Stieg Exits Early, But Relievers Lift Virginia Tech Baseball In Win At No. 15 UNC

Virginia Tech pulled out a win in the third game of the weekend series at North Carolina. (Virginia Tech athletics)

Despite starting pitcher Griffin Stieg leaving after tossing just three pitches, Virginia Tech baseball’s bullpen dominated on the mound in a 4-3 win over No. 15 North Carolina on Sunday afternoon at Boshamer Stadium.

The Hokies’ (27-14, 13-11 ACC) relief trio of Jacob Exum, Brady Kirtner and Jordan Little allowed just three earned runs on six hits and a walk in their nine innings of work to shut down the Tar Heels (33-11, 17-7) and avoid being swept in Chapel Hill.

After Tech got out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first on Ben Watson’s third home run of the season, Stieg faced just one batter, tossing three pitches before being checked on by head coach John Szefc, pitching coach Ryan Fecteau and team trainer Kyle Staggers. He promptly exited the ballgame with an apparent throwing hand/arm issue.

That prompted Exum to quickly have to enter the game, who delivered a vintage performance, providing length and efficiency as he has so often this season. The submarine-throwing righty tossed three innings of one-run ball on 40 pitches, allowing just two hits with a strikeout. The lone run he gave up came on a sac fly from Gavin Gallaher in the bottom of the second.

Kirtner took over in the fourth and tossed one of his best outings in a Hokies uniform, pitching 4 ⅓ innings, yielding three hits and a walk with five strikeouts, featuring a stretch of seven consecutive batters retired. He didn’t allow a run until Alex Madera —  the final batter he faced — knocked a one-out RBI single in the bottom of the eighth.

The combination of Exum and Kirtner holding things down on the mound allowed Tech’s offense to slowly but surely build a lead, courtesy of Clay Grady slugging his first home run of the season with a two-run shot in the fourth before a Chris Cannizzaro RBI single in the fifth made it a 4-2 ballgame.

That’s where things stood for a while as both bullpens efficiently held things in check until Madera’s RBI single made it a one-run game. With the tying run suddenly aboard for Carolina, Little took the mound for the Hokies in search of a five-out save. 

In his pseudo-homecoming, the Mint Hill, N.C., native and East Carolina transfer delivered for Tech, quickly stranding the tying run on first base in the eighth. After the Hokies couldn’t get any insurance in the top of the ninth, Little gave up a leadoff single to put the tying run back on first and nearly gave up a walkoff home run on a deep flyout from Alberto Osuna, but retired the heart of the Tar Heels lineup in order, punctuated by a game-ending strikeout of Luke Stevenson, to secure his sixth save of the season and give his team a much-needed getaway win.

The victory is Tech’s second of the year over a ranked opponent after defeating No. 6 Duke in 11 innings last Saturday and just the second home loss for UNC — and first against a Power Five opponent — in 2024. 

Despite the unfortunate early circumstances, it felt like a day where a lot of things clicked for the Hokies. The bullpen shined the brightest, holding Carolina to six hits after giving up double-digit knocks on Friday and Saturday, but the lineup recorded 10 hits after registering just 11 in the first two games of the series, highlighted by Watson’s 3-for-5 day with two doubles and the aforementioned solo home run.

Tech continued to struggle with situational hitting — hitting 2-for-17 with runners aboard, 1-for-11 with RISP and 1-for-10 with two outs — but it didn’t come back to bite this time around.

With final exams looming, the Hokies have a break from ACC play with a midweek matchup against North Carolina A&T (21-21) on Wednesday before hosting Ohio (14-25) this weekend for a three-game set in Blacksburg, featuring a Saturday doubleheader at English Field.

Box Score: Virginia Tech 4, No. 15 North Carolina 3 

2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Great win, but I hope Stieg is hurt and not injured (as they say in football) because the Hokies can’t afford to lose his innings or effectiveness.

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