Keselica’s big day leads Hokies to 9-8 walk off win

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Two-time ACC Pitcher of the Week Sean Keselica may have an offensive award coming his way after his performance Saturday.

One day after the senior from New Jersey tossed 6 1/3 innings in a no decision effort against Georgia Tech, he had a career day at the plate, going 4-for-5 with four RBIs and six total bases, including the game-tying single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning and a three-run double in the second.

With Virginia Tech down one with two outs in the ninth and two on, Keselica drove the first pitch of his fifth at bat to centerfield, plating Erick Payne and tying the game.

“I was just looking to drive the ball,” said Keselica. “I looked for a fastball up early in the count, not to get behind. Luckily he threw me one a little bit away and I got a good piece of the barrel on it.”

The next batter, Andrew Mogg, hit a high chopper to second baseman Wade Bailey, who charged the ball and fielded it just before it took a second bounce on the English Field turf. Bailey opted to flip to shortstop Connor Justus, but his sidearm toss hit Keselica in the back as he slid into second base. Mac Caples scored from third on the play and the Hokies evened the series with a 9-8 win.

“To put ourselves in position to win this (series) at home tomorrow is hugely important,” head coach Pat Mason said. “Record-wise, we’re right in the hunt and bunched up, but Georgia Tech is one of the team’s we’re going to be fighting with. We put ourselves in position to win it tomorrow and then we have the tie-breaker versus these guys. It’s huge to get that win, anyways, not even just about record. But for all those reasons, confidence, every win in the ACC is tough and a grind and one-run games one way or the other. It was very important.”

Keselica’s first three RBIs of the game came on a double into the left field corner, two pitches after hitting a ball down the right field line that bounced just a few feet foul. It gave the Hokies a 3-0 advantage, marking the 13th time in 14 ACC games that Virginia Tech (17-15, 7-7) has held a lead.

The left-handed hitter knocked another double to left in fourth inning and singled through the right side in the seventh. Keselica said after the game he was more focused on getting his front foot down earlier .

“He tends to get down late with his foot,” Mason said. “That’s always been Sean’s biggest flaw as a hitter. So coach would always work with him on that or myself, and he’s had a heck of a lot of at bats in our program to be able to correct himself as well. And it’s really the only thing we work on with him right now. He’s got such a nice swing, he’s seen everything pitch-wise, he has a plan, he understands the game. That’s really the biggest thing with him.”

Jon Woodcock, who’s weekend start was moved up one day so Aaron McGarity could be used as a closer to help a bullpen that has been hemorrhaging runs, left after five innings of three-run ball. Woodcock only allowed two hits during his 99 pitches, but walked three Yellow Jackets, hit two and saw two more reach on error.

The Hokies scored two off Georgia Tech relievers in the fifth inning to put Woodcock in line for the win, but missed a chance to blow the game wide open. Perhaps a reminder from the gods that baseball is a game of failure, Keselica grounded into a 1-6-3 double play with the bases loaded to end the threat.

Mason, who had contemplated using McGarity as a reliever for nearly a week but had to wait until Woodcock was ready to pitch on Saturday, thought about using the typical Saturday starter in the sixth inning. Instead, he went to Chris Monaco, who allowed four runs on four hits and one walk in the sixth.

Down 7-5 in the bottom of the seventh, Alex Perez started the frame by drawing his 125th career walk — the most for any Hokie as a member of the ACC — and Payne singled to left field. Payne had three hits Saturday and extended his consecutive reached safely streak to 31, the second-longest active streak in the ACC.

Brendon Hayden, who is hitting .444 against the Yellow Jackets in his career, plated Perez on a single, and Payne scored on a Mac Caples double play to tie the game.

Tied at seven heading into the eighth, Mason opted to use McGarity for his first relief appearance of the season. Mason told McGarity that he wouldn’t be starting and that he would be used as the closer around 9:30 Friday night.

“Needless to say, I was surprised, but it’s definitely something new to do,” said McGarity, who heard rumors that things might be shifting in the bullpen but thought his starting job “was pretty solidified.”

“Obviously I want to do anything to help my team win and the coaches thought that if I was the closer it would help us win this weekend.”

The Richmond native looked sharp while working the eighth and ninth innings, but gave up the go-ahead run in the ninth inning on a two-out seeing-eye single that scored A.J. Murray.

In the ninth, the Hokies had warning-track fly outs off the bats of Perez and Hayden, but Payne, Caples, Keselica and Mogg picked their teammates up.

The walk-off win improved the Hokies to 8-4 on the year in one-run games and put them in position to take the series Sunday. Kit Scheetz will start the 1 p.m. contest

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