The weekend of April 16th has been a solemn one since 16 years ago when the Virginia Tech community lost 32 Hokies in a terrible mass shooting.
Now in 2023, the community continues to remember the lives lost, but are as tightly knit as ever.
One thing that has united Hokies since the incident has been Virginia Tech athletics. Win or lose, Hokie nation always brings it, and there was no greater feeling of community than Friday through Sunday at English Field.
The Hokies baseball team, led by head coach John Szefc brought in a season-high 3,086 fans to Saturday evening's game - a crowd that would have been hard to imagine as little as four or five years ago.
Nonetheless, the program continued to grow, and gave all of Blacksburg something to cheer for this weekend as the Hokies (21-12, 8-9 ACC) swept the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (20-16, 7-11) while allowing just three runs in the final 18 innings of the series.
Saturday’s game started off well for Virginia Tech, with Jack Hurley rocking a three run opposite field homer to put the Hokies up 3-0 early.
Hurley - a projected first round pick in this summer’s 2023 MLB Draft has been on a monster tear, as he launched a home run in every game this series. He's now hitting .341 on the season, with a team leading 15 HR’s and 41 RBI’s.
“There’s been times where I’ve tried to [go yard],” said Hurley after Saturday night’s 13-1 victory. “A lot of my approach is trying to elevate the ball and get something out of the yard.”
On the mound, the Hokies went with Griffin Green on Saturday night, who delivered his best performance of the season.
The RHP from Massachusetts picked up his second victory of the season, going 5.1 innings on 88 pitches, allowing just four baserunners and one run, in addition to striking out seven Yellow Jackets.
Unfortunately, the performance came at a price for the 2022 All-ACC third teamer. In the sixth inning, following a low breaking ball, Green appeared to be suffering from an elbow injury, and walked off the field in pain - a moment that nobody wanted to see with the Hokies gaining momentum.
Green’s injury is TBD at the moment, with evaluations ongoing Monday.
The junior is one of the Hokies most respected players, and a leader in the clubhouse, so losing him would be a huge loss to say the least.
“That would be really tough,” said Hurley of a potential long-term injury. “It’s tough for our team, but it’s also really tough mentally for him [Green].”
When asked what makes Green the most respected guy on the team, outfielder Carson Jones responded with “his work ethic.”
“He’s probably the hardest working guy we’ve got on this team, one of our leaders and one of our captains…people rally around him,” said Jones.
Despite the injury, Saturday brought a number of Tech records, with Szefc picking up his 150th win as Tech’s skipper, and the team setting a school record with 18 walks - a big reason as to why they scored 13 runs on just seven hits.
The plate discipline was off the charts led by second baseman Christain “Chick” Martin who tied Carson DeMartini’s season high of five walks drawn in a game, which seems pretty hard to do given the Hokies only batted eight innings.
As for the bullpen, Jonah Hurney and Tyler Dean excelled in relief of Green, combining for 4.2 innings pitched, four strikeouts, and two base-runners allowed.
Sunday brought much of the same dominance, with Preseason All-American Drue Hackenberg on the bump.
Last weekend against the Duke Blue Devils, Hackenberg struck out a career high 11 batters and allowed only 1 run in 8 innings as the sophomore RHP has seemed to regain his 2022 form as of late.
That continued vs Georgia Tech as Hackenberg went six innings in Sunday's series finale, striking out six, while coming up clutch a number of times, allowing just one run on eight hits.
The offsene was propelled by the long ball, with Virginia Tech scoring nine runs via five home runs. The round trippers came via the bats of Hurley, two for Radford transfer David Bryant (who hadn’t hommered since February 28th), and Michel and Donay who went back-to-back in the sixth inning.
Speaking of Michel and Donay, the two freshmrn, in addition to shortstop Clay Grady have been phenomenal additions to the Hokie lineup as freshmen, and their teammates are taking notice.
“Way better than what I did my freshman year,” said Hurley. “A lot of respect for them, they’re thrown into the fire as a freshman…to see those guys have any type of success and help our team win…it’s huge for us and it’s gonna be huge for the program down the road.”
To say this series was huge for the Hokies would be an understatement. The team has now won six of its last seven ACC games, and the weekend sweep was the first of 2023.
Something else notable coming into the weekend was the matchup against the Yellow Jackets. The Hokies had not won a single series over Georgia Tech since 2010, but with Saturday night’s victory, they finally prevailed.
“Any time you win an ACC series it feels really good,” said Szefc. “I can’t take away anything from what our guys have done here this weekend…played well, pitched well, hit well…”
Virginia Tech takes the field again this Tuesday at local opponent Radford, before going south to Tallehasse for a series against the Florida State Seminoles (13-22, 4-14 ACC), who sit at the bottom of the conference.
Information on the severity of Green's injury to come as we at The Tech Lunch Pail learn more.