Virginia Tech Baseball (24-14, 10-10 ACC) picked up an important comeback win on Tuesday night, taking down the James Madison Dukes (23-17), 7-5.
The Hokies came into Tuesday night having not won their past two midweek games against Liberty and Radford - two in-state opponents, with the Radford loss in particular hurting Tech’s RPI.
Trying not to make a habit of it, head coach John Szefc knew this was a pretty big win, answering, “Yeah, I’d say so,” when asked about the importance of Tuesday night’s victory.
”They’re a pretty good team,” Szefc noted of the Dukes, who came into the ‘Battle of the Burg’ having swept 27-win Louisiana-Lafayette over the weekend.
“At home I mean…you want to try and maintain where you're at…you need to win games at home, whether they’re ugly or not and that was a strange win, but you take it.”
On the bump for Szefc today was 2023 preseason All-American reliever Kiernan Higgins, who was rock solid for four innings of one run baseball.
The senior allowed three hits, three walks, and one earned run, while punching out four of the 17 batters he faced on 66 pitches in a no-decision start.
“He got himself off to a good start,” said Szefc on Higgins. “I was especially impressed with him in the first when he kind of struggled with his command out of the gate, but was able to right himself quick and put a zero up for the inning.”
Higgins, who was off to a tough start in 2023, has allowed just five runs in his last six appearances, dating back to March 22 against VMI. The RHP now posts an ERA of 4.91 in 12 total appearances this season.
The Hokies were without star center fielder Jack Hurley for the second-straight game, but managed to score seven runs thanks to patience at the plate and some gutsy plays.
It started in the third, where Tech put up a three-spot on JMU thanks to a gutsy Clay Grady bunt, a double steal from Grady and Carson Jones, and an attempted double steal from Eddie Eisert and Grady that would score Grady before Eisert was caught running on a 2-6-1-6 play.
Following the third, the Dukes would go on a 5-0 run, plating one in the fourth, two in the sixth, and two in the seventh. The earned runs were given up by LHP Grant Umberger and RHP Mattew Siverling, who would each go two innings, giving up two a piece.
Siverling (2-0) would end up tallying his second win of 2023, despite giving the Dukes the lead, thanks to an unlikely two-out rally in the 8th from Virginia Tech’s bats.
The bottom of the eighth began with a Carson DeMartini walk, before the DH was caught running at second. Eisert then struckout, bringing Christian Martin up with two outs.
That’s when a really good outing from JMU sophomore RHP Matt Leikus went south.
Leikus, who set career bests in innings pitched (four), and strikeouts (six) collapsed late in the game to give the Hokies hope, allowing a double to Martin, plunking Brody Donay in a pinch-hit spot, and walking Garrett Michel to load the bases before being pulled for Matt Kleinfelter.
The pitching change didn’t help the Dukes out too much, as Kleinfelter’s first batter resulted in a balk that would score the Hokies first of four eighth inning runs to make it a one-run ballgame.
In total, Tech would draw five walks, with Carson Jones walking in the winning run, before Clay Grady hit an infield single to raise the gap to two runs.
With a 7-5 lead in the top of the ninth, Tech sent out Henry Weycker, who allowed one hit, before striking out JMU second baseman Mike Mancini looking to end the game and give Weycker his second save of 2022.
“With how we’ve played last weekend and today, I like to say, it gives a group hope,” said Szefc on the resilience his team has shown given a slew of injuries and 2-7 start to ACC play.
“We’ve come from behind a number of times this year, the only difference is we’re banged up…try to glue it together whatever way you can glue it together."
Following tonight’s win, the Hokies have won 8 of their last 12, and sit just two games back in the Coastal race after a dreadful start to ACC play.
Tech will welcome North Carolina (26-15, 9-10 ACC) to English Field this weekend for a big series. First pitch set for 7 pm on Friday night.
The Hokies are hoping to get Jack Hurley (hit in the hand last weekend) back this weekend, while the results of Griffin Green’s (elbow) MRI are yet to come in. More to come from The Tech Lunch Pail on the injuries as we receive new information.