BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech slugged five home runs and played masterful small ball Saturday, a nearly invincible combination that propelled the Hokies to a 14-8 victory over Oklahoma in Game 2 of their NCAA super regional at English Field.
But amid all the offense and seamless fundamentals — Eduardo Malinowski’s fifth-inning squeeze bunt up the first-base line was downright artistic — were four sterling relief innings thrown by Jonah Hurney, Tech’s third pitcher of the afternoon.
Would the Hokies have forced a decisive Game 3 Sunday without Hurney’s performance? Would they be a victory away from their first College World Series?
Perhaps, but Hurney sure made the middle innings less stressful for Tech faithful.
“I think I did a pretty good job,” Hurney said.
Oh, he was far better than “pretty good.”
Trailing 5-0 after Cade Hunter’s two-run homer in the third inning, Oklahoma (Saturday’s designated home team) drew within 5-4 on Brett Squires’ leadoff home run in the fourth. Christian Worley, who had relieved ineffective starter Drue Hackenberg the inning prior, then walked Kendall Pettis, putting the tying run aboard.
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A native of Kamuela, Hawaii, he landed at Tech prior to last season after two years at Southwestern Oregon Community College. Hokies pitching coach Ryan Fecteau spotted Hurney at a day-long showcase in Washington, where Hurney remembers facing all of four batters, striking out two and allowing two hits.
A 5-foot-8 left-hander, Hurney is far from imposing, and he received minimal attention in high school at Hawaii Prep. But Fecteau and head coach John Szefc liked his stuff and took a chance.
“He’s got crazy movement on all ... of his pitches,” said Hunter, the Hokies’ catcher.
Hurney has been everything the coaching staff hoped, and then some, but never like Saturday, when his movement baffled the Sooners.
Hurney struck out seven in those four innings, yielding a run on Tanner Tredaway’s fifth-inning homer. Thirty-four of his 45 pitches were strikes, and when Szefc shut him down for the day after the seventh inning, the Hokies were comfortably ahead at 13-5.
The effort earned Hurney his sixth win in seven decisions this season, lowered his ERA to 2.70 and rewarded family members in Hawaii who awakened in the middle of the night to watch on television.
“Our bullpen’s been tremendous down the stretch,” said Nick Biddison. “... If it’s not Jonah, it’s somebody else, and Jonah was just the guy today.”
Biddison hit two home runs Saturday, the first on the game’s second pitch. Indeed, the Hokies, scored their first six runs Saturday on long balls. But their next seven came on a passed ball, safety squeeze, two singles, a double steal and another steal that coerced two throwing errors.
Such are the basics that have served the Hokies (45-13) well throughout this landmark season.
Tech ran into All-Big 12 arms Jake Bennett and Trevin Michael in a 5-4 Game 1 loss, but ponder all that went wrong Friday for the Hokies.
Attempting to gut through a tender finger on his pitching hand, starter Griffin Green faced only seven batters and recorded just three outs. So potent offensively throughout the season, Tech went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and plated fewer than five runs for just the second time in the last 10 games.
Even their defense let the Hokies down. With two out in the sixth, Pettis singled to left, and when left fielder Jack Hurley threw the ball casually to second base, Squires raced all the way home from first, scoring Oklahoma’s fifth and decisive run.
Still, Tech lost by a mere run.
The buzz-kill experts at the NCAA even nixed the Hokies’ trademark home run celebration, the swinging of a sledgehammer just outside the dugout, citing a rule that “any orchestrated activities by dugout personnel designed to distract, intimidate, or disconcert the opposing team or reflect poor sportsmanship shall not be allowed.”
Never mind that no one objected to the sledgehammer for the first 56 games this season, including the ACC tournament and NCAA regional. Never mind that the playful shtick is in no way distracting, intimidating or disconcerting.
“That’s total crap from the NCAA,” Carson DeMartini said Saturday after contributing three hits, two runs and an RBI.
So after each of their seven home runs against the Sooners (41-22), the Hokies have swung an imaginary sledgehammer, one they aim to use again Sunday.
“They showed you how tough they are, how good they are — again,” Szefc said of his players. “They’ve been showing that for a long time.”