LYNCHBURG, Va. – The day might not have started off well for Johnny Morales, but the Virginia Tech third baseman finished it off in dramatic fashion to help the Hokies to a 9-6 victory in 10 innings over Liberty in non-conference action at Worthington Stadium Tuesday afternoon.
In Morales’ first at-bat of the day in the top of the first, he grounded out to third, but tweaked his ankle on the first-base bag and gingerly took the field in the bottom of the first.
He played a flawless third base, with three putouts and two assists, and helped start one of two Hokies’ double plays, a key turning point in the ballgame in the bottom of the seventh, which kept Liberty ahead by just four at 6-2.
Tim Smalling was responsible for the first two Hokie runs, singling and scoring on a RBI single by Chad Morgan in the second and hitting his fifth home run of the year to lead-off the fourth. The home run was the 200th hit of Smalling's collegiate career - which includes two years at Arkansas.
However, Liberty (12-10) plated five runs in the second as the Flames sent 11 men to the plate. It was on four hits – all singles – three walks and one hit batsman. In all, they had 10 hits, all singles and scored just one unearned run the rest of the way.
So, after Morales’ double play, the Hokies offense came alive in the top of the eight, as they batted around. With two outs, Micheal Seaborn and Chad Pinder each singled before Morgan launched his first home run of the season to pull the team to within one at 6-5.
Tech (13-10) wasn’t done, as pinch hitter Matt Blow drew a walk and was replaced by pinch runner Zac MacAneney. Pinch hitter Jake Atwell singled and Tony Balisteri followed with an RBI single to tie the game at 6-6. However, Morales would ground out to end the frame.
The Hokies bullpen, which threw 8 1/3 innings and allowed just one unearned run, closed out the ninth with no harm, but had a scare. With two outs, Casey Rasmus drew a walk, which brought in Jake Joyce.
On the first pitch, Rasmus stole second and the throw glanced off his helmet and into center field allowing the potential winning run move to third. Joyce got Justin Sizemore to fly out to center to force the Hokies first extra inning game of the year.
In the top of the 10th, Pinder drew a walk, Morgan was hit by a pitch and MacAneney sacrificed the pair into scoring position. Atwell was intentionally walked to load the bases before Flame reliever J.J. McLeod struck out Balisteri.
So, ailing with a sore ankle and hitless in five at-bats, Morales stepped into the box. The first pitch was a called strike and he was down 0-2 after fouling off the second pitch. He fouled off four more pitches before McLeod threw a ball wide. The next pitch Morales laced over the left fielder’s head and off the wall for a three-run double, giving the Hokies a 9-6 lead.
Joyce finished the game with a perfect ninth, ending the game with a called strike three. He improved to 1-2 with the win, while McLeod lost his first decision.
Tech will now head north to face Boston College in a three-game ACC series. More information on this series will be released later this evening.
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