2,946 days later, the streak is over.
After 22 consecutive losses against North Carolina, a stat that dated back to March 2007, Virginia Tech used a superb pitching performance by Kit Scheetz and an offensive outbreak to beat the No. 23 Tar Heels 8-3 Friday night.
Scheetz rises to the occasion
Kit Scheetz, making his second ACC start of the season, did what he does best.
The redshirt sophomore lefthander pitched to contact, scattered hits and worked out of jams to constrain the damage and earn the win in Friday night’s contest.
Starting in place of Sean Keselica, whose start was pushed back to Sunday, Scheetz didn’t record a clean inning until the fifth and allowed two runs and seven hits in the first four frames. He mixed pitches effectively though, and stranded five runners in scoring position during that time to avoid a crooked number.
“I know I’m going to give up hits, but I try to limit my walks as much as I can,” said Scheetz, who walked two over his seven innings of work. “Really just battling, against a team like that you try to stay aggressive.
“In the back of my head I’m saying, ‘don’t give them any free bases because it’s really hard to get three hits in a row to get a run.’ If I can limit walks I can just pound the zone and hopefully get some weak contact.”
With the Hokies (19-20, 8-11 ACC) down 2-1, Scheetz entered a stretch from the fifth to seventh innings in which he retired 10-consecutive Tar Heels . During that sequence, the Hokies broke through and offered five runs of support and put him in line for the win.
“That’s kind of one of the reasons why he is probably less effective coming out of the bullpen,” head coach Pat Mason said. “Those middle innings he sets up in the first inning because he throws any pitch in any count, he gets in hitters’ heads, he can on both sides of the plate and he gets them thinking a little bit. He tends to settle in the second and third time through the order because of that.”
The streak came to an end with two outs in the top of the seventh when Scheetz walked Skye Bolt and Landon Lassiter tripled him in on the very next pitch. With Luke Scherzer warming in the bullpen, Tyler Ramirez, who had already notched two hits in the game, was Scheetz’s last batter either way.
Scheetz jumped ahead in the count and struck out Ramirez.
Scherzer worked around two runners in the eighth and allowed no runs, and Aaron McGarity closed the door in the ninth.
Offense breaks through in sixth and seventh
Right as Scheetz started to find his rhythm and retire one Tar Heel after another, the offense broke through in a big way.
Alex Perez, in consecutive start 208, smacked his fifth home run of the season over the scoreboard in right field to tie the game. After his six-RBI performance Wednesday night and his RBI double in the third, the home run marked eight consecutive Tech RBIs from Perez.
Not to be outdone by Perez, Brendon Hayden crushed a home run of his own two batters later. The team-leading eighth home run of the season for the big lefty scored Erik Payne, who singled one batter earlier.
“Erik’s at bat was arguably the biggest at bat of the inning. He had a good approach, he slapped a single and it allowed Brendon (to bat with runners on),” Mason said.
Hayden’s home run gave Tech a 4-2 lead, but the Hokies notched two more runs that inning on a Ryan Tufts single and the second wild pitch by Trevor Kelley, North Carolina’s first reliever of the game.
In the seventh inning, after Scheetz’s hiccup brought the Tar Heels within three, Sam Fragale came up with the clutch insurance-run providing hit that has escaped the Hokies over the past few weeks.
With the bases loaded and one out, Fragale’s at-bat began against Zach Rice, but Rice was pulled mid at-bat for Spencer Trayner. Fragale worked the count full before fouling off four pitches. On the next offering, the 11th of the at-bat, Trayner missed with a fastball up in the zone and Fragale jumped on it, doubling in two runs to lengthen the lead to five.
“(Insurance runs) are a huge emphasis,” Mason said, “but it’s also one of those deals where if you emphasize it too much you get guys playing tight. You just want to continue to play as hard as you possible can, and speaking of which there is no one who works harder than Sam.”
Mason said that more aggressive swings in two-strike counts has been an emphasis for Fragale and that he spent most of yesterday’s practice working on just that scenario.
Raheim Cooper started the game for the Hokies, but didn’t make the trek out to right field to start the second inning. While trying to bunt in the first inning, Cooper’s finger was hit by a pitch and, in the words of Mason, the finger “exploded.”
He left with a trainer and received 14 stitches, stretching from the nail to the first knuckle, on either his right index or middle finger.
He is expected to be available Saturday in a pinch running role.
Saige Jenco returned to action after missing four games with a leg injury, but looked to be less than 100 percent. In his second at bat he beat out a possible double play ball, advanced to second on a passed ball and scored on a Perez double, but was running gingerly around the whole time.
He remained in the game until the Hokies extended their lead to five runs, at which point he was replaced by Logan Bible in centerfield
“It flared up just a little bit,” Mason said. “Part of that was because he was getting on base.”
Mason thinks Jenco will be fine for Saturday.
Jenco was removed from action against Radford after injuring his leg after hitting a double in the ninth inning.
Keselica to pitch on Sunday
For the first time this season, Sean Keselica did not start the Friday night contest of an ACC series.
He has been pushed back to the Sunday start so he could rest what has been called a “dead arm” for two more days.
He lasted two innings and 63 pitches last Friday against Miami in his shortest start of the season.