In celebration of its fourth straight victory, No. 5 Virginia Tech jumped over the dugout rail, many with raised hands, and headed for Lucas Donlon with a Gatorade dip in center field.
Flashback a few moments and you’ll see Donlon rope a soft line drive who landed just beyond where the outfield grass meets the artificial dirt between the shortstop and the third baseman, who drove Eduardo Malinowski for the winning run.
It was good for a 2-1 final score on a Wednesday night at English Field which, until the ninth, would fold for no Hokie. It was until the ninth inning.
A hit per pitch that Tanner Schobel elbowed. A passed ball that allowed shortstop Tech to move up to second place. The RBI single tying Malinowski’s play down the right side, then Donlon’s game-breaking swing with all three base-loaded hitters later off Cade Hungate on a throw near his hands.
“It was unreal, to be honest,” Donlon said minutes after his game-winning shot. “This team has something about it. [We] never give up, never get out of the game. No lead is ever too big for us. All of us in the locker room believe it too.
Wednesday marked another solid victory for RPI against Liberty, which is ranked No. 40, as VT swept the season series over the Flames for the first time since 2011. And it was the second win without a streak in consecutive games after Carson DeMartini’s. double ground rule in a 3-2 win over Villanova on Sunday.
The Hokies are now 34-10 (14-8 ACC) – their most wins since their 40-win season in 2013 – sitting third in the ACC with No. 7 Louisville coming to town this week-end. Against Liberty, they were led by a quartet of pitchers who allowed the only unearned run and struck out two runs when it mattered most.
“I guess you could say yes,” head coach John Szefc said when asked if this was Tech’s year. “It was about as well pitched a game as you will ever see – for both teams. … We didn’t have to [burn through our bullpen] against a team like Liberty. We had some good at-bats in the ninth.
Recording the first three innings on 38 pitches, Jordan Geber rebounded from his first miss this year on May 1 at Virginia, where he allowed four runs in 1+ innings. On Wednesday, he faced the minimum in his three innings while striking out four of 27. Pitching coach Ryan Fecteau didn’t chase him any longer to leave him ready for the weekend against the Cardinals.
He rediscovered his groove with no problems and was exactly what Szefc asked for after struggling to find a Sunday starter for most of the year. Geber worked two strong starts on April 16 vs. Miami and on April 24 at Boston College and has been Tech’s third option ever since.
“He was really, really big for us,” Szefc said of Geber. “We’re just trying to get him on the right track to be a quality starter. He faces a good formation and faces only nine batters. We probably could have hunted him for the fourth but [pitching coach Ryan] Fecteau talked about taking him out after two or three innings to keep him ready for the weekend.
For the first two innings, Geber and Liberty starter Trey Gibson traded zeros on the scoreboard. Still, although Gibson gave up a first single to Nick Biddison in the first and then walked Cade Hunter in the second inning, neither went past first base. For the third, Cole Garrett retired a batter on seven pitches out of the bullpen.
After going down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the third, Ryan Metz came out of the bullpen and got two quick outs on four pitches via a ground fly and a fly ball. Then it looked like he had worked the fourth straight 1-2-3 inning before Schobel waited for a ball that bounced twice. In a hurry, he fired a throw that first bounced past Donlon and bled into the Liberty’s dugout. The error allowed Three Hillier to move up to second, allowing Derek Orndorff to drive him home a batter later.
Metz bounced back and forced a lineout on Malinowski in the second, but the damage was done.
In the next half, Jack Hurley roped in his 21st double of the year, his helmet flying off rounding the second, which tied him for fifth in the nation in two sacks with one out. But, like Biddison and Hunter, he stuck.
From there, Max Alba and Dylan Cumming fielded Virginia Tech’s next 10 batters in a row before Hunter hit an error in the seventh. He too got stuck once more after Christian Martin was knocked out in second to end the inning.
After Metz gave up the unearned run in the fourth, he knocked down six of the seven batters he faced in the fifth and sixth innings. By the time he left, he had worked three innings, allowed two hits, no walks and struck out four. It was then that Chrisitan Worley, who delivered favorable results in his last two outings (three shutouts), kept the door closed on the Flames’ attack.
Worley pitched the seventh and eighth, tying Cumming roughly step by step. He worked around two runners on his outing (a two-out walk in the seventh and a two-out single in the eighth) for his third consecutive scoreless outing.
But the Hokies still needed a run after he and the other two arms in front of him came out. Early in the ninth, Szefc turned to Kiernan Higgins, a high-shooting, hard-throwing right-hander who has become one of the most reliable arms as the season progressed.
He delivered with a clean ninth inning, striking out two and inducing a soft ground ball to Schobel at short range, setting up his bats to drive away. And when the run came, once Donlon ripped that high, tight fastball, it was only because of the bats in front of him.
“He’s tough, he never complains,” Szefc said of Donlon. “Good things happen to good people.”
It was Schobel’s one-shot, then Malinowski’s RBI hit on a two-seam player fleeing his bat, where he popped his head off the bat and went with the pitch into right field.
Then it was Hunter’s first-pitch single that hung up long enough to stretch out of Liberty shortstop’s reach. Then came Martin’s full walk where he surged 3-0 before watching the first strike and fouling on the second strike. He saw a pitch run high and miss the strike zone, giving Donlon a chance to play the hero.
“[In those big at-bats] I really focus on my approach,” Malinowski said. “That at bat I got on the seventh off [Cumming], he cornered me a bit, so I knew I had to put the ball on the ground on the right side. I just backed off and tried to do my job and had the right pitch to do it, and it worked.
And finally, an unlikely hero, a utilitarian infielder who has been back and forth in training for the past two years, fighting in one of the biggest fights of his life.
“They just know how to win,” Szefc said. “I just don’t know what to say about it. They just do things in the clutch.
The score of the box: Link