While the MLB is nearing the Fall Classic with the Cleveland Indians lying in the wait for the Chicago Cubs, the Virginia Tech baseball program is in the middle of their own Fall World Series.
The Fall World Series is the conclusion to the Hokies’ fall season, splitting the squad into Team Virginia, those whose hometown is in Virginia, and Team World, those whose hometown is outside Virginia. The only exceptions are Kit Scheetz (Midlothian, VA) who will play for Team World and Marcus White (Johns Creek, GA) who will play for Team Virginia. Game One of the series was a decisive victory for Team World, 13-2.
“Definitely competitiveness, absolutely,” said head coach Patrick Mason when asked what he was looking for from the two teams. “But yeah, we’re looking for guys to separate themselves. I think at the beginning of the fall you tend to get natural high energy, and then in the middle of the fall you can get a little of a lull. I don’t think we necessarily had too much of that, and now it’s the end of the fall. We separated our guys into teams where we thought there would be a good rivalry and some bragging rights on the line. Just see who’s going to compete, and see who’s going to perform, and see who’s going to finish the fall practice season the right way.”
The performance of redshirt junior Nick Anderson on the mound was instrumental to Team World’s win. Anderson started on the bump and fired four innings with four strikeouts and one earned run.
“I thought he [Anderson] got better as the game went on,” Mason said. “I think in the first inning he kind of felt his way into the outing a little bit. That’s an arm that we had available last year, but it took him a little longer, he had Tommy John surgery two years ago. You never know how soon guys are going to get back to themselves. He looked tonight like he did two years ago, two years ago before his injury, that’s how Nick threw. I thought he battled through those early struggles. They weren’t necessarily struggles, just lack of sharpness. Then he settled in and threw the ball really well, I thought he got ahead of guys, he worked quick, all his stuff was working, his cutter was working. We’re really happy with how he threw.”
“It felt great,” said Anderson. “That’s what the fall is all about, just trying to build velocity, build arm strength. It’s a competitive environment especially with the Fall World Series, and it’s great to just go out there to trust your D[efense] and be able to execute your pitches. The change-up was definitely working well today. I definitely felt I could throw it when I was behind in the count and ahead. I just really trusted it, especially with a good defense behind me, you know you can really just let it go and whatever happens, happens.”
While Anderson’s presence on the mound could certainly be an x-factor for the Hokies moving forward, it’s his pop in the middle of the lineup that provided the biggest boost last year. Last season, Anderson led the team with a .339 average, belting four home runs and 30 RBIs mainly as a designated hitter and outfielder. Anderson helped his own cause on the night, going 3-7 from the plate with a triple and three RBIs. His versatility to play so many different roles is a rare commodity that Mason relishes.
“It’s invaluable,” explained Mason. “It’s like having two legitimate, bona fide players in one person. Clearly he has a chance to be a very special player, an invaluable player. Similar to someone like Sean Keselica two years ago who was a rotation arm and a four/five hole hitter for us in the lineup. What it means is that if he keeps pitching like that, we’re going to have to figure the best thing for him defensively. Obviously he’s going to be a middle of the order lineup guy for us. He proved that last year.”
The production of senior Ryan Tufts atop the lineup for Team World was also vital in the victory. Tufts went 4-7 from the dish, smacking four doubles for three RBIs. Tufts appears headed for a standout senior season following a junior year where he started all 55 games at shortstop and batted .284.
“Over the past couple of weeks, me and Coach [Ryan] Connolly have just been working on stuff in the cage every day,” Tufts said. “Just kind of freeing up my swing. Not being locked in, just loosening everything up and letting the barrel fly. Today I just got some good pitches to hit, put the barrel of the bat on the ball, and made good things happen.”
As one of five seniors on the team, Tufts brings so much more than just a reliable glove up the middle and quick bat to set the table at the top of the lineup. Tufts work ethic and approach to the game has stood out more than anything to Mason.
“That’s who Ryan is,” Mason said. “What you saw tonight, it doesn’t matter, he plays that way all through the season or if it’s Tuesday night in the fall. That’s the way he approaches practice, that’s the way he approaches every game. The four doubles tonight, he wants to win. No matter what he is doing he wants to win. As a senior who has been part of a couple mediocre seasons, he’s the type of kid who does not want his career to end on terms that it was last year. He’s played a ton of innings, three-year starter for us; he’s got a ton of experience.
“The moment won’t ever be too big for him. At any moment, whether it’s guys who have played with him or the younger guys, if they can turn their attention to a guy like him or Sam [Fragale] and watch how they approach every pitch of the game. They do it with as much energy and effort as they have in there. They never take a pitch off, so you couple that with his experience and you hope that he has the success that he’s worked so hard to achieve.”
Game two of the Fall World Series will start Tuesday night at 7 p.m. with Team World looking to start right where they left off, while Team Virginia hopes to avenge the early woes of game one.
Before the raucous environment of the Thursday night football game at Lane stadium, Virginia Tech President Dr. Timothy Sands, Director of Athletics Whit Babcock, and Union Bank CEO Billy Beale broke ground on English Field at Union Park to commence the beginning of the $18 million project to renovate the stadium and surrounding facilities. The project is expected to be completed before the start of the 2018 season.
“Obviously they’re excited because it’s a tremendous facility,” explained Mason. “Anytime you can play in a facility like that there’s some excitement. I think the bigger excitement is just the commitment to the program. We sell that vision as best we can recruiting wise. Now it matches up with what we’re telling recruits, talking to our recruits about, telling our players about. The work these guys put in, they work really hard, it just makes you feel like your hard day’s work is appreciated.”