Virginia Tech’s two midweek wins came against teams that combined for 21 victories on the season.
For head coach Pat Mason, there are clear benefits to playing midweek games, even against lesser opponents.
“It’s about development, really,” Mason said after Tuesday night’s 13-4 win over Appalachian State. “We want to win, but it’s not like we are just scheduling games just to win. We want to continue to compete and learn how to win. Winning is a learned process.
“You’ve got to keep putting games on the schedule and trying to win. And then you get innings like Connor (Coward) got tonight and Joey Sullivan is going to get tomorrow, or at bats like Max Ponzurick. You just got to keep playing baseball to get better at it.”
Connor Coward, one of four freshmen pitchers for Tech, started Tuesday night and improved his record to 2-0. He allowed three runs in the first three innings, including two solo home runs in the top of the third, but was solid for the rest of his five innings.
Coward’s win came two days after Packy Naughton tossed six scoreless versus Duke, and it marked the first time since at least 2008 that freshmen starters have earned wins in back-to-back starts.
“I think Packy really threw awesome against Duke,” Mason said. “He was pretty good last Tuesday.”
“Connor, it was good to see Connor give us five innings,” said Mason. “He was on the ropes and got himself out of a couple jams. He got himself into trouble and then he was able to get us out of trouble. That’s a good sign for his maturity.”
After the back-to-back home runs gave the Mountaineers a 3-1 lead, the Hokies scored 12 runs over the next six innings.
Two of the 12 runs were credited to left fielder Erik Payne, whose five walks tied the school record for the most walks in a game.
Payne’s chance to break the record in the bottom of the eighth was usurped by Mason for pinch hitter Nick Anderson, who lined out to the right side in his fourth career at-bat.
Joey Sullivan’s career best outing, an eight-inning shutout performance Wednesday night against North Carolina A&T, continued the streak of impressive starts by Tech’s youngest arms.
He allowed 10 hits, but was most effective with runners on base, holding the Aggies hitless in nine at-bats with runners in scoring position and 4 for 16 with runners on base.
“I needed this for me,” Sullivan said. “I really needed it. I’ve worked hard and I’ve put myself in some good positions and some not so good positions, but tonight I think I learned a lot about myself. I threw a lot of sliders and I threw a lot for strikes, too, which is nice. They’re not the biggest name school, but it helps confidence, which I needed and I think our team needed.”
The Hokies scored one run in the bottom of the first inning after Mac Caples and Kyle Wernicki singled and Alex Perez and Brendon Hayden advanced them on deep fly balls.
The only other runs of the game came for Tech in the bottom of the fifth when, with the bases loaded, Hayden walked and Payne reached on an infield single.
Tech was 1 for 8 with runners in scoring position on the night, but thanks to Sullivan’s brilliance they had more than enough for a 3-0 win.
The two midweek wins put the Hokies in position to enter this weekend’s crucial series with momentum. They are now 22-24 overall.
“The Friday night win is big,” Joe Freiday Jr. said, looking forward to the weekend’s opener. “It really does set the tone for the rest of the weekend, so it’s important to get out to a strong start.