Brendon Hayden couldn’t put his finger on exactly why Virginia Tech came out flat yet again for a midweek game.
Coming off a series sweep of the third-ranked Cavaliers, expectations and confidence were sky high heading into Tuesday night’s game at English Field against Liberty. The results, however, did not match.
The Flames jumped out early and never looked back, beating the Hokies 12-5 in a contest that lasted more than three hours.
“You hope (the success) would roll over,” said Hayden, a senior first baseman. “That’s what you hope. For some reason we didn’t have it today.”
The loss dropped Tech to 10-10 on the year and 0-5 in weekday games.
Starter Joey Sullivan surrendered four runs in the second inning against the Flames. The first came on a one-run moon shot deep beyond the left field wall from Becker Sankey and the others came as a result of five consecutive hitters reaching base via four hits and a walk.
Sullivan did not return for the third inning. He finished with six hits, four earned runs, two walks and three strikeouts.
“I expected a better start tonight, obviously,” said head coach Pat Mason. “We need to get Joey Sullivan better. He’s been kind of up and down. That’s what you get when you go with a freshman. But with a veteran lineup like (ours), if Joey comes out and has a tough start, that’s eight at bats to figure out a way to pick up a ‘W’.”
But, facing Liberty’s Michael Stafford, who delivered the best outing of his career, the Hokies were unable to get it done. The southpaw effectively mixed in his off-speed pitches and kept the Hokies off balance for all seven of his innings pitched. He scattered five hits and three walks over those frames while striking out seven and allowing one run.
“We were getting ourselves out,” said Hayden. “We were getting away from our approach. Our approach all season has been middle-away off soft lefties. We got a soft lefty today and we got away from it. We were trying to drive the ball into the wind.”
Hayden, who said the Hokies came out with little energy and were flat for the first half of the game, was 2-for-3 with two walks and one RBI. The Hokies did manage 11 hits in the game, but seven of them came in the seventh inning or later when they were trailing by a significant margin.
Chris Monaco replaced Sullivan and kept the Liberty bats at bay through the fourth, but surrendered one run in the fifth and two more in the sixth. With a five run lead through eight innings, Liberty scored five runs in the top of the ninth off left-hander Sean Kennedy — four of which came on Sankey’s second home run of the night.
Tech tried to awaken from its offensive slumber in the ninth and managed three runs but couldn’t come within threatening distance of the Liberty lead.
“I think we got outplayed. I thought we were ready to play,” Mason said. “I don’t think we necessarily played great baseball. We didn’t respond to it the way we responded to some of the innings over the weekend. I did think we were ready to play. I don’t know that we clawed and fought, but (Stafford) did a good job, too. He didn’t give us too many opportunities to do that.”
Despite the disappointment, or maybe perhaps because of it, Hayden and company are looking forward to Wednesday night’s game against Radford. The 5:30 contest, in which Mason said senior Alex Perez will probably start on the mound, offers Tech a chance to finally get in the win column during the week.
“I’m glad I’m not Radford,” Hayden said. “Because they are probably going to get a good pummeling.”