DURHAM, N.C. — Clark Labitan whipped one past Thomas Smith and Virginia Tech, in its cream colored jerseys, rushed to the mound to celebrate.
And with that, the Hokies are heading to the ACC title game. Also with that, Virginia is not.
Sixth-seeded Virginia Tech’s 3-2 win over Georgia Tech on Friday gave the Hokies a 3-0 record in pool play of the ACC Tournament. The third-seeded Cavaliers, 1-1 in this event, are now eliminated from championship contention.
It makes today’s 11 a.m. game against Florida State all but meaningless.
Had the seventh-seeded Yellow Jackets defeated the Hokies, UVa would have advanced to the final with a win over the Seminoles.
However, Virginia Tech’s Chad Pinder made sure that scenario never emerged.
The junior shortstop continued his Durham tear with a fourth inning home run and seventh inning game-winning sacrifice fly.
In this tournament, Pinder is 6-for-11 with eight RBI. He went 3-for-5 with six RBI in Wednesday’s 10-1 rout of the Wahoos.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling and it’s definitely an honor,” Pinder said of making the championship. “We couldn’t be happier with the position we put ourselves in. We just got to keep it rolling.”
Virginia, off Friday, will use today’s game for NCAA Regional prep. It’ll throw Whit Mayberry to the hill.
The junior righty will be making his third start of the season. He’s coming off a performance of one run on five hits at North Carolina last Sunday.
“I was very, very pleased with what we saw out of Whit,” UVa coach Brian O’Connor said in Chapel Hill, “and have a lot of confidence in him moving forward.”
The second-seeded Seminoles are 0-2 in this tournament and might be playing for their national seeding lives today.
A Thursday NCAA Tournament projection by SEBaseball.com had FSU as the seventh, of eight, national seed. The same projection had Virginia as the fifth national seed.
In April, the ‘Hoos swept the Noles at Davenport Field.
“They came in, they played good ball,” UVa center fielder Brandon Downes said Thursday. “We were just on our 'A' game when we were at home. Now, we just got to keep doing the same thing. We got some momentum going. So hopefully, with the off-day, we can all hydrate and recharge our batteries and come out ready to play Florida State.”
For two innings Thursday, Virginia’s game had a Wednesday feel.
Like Virginia Tech had done to them less than 24 hours earlier, the Cavaliers were put in an early hole.
On offense, they were hitless. Pitching-wise, the Yellow Jackets had already tagged Scott Silverstein for four knocks and a run. Were the Wahoos foreshadowing another 10-1 downer?
Nate Irving answered that question by taking the third inning’s first pitch to deep right field for a double. No, this was going to be a different result.
Irving, batting in the eight-spot, kick-started a two-run inning, which was followed by another two-run inning.
Things were back to normal for the ACC’s top lineup.
“That was really big,” said Downes, who led off the sixth with a solo shot to center field. “Lately this year, the bottom of our lineup has really been a spark for us.
“We came on late, but the first two innings were not so great. But someone from the bottom — if it’s Reed [Gragnani] or Nate or anybody from down there — they really just give us a spark, and that was really big.”
Added Nick Howard, who teamed with Kenny Towns for back-to-back home runs in the fourth: “Irving leading that inning off with a double, it’s a momentum game so he definitely gave us some momentum going into the rest of the game.”
Yellow Jacket domination
With his near-complete game gem, Silverstein improved to 9-1 with a 3.07 ERA on Thursday.
In that same performance, he improved to 2-0 with a 1.72 ERA against Georgia Tech in 2013.
The fifth-year senior has simply owned the Yellow Jackets in two meetings this season.
“I’m not really sure,” Silverstein said when asked why he seems to have a distinct edge over the Yellow Jackets. “I know they’re aggressive so I try to mix my pitches and throw them all for strikes. Hopefully, they get themselves out sometimes.”
Although similar by result, Silverstein’s two outings against Georgia Tech this year have seen different ways to success.
On April 13 in Atlanta, the left-hander allowed just a pair of hits and struck out nine over seven innings. Here in Durham, Silverstein scattered 10 hits and recorded six K’s in 8 2/3.
“It’s just pitching to contact and hopefully the ball falls in the fielder’s glove,” Silverstein said. “There’s seven back there and they’re pretty good.”
As he has been when facing the Jackets in 2013.
“If you can hit your spots with three pitches, you’re going to be successful,” said Georgia Tech designated hitter Zane Evans. “At Georgia Tech, when he pitched down there, it’s exactly what he did. And then he did it again here [Thursday].”
Howard bounces back
As a team, UVa made Wednesday’s disappointment a distant memory with the way it pounded Georgia Tech by six runs.
As an individual, Howard had his own 17-hour rally.
The sophomore, playing shortstop in the Virginia Tech rout, had a costly throwing error that triggered the Hokies’ six-run second inning. This came moments after Howard grounded out to leave the bases loaded in the bottom of the first.
A day later, playing third base in the Georgia Tech win, Howard was flawless in the field and went 2-for-4 at the plate with a pair of RBI.
“That’s the great thing about baseball,” Howard said. “You have one bad day and you have the opportunity to go out there and respond the next day. I wanted to do a good job being there with teammates the next day.”