The collegiate career of two longtime friends and teammates is on its last legs. Virginia Tech’s redshirt senior first baseman Sam Fragale and senior pitcher Connor Coward only have a few more games left to lace up their cleats and head onto the field together, after doing so for many years.
Fragale and Coward are both from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and have grown up together in the Seneca Valley School District since elementary school. In fact, the teammates have always been within spitting distance of each other.
“We’ve always lived anywhere within 30 seconds to five minutes apart,” Fragale said.
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Sports were the lifeblood of the pair. Fragale and Coward played in the same travel baseball organizations growing up, but never on the same team because they were in different age groups. The fondest memories were from the annual turkey bowl football games that all the boys from Seneca Valley joined in on. What initially started as a tackle football game every Thanksgiving quickly turned into a two-hand touch game once the physicality increased and guys started getting injured.
Fragale (born November 1994) and Coward (born in May 1996) finally got that chance to play on the same team at Seneca Valley High School’s varsity squad. The talented pair of teammates each won two WPIAL championships.
“Postseason ball in high school was awesome,” Fragale said. “We were such a tight knit group. Doing stuff together in those runs were so fun.”
After finishing up their senior year in high school a year apart, both Fragale and Coward decided Blacksburg was the best location to continue their baseball careers.
“My sister went to school at Liberty, so I had been to Virginia quite a bit throughout high school and stuff,” Fragale said. “I kind of fell in love with the state. When I came on visits here, I really fell in love with the campus and just the whole atmosphere and the people and just being in the mountains. I wanted to go somewhere south. I thought it would get me away from the weather, but little did I know that Blacksburg is pretty much the same as Pittsburgh. The education too, it’s a great school. Being in the ACC for baseball, that’s the best conference in the country.”
“Similar thing for me,” Coward said. “I wanted to go out of state. I wanted to go relatively far away for school. I never looked into any schools down in Virginia particularly. When some offers were made, I took a couple official visits in the ACC especially. I loved the campus and everything here the most. They just came off a regional the previous year before I committed. I felt like I had the opportunity to play all four years which I thought was important. I didn’t want to just sit around until my junior or senior year and start playing. And I’ve done that. I’m real happy with my decision here.”
Now at Virginia Tech, Fragale and Coward have both had careers they won’t soon forget. Fragale has hit 30 home runs and knocked in 148 RBIs over his four years. The slugger trails only Andrew Rash for the most home runs (42) since Virginia Tech joined the ACC. Coward has started 29 games and struck out 191 batters over his career. Earlier this year, the hard-throwing right-hander struck out a career-high 12 batters against Pittsburgh, tying a Virginia Tech record for most strikeouts in an ACC game.
Through all those moments, it’s the battles against each other that have made the Pittsburgh natives better players.
“You know how many times I’ve faced him pitching throughout high school and stuff,” Fragale said. “That’s the biggest thing honestly. That’s where we make each other better.”
“It was the preseason this year and I threw him ball one and the next pitch he hit off the top of the wall,” Coward said. “People were like, ‘You didn’t seem upset.’ He has played 500 career at bats against me. There’s nothing I can throw him that he doesn’t know.”
Fragale and Coward made those postseason runs together in high school, but the thrill of playing ACC baseball with one another over the past four years is the memories that each will hold onto the most.
“I think competing at such a high level, it just really brings everyone together,” Fragale said. “We’ve been relatively close from childhood anyway. Just being able to both have the same group of friends who compete together for me has been awesome.”
Virginia Tech baseball currently sits with a record of 20-26 (8-16 ACC) with eight regular season games remaining. Right now, the Hokies sit one game back of Virginia for a spot in the ACC Tournament. The duo hopes to make the most of the rest of their season knowing well that the days are winding down.
“Making every day count whether it’s on the baseball field, at practice, or at home with my roommates and teammates,” Coward said. “Whatever it might be, just enjoying every single day because my freshman year I never thought I’d be here, especially this quickly.”
It’s apparent that Fragale and Coward are good friends just by the way they interact with each other. Coward jokes that Fragale wasn’t a power hitter until late in high school and both talk about the friendly rivalry against each other in scrimmages and practices with a beam in their eyes. The Steel City studs are cherishing each moment together on this ride in Blacksburg together and wherever the future may hold.