Pat Mason was furious.
Gathered on the English Field mound with his battery and infielders just two outs into the first inning of Sunday’s finale versus Clemson, the Virginia Tech head coach made it quite clear that the sleepwalking would end immediately.
The Hokies had already handed the Tigers a three-run lead. All unearned, the runs came giftwrapped on two errors, one walk and two hits.
“I just didn’t like where we were at,” Mason said. “More than anything, I wanted to make sure that those plays and our lack of execution was not going to dictate how we carried ourselves the rest of the way. So that was my message, that it ended there.”
It did, in fact, end there.
The Hokies (12-12, 5-4) inched their way back into the game, scoring a run here and a run there — all while receiving pitching that ranged from Ace-like to Houdini-esque — before winning 4-3 in the bottom of the 12th inning.
Jon Woodcock labored through the first frame, needing every bit of 42 pitches, but settled down and was masterful after that. He didn’t allow another run over his final six innings while surrendering three hits and two walks.
“One of the things I said out in the mound and again in the dugout, I wanted him to work quicker,” Mason said. “I wanted him to work quicker and be more convicted with his pitches. I thought he was dancing around hitters a little bit and found himself in bad counts to good hitters and his stuff is better than that. I wanted him to pitch with more confidence, and that’s what he did.
“He gave us a heck of an outing after that first inning. That’s a tremendous job. We really needed it. Without that performance and the way he settled in, we’d be having a different conversation.”
While Woodcock posted zero after zero on the scoreboard, the Hokies were fighting and clawing to get runs of their own.
The first two came relatively quickly — Kyle Wernicki had an RBI groundout in the first and Erik Payne singled home Alex Perez with two outs in the third.
Down 3-2, Tech waited until the eighth before finally tying the contest at three.
The Hokies recorded one hit in the eighth — one of 10 on the day — but took advantage of two walks to load the bases. Facing pinch hitter Phil Sciretta, Alex Bostic, Clemson’s fourth pitcher of the inning, spiked a slider and catcher Chris Okey couldn’t corral it as it bounced to the backstop. Andrew Mogg scampered home to tie the game.
Woodcock’s day was done after the seventh and the ball went to Luke Scherzer. Redeeming himself from a subpar Friday outing, Scherzer pitched a career-high 3.2 innings and went to his devastating slider time after time to rack up five strikeouts.
He worked a relatively easy first two innings — the eighth and ninth of the game — and escaped a two-on, two-out jam in the 10th.
In the 11th, Scherzer recorded two quick strikeouts before allowing the only hit he gave up all day — an infield single that deflected off his glove. Mason opted to pull Scherzer for Packy Naughton with one out and a man on first.
Naughton’s control issues from Friday night resurfaced and, with the bases loaded, fellow freshman Chris Monaco — who admitted his heart was beating faster than normal — was asked to put out the fire.
“As soon you come out there you have to pick up teammates,” Monaco said. “They always pick you up during the season. Packy’s been a great player for us. Just coming out there, you got to throw strikes first pitch.”
Monaco used one pitch — a two-seam fastball — to diffuse the threat. Reed Rohlman hit a hard line drive, but Alex Perez was perfectly positioned in shallow right field to make the play.
The Tigers (11-11, 4-5) threatened once more in the top of the 12th — Weston Wilson hit a 1-out triple and Glenn Batson walked with 2 outs — but the ultra-cool freshman sent Clemson’s Eli White down chasing.
Whether it was Clemson’s poor clutch hitting or Tech’s great clutch pitching —and it was probably a mix of the two — the Tigers left seven men on base in the extra frames before the Hokies had one reach safely.
Once they did, though, they made it count.
Wernicki led off the frame, legging out an infield single for his only hit in his six at bats. After Perez sacrificed him to second and Brendon Hayden was walked intentionally, Payne poked a two-strike, two-out single (his third hit of the day) through the right side to load the bases.
For Raheim Cooper, who had zero at bats on the year at this time last week, the job suddenly became crystal clear.
“I was just trying to see something up,” said Cooper. “The bases were loaded and I was just trying to get something to the outfield. Luckily I got my pitch and hit it to the right side.”
He smacked a line drive that seemed destined for right field, but a diving Chase Pinder snagged it on one hop. Pinder fired home, but the throw was late; Wernicki had already slid home safely.
Sunday’s victory didn’t win Tech a series. That opportunity was squandered by losses Friday and Saturday. Instead, it provided momentum for the week ahead and confidence to go along with it.
“I think it’s huge because there is a big difference between being 5-4 and 4-5 (in the ACC), obviously,” said Mason. “And every win in the ACC is huge. But I do believe winning these games — I think these are the types of games that we lost a lot more of last year. And yeah, we gave one away I think on Friday night, but to come back on the same weekend and to win a very similar type of game, it just shows the maturity of our team and the steps we’ve made since last year.”