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The Hokies used their three best starting pitchers to advance to Sunday's ACC championship game.
MATT GENTRY | The Roanoke Times
Jake Joyce, Timesland’s 2009 player of the year, is 7-1 with a 3.58 ERA and three saves for the Hokies (38-19) this season
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Jake Joyce once helped Carlisle win a Virginia Independent Conference title.
Today, he might help Virginia Tech win an ACC crown.
The Collinsville native is one of the top relievers for the Hokies, who will play in the title game of the ACC baseball tournament at 1 p.m. today in Durham, N.C.
“It’s been a dream to come into this conference and get to the championship game,” Joyce said Saturday in a phone interview from Durham. “It’s going to be fun.”
Joyce, whose team was idle Saturday, is 7-1 with a 3.58 ERA and three saves in 55 1⁄3 innings for the Hokies (38-19) this season.
Tech coach Pete Hughes said he will “absolutely” use Joyce in the ACC final, either in relief or as the starter. Joyce, a senior right-hander, has never started in his Tech career. But the Hokies have already used their top three starting pitchers to advance to the title game.
Joyce, the 2009 Timesland player of the year, has been a versatile asset for Tech this season. Sometimes he has come out of the bullpen for three or four innings of work. At other times, he has been the setup man for closer Clark Labitan . Joyce also has closed out some games himself.
He ranks second on the 21st-ranked Hokies in both wins and saves and ranks fourth in innings . He has struck out 50 batters and has walked 29.
“He’s been just invaluable,” Hughes said. “That’s a guy we use three, sometimes four times a week. A lot of guys can’t bounce back after throwing 30 pitches one day and feel good enough to pitch the next day. He can. He’s got a rubber arm.”
Joyce doesn’t have as many saves as Labitan, who has 10 this year, but the two share the team lead in appearances (28).
They also have the same hairstyle. Joyce has sported a mohawk since last month. Labitan already had one, and asked Joyce to copy his hairstyle as a graduation present for Labitan.
Joyce began his high school career at Bassett, earning 2008 All-Timesland second-team honors as a junior before transferring to Carlisle. Because he has an August birthday, he was younger than his Bassett classmates. So Joyce’s parents figured he would benefit athletically from five years of high school instead of four. The original plan was for him to spend two years at Carlisle — a private school in Martinsville — including the repetition of his junior year.
Virginia Tech offered him a partial scholarship in the fall of 2008. He pitched so well for Carlisle in the spring of 2009, thanks to improved velocity, that Hughes figured Joyce did not need a fifth year of high school ball. Joyce was in good shape academically, so he wound up graduating from high school in 2009 after all, after just one year at Carlisle.
He helped Carlisle win the VIC regular-season title and advance to the Virginia Independent Schools Division III state final. Joyce went 8-2 with 162 strikeouts and a 0.19 ERA, and also hit .578 with nine homers and 41 RBIs.
Joyce had a 5.68 ERA as a Tech freshman, when he capped his season by pitching in the 2010 NCAA tournament. He recorded three saves as a sophomore, but he had a 6.03 ERA.
He improved his mechanics last year, lowering his ERA to 3.63 and cutting his number of walks in half.
“Earlier in my career, I was more of a thrower than a pitcher,” said Joyce, who plans to graduate in December. “I had a really lengthy stride. I shortened it up a lot [last year] … and that helped me get in the strike zone a lot better.”
Joyce said he throws his fastball 92-94 mph. But he considers his best pitch to be his slider.
He was not chosen in the major league draft last June, but he got a chance to impress pro scouts last summer in the Cape Cod League, the nation’s most prestigious summer circuit for college players. He had a 3.38 ERA and tied for second in the league with six saves.
Hughes expects Joyce to be drafted next month.
Joyce could become the second ACC champ on his family tree. His mother is a first cousin of Bryan Stinespring, who has helped the Tech football team win league titles as an assistant coach.
Virginia Tech has gotten great starting pitching during its 3-0 run in pool play, so Joyce has a fresh arm for today. He has not pitched since the final inning of Tech’s tournament opener, a 10-1 rout of UVa.
The Hokies will no doubt move on to the NCAA tournament no matter what happens today, but they would relish the chance to enter the NCAAs as ACC champions.
“We came into the tournament knowing we had the team to win it,” Joyce said. “Winning the ACC championship would be a dream come true.”
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