Throughout the regular season, No. 4 Virginia Tech proved to be one of the most complete teams in the country, worthy of hosting the NCAA Tournament.
Over the past two weekends, the Hokies have shown just how tough they are to knock out in the playoffs, and Saturday was a prime example.
However, the team’s starting pitch hasn’t lived up to expectations set throughout the year in recent outings. Against Oklahoma, Griffin Green and Drue Hackenberg combined for just 3 ⅔ innings between Friday and Saturday.
Yet both times, Virginia Tech had a response out of the bullpen. In game one, Henry Weycker took over after Green had a tough first inning. And after Hackenberg allowed three runs in the third inning of Game 2, it was time for Jonah Hurney to shine.
Both made impressive outings at a crucial time. Weycker stabilized Tech’s throw when needed on Friday, but Oklahoma had more firepower, winning 5-4. However, thanks to the support of the race on Saturday, headlining five circuits, Hurney took victory in VT win 14-8 on the Sooners.
Hurney, Weycker and other bullpen arms are important cogs in the machine that is this Hokies team. Pairing that with an offense that is fundamentally sound and can score in multiple ways creates fertile ground for consistent results.
“We’ve got a lot of stale toast in our dugout,” Virginia Tech head coach John Szefc said after the Game 2 six-point win. The drier the toast, the better the performance. If you’re going up and down on a roller coaster or a Ferris wheel, it’s not going to be good.
Indeed, the Hokies haven’t seen wild rides in quite some time. They entered Saturday on the brink of elimination, but weren’t phased. And they haven’t lost consecutive games since mid-March, which feels like a century ago.
Since losing five straight to Georgia Tech, James Madison and Pitt, they are 33-7.
Virginia Tech has such a plethora of talent and genuine camaraderie that most, if not all, things don’t change from game to game. Even in the face of the occasional struggle, confidence never wavers.
“Nothing really different about how we came into the game yesterday,” third baseman Carson DeMartini said. “Coach Szefc always talks about not doing more than he is. It’s always a baseball game. … Nothing really changed today, it just fell in our way, and we will leave tomorrow with the same state of mind.
Hurney is a prime example. A former JUCO pitcher at Southwestern Oregon Community College, he is originally from Hawaii. He’s playing across the country, away from home, and in the biggest moment of his career to date, with his family watching from the Big Island at 7 a.m., he hasn’t been shaken when he took the mound; instead, he excelled.
The 5-foot-8 Kamuela junior came on in the fourth inning, replacing Christian Worley, who gave up a solo home run to the first batter. He went on to get three strikeouts, two by strikeout, and that was just the start of the biggest outing of his career.
Hurney throws a fastball, a slider and a switch, and his tricks worked against OU. His only mistake was giving up a solo shot to Tanner Tredaway to lead in the bottom of the fifth. After that, he had six straight outs, three on strikeouts.
And even when he was faced with a bit of difficulty – Peyton Graham doubled to left center to lead the seventh – he again followed with three straight strikeouts, two more on strikeouts.
“He’s a quiet kid, very humble, never really satisfied,” Virginia Tech first baseman Nick Biddison said of Hurney. “Everything he does is pretty professional. You wouldn’t think of a sly little southpaw, but what he does, he does really well.
“He’s always been very good. I think he’s grown a lot since he’s been here. He’s got a long way to go, but I’m not surprised at all [about his Saturday performance]. We expect that from him and everyone who enters.
Hurney finished with two career highs: innings pitched (4) and strikeouts (7). He allowed just two hits and a run, working 14 batters on 45 pitches in the process.
As he held down the fort, Virginia Tech’s attack set him going. VT led 5-4 when Hurney took the mound; when he left, the lead was eight points, 13-5, all of which happened in different ways.
First, Tanner Schobel hit a solo home run on the third pitch of the fifth inning, which got the adrenaline pumping.
Cade Hunter singled out, Carson Jones hit a defenseman’s pick, and Hunter scored after two through balls. Conor Hartigan designed a four-pitch march. Then with runners on the corners and a takedown, Eduardo Malinowski produced a perfect safety pressure that scored Jones from third. Finally, DeMartini roped in a two-out single to the right, scoring Hartigan, giving Hurney a five-run cushion, 9-4.
But that was not the end by far. Jones smoked a two RBI single on the right in the sixth, scoring Jack Hurley and Gavin Cross, while Hunter scored as Jones was caught stealing. To top it all off, DeMartini scored Tech’s 13th point on two pitching errors in the seventh.
That’s all without mentioning Biddison’s two home runs – a on the second pitch of the game, the other in the ninth inning to close out the win – and the two outbursts of Cross and Hunter in the third, all of which had an impact.
“I’d like to think that if you watch this game and you know anything about baseball, that tells you we can score runs in different ways, and we will sometimes when we have to,” Szefc said. . “In games like this, you take races when you can get them. You just try to create them as best you can because the gap is never too big.
The stage is set. Virginia Tech is playing for a spot in the College World Series. Sunday, 1 p.m. ET vs. Oklahoma on ESPNU. Win or go home. Jordan Geber (4.78 ERA), VT’s Game 3 normal starter, will likely start.
The Hokies are one win away from reaching the stadium so many people dream of playing. They worked all season to get that chance. But you can bet their approach won’t change, no matter how big the moment.
“It’s probably going to be a little emotional, we’re going to be playing with fire,” DeMartini said. “We’re just going to try to stay on the same ride, not on the roller coaster of emotions, as simply as possible.”