Lighton (3-2), who came in having won his previous two starts, scattered six hits and did not walk a batter in posting the first VMI complete game shutout since May of 2006. Virginia Tech, who had been ranked as high as No. 24 in the previous week’s national baseball polls before falling out on Monday, never mounted a serious threat against the redshirt freshman. Lighton, in fact, did not allow a runner to reach second base until the eighth inning, when the Hokies put runners at the corners with one out before a double play retired the side.
The gem was the first Keydet (12-15) shutout of Virginia Tech (18-8) since April of 1962, and marked just VMI’s second win ever at English Field, a facility at which the Keydets had previously gone 1-17. It also extended the current run of success for the VMI pitching staff, which has now allowed just one earned run over its past 38 innings of work, dating back to the seventh inning of the March 20 win over Richmond.
Opposite of Lighton, Colin O’Keefe (0-1) took the loss for the home team, as he allowed four runs in just one inning-plus, walking three and surrendering two hits.
The Keydets jumped ahead in the second on the unseasonably cold day in Blacksburg, with first pitch temperature sitting at 37 degrees. Matt Winn led off with a walk, and Brandon Angus followed with a single. Drew Bryan then walked on a 3-2 pitch, loading the bases, and Ray Lopez drove home the game’s first runs with a two-run single, scoring Winn and Angus for a 2-0 Keydet lead.
That ended O’Keefe’s night and brought on Sean Keselica, and Thomas Stallings greeted him with a single. On the play, Keselica was charged with a throwing error that allowed Bryan to score, giving VMI a 3-0 cushion. Jordan Tarsovich promptly doubled home Lopez for a 4-0 lead, Will Connerley singled home another run to make it 5-0 and Rob Dickinson capped the uprising with a sacrifice fly to make it 6-0, Keydets after an inning and a half.
Lighton settled in with the six-run cushion, giving up only individual singles in the second and fifth innings before the Keydets added on in the sixth. Connerley singled with one out, and Dickinson followed with a single of his own to move Connerley to third. Sheldon Shifflett then reached on a fielder’s choice groundout, scoring Connerley, but on the play, Dickinson was safe due to a Hokie throwing error. One out later, Winn singled him home to make it 8-0, VMI, and cap the scoring.
Lighton went on to retire the next six batters he would face, and entered the eighth with the 8-0 lead intact. Chad Pinder led off with a single, however, and Brendon Hayden followed with one of his own. After Hayden was erased on a fielder’s choice, Lighton induced a double play groundball to second baseman Stallings, retiring the side on VMI’s third double play of the evening and extinguishing the last Hokie hopes for a rally.
Offensively, the Keydets had a balanced attack led by four players with two hits, as Connerley, Dickinson, Lopez and Stallings all had two-hit evenings, with Lopez knocking in a team-best two runs. Every Keydet starter reached base via either a hit or walk, as did Red Dowdell, the only reserve to get an at-bat.
Virginia Tech was led by Pinder’s 3 for 3 night while Andrew Rash went 2 for 4, but the rest of the Hokie lineup went just 1 for 23 against Lighton.
“T.J. Lighton was outstanding tonight,” said VMI head coach Marlin Ikenberry. “Our offense did a great job of taking walks early, and then creating the big inning with timely hitting, which Ray Lopez got going with his big two-run single. We did a great job extending the lead late as well, with Matt Winn’s big RBI hit in the sixth.”
VMI baseball will return to action Friday, opening a three-game series with Coastal Carolina at Gray-Minor Stadium. Game time is set for 5 p.m.