wallace Clark solo homer on the second pitch of the eighth inning to make it a 10-all ballgame.

Tech had another chance to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth, putting two runners aboard with one out, but a Sam Tackett strikeout and a Henry Cooke first-pitch groundout squandered that opportunity.

Six pitches later, AJ Gracia slugged the go-ahead home run for the Blue Devils, giving them the lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Just when it looked like the Hokies would keep the deficit to a run, Duke tacked on two more with a two-out, two-run shot from Devin Obee — who was previously 1-for-12 on the weekend — to put the series on ice.

Across the losses on Friday and Sunday, the Hokies’ bullpen gave up 17 runs on 16 hits in 10 ⅔ innings, though Szefc still insisted that he has no worries about that unit. Still, they were in each of those ballgames, leading by a run or more after the seventh inning.

And while it’s difficult to say Tech needed more run support with 18 runs across each of those games, its lineup simply wasn’t good enough at the plate situationally in the series. Over the weekend, the Hokies hit 12-for-68 (.176) with runners on base, 8-for-52 (.154) with runners in scoring position, 4-for-35 (.114) with two outs and left 37 runners on base.

“It’s the game of baseball,” Micheletti said. “It’s tough. This is the hardest game to play. But I think sometimes we left some meat on the table. I think I left some meat on the table, too, getting away from my approach or sitting on the wrong pitch. And sometimes that happens, but I also think I gotta be smarter at the plate as well, along with everyone else.”

The loss is the seventh in the last nine games for the Hokies, who have now dropped three consecutive ACC series after winning their first four and getting out to the best start in league play in program history. After rising to the top of the division standings, they now sit tied for third with three conference series remaining.

“It’s pretty tough right now,” Ben Watson said. “We thought we had the series there about halfway through the game. But stuff happens. It’ll suck today, the rest of the day and tonight, but we just gotta move on.”

Virginia Tech stays home for a midweek matchup with in-state foe George Mason on Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra before heading south to Chapel Hill for another pivotal ACC Coastal series with No. 11 North Carolina (30-10, 15-6 ACC), which currently sits atop the division.

“I think our talent’s there,” Micheletti said. “I think we have a very, very talented team. … And I think this league is the hardest league to play. It’s not the SEC where it’s just all talent shining. You’ve got to do the little things right here. And if you make one small mistake, it can lead into a big mistake. 

“So attention to detail, doing everything right, every small thing right, I think it’ll add up to the big wins here.”

Box Score: No. 7 Duke 13, No. 23 Virginia Tech 10 

4 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Fecteau needs to go. Pitching has been an issue for this program for years. And I’m not convinced it’s from a lack of talent. I can’t think of many pitchers who have improved over the course of their careers at VT, while I can think of several who have declined. It’s rumored from a source close to the program that Szefc lets Fecteau make all decisions about the staff, including game decisions. I’ve also heard that MLB scouts have commented that it’s well known that pitchers don’t get better at VT.

    1. Agreed. This team, in particular the bull pen cannot hold a lead whether it’s a 2 run lead or a 7 run lead. We won a lot of games against unranked teams early but lack of quality pitching is killing us against ranked teams. Don’t see any reason to expect any wins against unc or uva.

      1. The talent is there, we just have to make more quality pitches. The offense can stand on its own. We were in each of these games and baseball is a funny game of hot and cold streaks. We can and will win games against UNC and UVA, it’s just a matter of putting them away when we are ahead. Don’t abandon this team yet.

Comments are closed.