April 18, 2010

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CBI Live
Hokies Clip Cavaliers with 5 in Ninth

By Paul Montana

Special to CollegeBaseballInsider.com


CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – Virginia Tech probably figured it would have a better-than-even shot to win its series finale with Virginia Sunday afternoon if Hokies ace Jesse Hahn had a typically strong outing.


He didn’t.


When the Cavaliers brought in the nation’s leader in saves to the mound in the ninth inning with a two-run lead, they expected their closer would do the job.


He didn’t.


The end result was one that inspired one club but shocked the other. Down two runs with one out and no one aboard in the ninth, the Hokies rallied for five runs against two of Virginia’s most dependable relievers to pick up an 8-5 win at Davenport Field.


Though Tech lost two out of three games in the series, the finale left the team smiling as it bussed back to Blacksburg. The win marked the first at Davenport Field for the Hokies since they joined the ACC in 2005.


“To beat a tremendous team against the kid who’s leading the country in saves is a character builder, and we’ll see how far the momentum can take us,” Tech coach Pete Hughes said. “To me [Virginia] is as well-rounded and as deep of a team as I’ve ever coached against, so I think that says a lot about what I think what that win meant to our program.”


The Hokies had in fact hardly been competitive in their new conference until this season. After finishing well below .500 in ACC play the past five seasons, Virginia Tech is now 9-9 in conference play, which includes two wins apiece against Miami and Florida State, who have both been ranked in the Top 10 this season.


Virginia Tech showed its in-state rival exactly how far it has come with its ninth-inning rally. The Hokies faced adversity from the get-go, as Hahn – who boasted an ERA of 2.28 coming into the afternoon – allowed five runs in 6.1 innings.  The Hokies’ offense, meanwhile, only mustered three runs and left three runners on third base in the first six innings against Virginia starter Cody Winiarski.


Leading 5-3 in the ninth, the Cavaliers sent closer Kevin Arico to the mound. Arico leads the nation with 12 saves and had walked just four batters in 20 innings.


Even more daunting to the Hokies was Virginia’s 27-0 record this season when leading going into the ninth. Arico’s only blown save of the year came after he entered in the eighth.


After striking out the Hokies’ Tim Smalling in four pitches and firing two strikes to Ronnie Shaban, Arico appeared just as unhittable as usual. But, he quickly unraveled, walking Shaban and the next two Hokies after that. With one out, Cavaliers coach Brian O’Connor was forced to insert usual setup man Tyler Wilson, who had shut down the Hokies in bullpen appearances in the first two games of the series.


Wilson also started strong, fanning pinch-hitter Anthony Sosnoskie for the second out.

The Cavaliers were then a strike away from a sweep when Wilson reached a two-strike count on leadoff man Sean Ryan. But, Ryan worked Wilson for a walk, trimming the margin to 5-4.


Then, the key at-bat of the day came from Buddy Sosnoskie. Wilson again put the hitter on the defensive, quickly running the count to 0-2. Sosnoskie battled, fouling off three pitches. Twice, the home crowd thought Virginia had won; Sosnoskie barely nicked the ball to stay alive at 1-2, and another Wilson fastball flirted with the outside corner, but he didn’t get the call from home plate umpire Joe Marion.


“That’s part of the game,” Wilson said of the call. “The umpire establishes the zone all game, and he thought it was a ball. It’s part of the game.”


Finally, after throwing seven well-located pitches, Wilson left a fastball over the plate, and Sosnoskie drilled a bases-clearing double off the left-field wall.


“I don’t know why, but I felt good,” Sosnoskie said. “Last year at Duke in the same situation, my knees were shaking, but up there I was like, ‘All right, I’ve worked hard for this.’”


The Hokies pushed another run home as a groundball from Steve Domescus found a hole, scoring Sosnoskie. All of a sudden, the Hokies led 8-5.


Submarine hurler Ben Rowen finished off the Cavaliers with a scoreless ninth to preserve the win.


Before the rally, “There was no negative vibe in our dugout,” Hughes said. “Last year and the year before there was a ton of that stuff, of not believing.


“I’ve seen programs take off with those kinds of wins. I hope we can do that.”


While O’Connor said that he wasn’t satisfied with merely winning the series against Virginia Tech, he is confident that his team will bounce back. Resiliency is a quality that Virginia has shown consistently since last season; the Cavaliers lost nine games by two runs or less in the regular season before winning the ACC Tournament and advancing to the College World Series for the first time in the program’s history.


“We’ve bounced back every time after a loss,” O’Connor said. “I’m encouraged by what I see, and I think they’ll come back ready to play on Tuesday.”


A microcosm of that resiliency can be found in Arico, who has faced adversity before as Virginia’s closer. Against Arkansas in the College World Series last June, Arico was on the mound with two strikes, two outs, and a two-run lead before surrendering a game-tying two-run home run. The Razorbacks would ultimately win the game in 12 innings to eliminate Virginia.


Arico, of course, shook off that loss to become even more dominant.


“He gave up the big home run against Arkansas last year in the World Series, and he’s bounced back pretty good – a lot of kids don’t bounce back from that,” O’Connor said. “He understands what his role is, and he’ll get back out there and do some good things.”


For both teams, the entire series represented the progress that both programs have made in recent years. The Cavaliers set a school attendance record of 12,657 for the series, in which both Virginia and Virginia Tech were ranked for the first time in many years.


Ten years ago, when neither team had even a morsel of NCAA Tournament hopes, they played one game in front of an announced crowd of 135. That now seems like a very distant memory.


“There were [135] people 10 years ago at the UVa-Virginia Tech games, and we just set a record in attendance here,” Hughes said. “It tells you where both of our programs are.”