The second weekend of college baseball has come and gone and the baseball world is still rejoicing the return of its sport. Although we here in Blacksburg are not blessed with the climates of Tallahassee or Baton Rouge, the weather has been warm recently, making it truly feel like baseball season. With that said, let’s dive in to the latest edition of the Hokies Baseball Notebook.
Virginia Tech goes 1-2 at New Orleans.
The Hokies traveled down to New Orleans this past weekend for a tournament hosted by the University of New Orleans. They faced Iowa in the first game of the weekend, a matchup Tech lost 2-1 in extra innings. If you haven’t already read our recap of Friday’s game against the Hawkeyes, you can check that out here.
The Hokies were scheduled to face New Orleans on Saturday before taking on Ball State on Sunday, but a scheduling change forced Tech to play its first doubleheader of the season.
Virginia Tech Falls to New Orleans
Virginia Tech started their game against New Orleans at noon Saturday, an hour ahead of the regularly scheduled first pitch. The Privateers struck first in the bottom of the second inning, scoring one run on an RBI single from catcher Beau Bratton. New Orleans would add additional runs in each of the following innings, thanks to solo homers from third baseman Owen Magee and Bratton. At the end of the fourth inning the Privateers led 3-0.
The Hokies started to come back in the top of the fifth when Tom Stoffel hit a solo home run to left field to make the score 3-1. Cameron Irvine scored in the top of the sixth thanks to a bases-loaded walk to Jack Owens to make the score 3-2 with three innings to play.
New Orleans struck again in the bottom of the eighth on a sacrifice fly from shortstop Darren Willis that scored Jacob McFadden, his second run of the game. New Orleans would hang on to that 4-2 lead to win the ballgame, dropping the Hokies to 1-5 on the season.
Stoffel was the lead-off batter for the Hokies and went 2-for-3 on the day, scoring a run and driving one in as well.
Starting pitcher Dylan Hall got tagged with the loss for the Hokies after pitching 5.2 innings and giving up three runs on seven hits.
Virginia Tech Beats Ball State
Later Saturday night, Virginia Tech took on Ball State in the first ever meeting between the two programs. Tech, playing as the home team this time, started things off with a two-run bottom of the first. Nick Menken singled to right field with the bases loaded, driving in Stoffel and Jack Owens.
The Hokies added to their lead in the bottom of the third when Jack Owens scored on a wild pitch by Ball State reliever Nolan Gazouski. Sam Fragale would score on the same play thanks to a throwing error from Gazouski.
Ball State attempted to mount a comeback in the top of the seventh, but was only able to score two runs. The Hokies went on to win the game 4-2 and improve to 2-5 on the season.
Jack Owens went 2-for-3 for the Hokies against Ball State, scoring two runs in the process. Menken went 1-for-2 with a walk and two RBIs.
Freshman pitcher Ian Seymour picked up the win for Tech, tossing 6.1 innings and giving up two runs on four hits. Seymour struck out nine batters during his outing Saturday night.
Nic Enright picked up his first save of his career, pitching two innings and striking out four batters.
Not Time to Panic Yet
Sitting at 2-5 through the first seven games, this is Tech’s worst start to a season since 1999, when the Hokies also started 2-5. But that shouldn’t be too much reason to worry just yet. Through their first seven games, the Hokies have played five teams that are in the top 100 in RPI: Coastal Carolina, South Alabama, Oklahoma, Kansas State and Iowa. Oklahoma, the only one of those teams that Tech beat, is in the top 30.
The coaching staff talked at the beginning of the season about how early tournaments are good at showing a team’s weaknesses early in the season. The Hokies have seven games under their belt now and they can take a look at how they’ve performed so far and assess what needs to change. Throw in the fact that the coaching staff is still getting to know their players in their first year on the job, and there is hope for them to turn the season around.
Pitching is Improving
One aspect of the Hokies’ game that everyone knows needs work is the pitching. Last year’s pitching staff struggled tremendously and pitching coach Ryan Fecteau hoped to change that this season.
After last weekend’s tournament at Coastal Carolina, the Hokies had a team ERA of 7.41. Following this weekend’s games in New Orleans, Tech has a team ERA of 5.19, over two points lower than at this time last week.
Tech gave up an average of 2.7 runs per game this weekend and limited Iowa to just two runs in their game, the fewest the Hokies have given up this season.
Speaking of pitching…
Connor Coward Having a Career Year
Senior pitcher Connor Coward has established himself at the top of the Hokies’ rotation, and his stats so far this season have shown why.
Through two starts, Coward has allowed just four runs on four hits. He has pitched 13 innings in those two starts and struck out 18 batters, including a career-high 11 strikeouts against Iowa. His most strikeouts in a single season came last year when he fanned 59 batters. If he keeps up this pace, he should set a new personal best this season.
Despite how well he has been pitching, the 6’0 pitcher from Pittsburgh has yet to earn a decision and the Hokies have lost both games he has started.
Next up on the Hokies’ schedule is a matchup with Radford this Tuesday. Virginia will open its home schedule against the Highlanders in a 4 o’clock game on Feb. 27. Tech is 44-14 all-time against Radford and swept the season series last year with wins at home and on the road.
The construction on English Field at Union Park is not finished, so only terrace seating down the third baseline will be open for Tuesday’s game.
Following Tuesday’s home opener, Tech will be on the road until Friday March 9 when it hosts Pitt in a weekend ACC series.