NO. 17 VIRGINIA TECH FIND SOLACE IN SUFFERING, 15–11 LOSS TO GEORGIA TECH
BLACKSBURG, Va. — About three hours before №17 Virginia Tech took the field against Georgia Tech, redshirt sophomore reliever Nolan Wilson spoke from the heart to his team, not about the upcoming matchup with the program from the city in which he was raised, but about a sobering topic that was “on our minds all day,” per eventual losing pitcher Jaison Heard.
“[Wilson] said 32 people lost their lives here not too long ago, and we’re grateful to be here, to have the ability to put this jersey on and be in and play the game today,” Heard said postgame.
There are many reasons to be grateful to play, even in defeat, and the Hokies (19–11, 14–8 ACC) did just that, losing 15–11 to the Yellow Jackets (16–13, 13–9 ACC) on Friday.
That’s because no loss, however disappointing, could compare to the loss of life suffered in the mass shooting that took place 14 years ago on Monday, April 16, 2007 on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va.
Or that just one year ago — on April 16, 2020 — with the coronavirus still novel, the baseball season had been halted for several weeks. There was no coming together — that was barred by safety restrictions — to remember, to mourn and to play.
And those restrictions are still mostly in place, but this year, two teams with quite the ability took English Field, both grateful to play as long and hard as required to decide the first of a three-game series.
Fitting then, that the Hokies played their longest game of the season, totaling four hours and 36 minutes; that eight pitchers tossed over nine innings; and that in the final one, when the game was all but decided, three bench players — Gerhig Ebel, Nick Holesa and Fritz Genther — entered the game and scored.
The Yellow Jackets quickly started the scoring in the second. Right fielder Stephen Reid hit a grounder to short, and the first of two throwing errors from true freshman Tanner Schobel resulted in a run. Another run scored on his errant throw in the sixth.
“As an infielder, I always anticipate the ball getting hit to me every play so I know what I’m going to do,” Schobel said. “It was one of those things where I was trying to move too fast, and I wasn’t under control. And any time you’re moving too fast on the infield, nothing good happens. I think trying to stay under control and not move 100 million miles per hour would definitely help me out a lot.”
Not moving at 100 million miles an hour as the team’s shortstop? Agreed.
But Schobel also hit a two-run homer that just snuck fair inside the left-field foul pole in the fifth, extending Virginia Tech’s lead to four as the Hokies led 6–2.
In essence, it was a wash for Schobel.
That was also the post-game directive from manager John Szefc, whose team never came to bat with the lead again in the following innings after Georgia Tech scored four in the sixth, five in the seventh and four again in the eighth.
“The whole message [from Szefc] was basically just flush it down, let it go,” Heard said. “We’re still in a spot to win the series this weekend, and we’re moving on.”
The Hokies did scratch one run across as the Yellow Jackets swarmed the Hokies for 13 runs over three frames, but that lone score ultimately represented a missed opportunity that kept Blacksburg’s boys from making a real comeback push.
Luke Bartnicki — who of the four Yellow Jacket pitchers on the night was awarded the win — went to work for the second straight frame after recording a scoreless sixth. He loaded the bases without recording an out, after walking two and plunking Dayne Leonard, but his head coach, 28-year Georgia Tech skipper Danny Hall, trusted his lefty and left him in to face the top of the Hokies’ lineup after Cade Swisher’s bloop RBI single brought the tying run to the plate with nobody out.
The trust paid off as Bartnicki struck out the next three batters — Jack Hurley, Nick Biddison and Gavin Cross. And when Georgia Tech loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth, it pushed four more across to ice the game.
The Hokies matched that with a four-run ninth, but down eight then, it was too little, too late.
“I think that’s something we’ve been trying to work on all season: Instead of going up and down throughout the innings [in terms of] scoring, trying to stay steady,” Schobel said over Zoom while demonstrating the ups and downs with his hand.
“I think the biggest key was coming back there and scoring four at the end,” Heard added. “It still results in a loss, but as far as moving forward, the last time we hit we scored four runs. I think that’s a huge key and huge for us going into tomorrow.”
The Hokies will in fact live to fight tomorrow.
Let us always remember those who won’t.