Virginia Tech Baseball vs. Miami
- Friday, Feb 26, 7 PM (ACCNX)
- Saturday, Feb 27, 7 PM (ACCNX)
- Sunday, Feb 28, 1 PM (ACCNX)
Virginia Tech baseball is gearing up for its first ACC series of the season when it travels to Miami this weekend to take on the Hurricanes. With the ACC expanding to 36 conference games this year, the conference schedule begins nearly two weeks earlier than it did last season. The Hurricanes are ranked No. 6 nationally by D1Baseball.com.
“There’s no easing into this,” assistant coach Kurt Elbin said during the team’s weekly media session. “It certainly will be baptism by fire with those young guys. It’s exciting and fun. As long as they control themselves and they handle those emotions and those feelings in their stomachs well, then they’ll be fine. We’ll be fine.”
Miami enters the weekend slate fresh off an opening series performance against preseason No. 1 Florida that sent shockwaves across the college baseball landscape. The Hurricanes lost the opener, but proceeded to win the next two, including a 13-inner thriller on Saturday, to take the series from the Gators in Gainesville.
Meanwhile, Virginia Tech enters the series with a perfect 3-0 record. The Hokies swept Kent State in a Sunday doubleheader before dismantling Radford 22-2 on Tuesday afternoon.
“We’re confident in our abilities, but we also understand that the ACC is different,” Elbin said. “Miami is going to be different than what we’ve played so far. It’s just going to be a challenge. I think our guys are ready for it. If they go down there and play well, then we can compete with anybody. We have to play well, and we understand that. There will be some growing pains with these young guys, not only on the mound but with our hitters, but we’re fully ready to handle those and make sure we coach them as best as we can.”
The biggest adjustment for both teams starting the ACC schedule earlier this year will be figuring who fits into certain roles on the fly. Usually the non-conference games to begin the year are tailor made for figuring out the lineup and what pitchers can be counted upon in late game situations. That won’t be the case for the 2021 season.
“You’re still trying to decide roles,” Elbin said. “Where do guys fit in the lineup, who should be in the lineup, what guys handle left-handers or right-handers well, what guys are good in this role from a pitching perspective? In that regard, we wish we had another two weeks just to decide some roles and let those things play out, but we don’t have that luxury. We’re going to make the best decisions we can as a staff to put guys in positions to succeed and go from there. It is a challenge. Playing two weeks earlier than normal certainly presents a challenge.”
In the opening series against Florida, Miami hit just .229 as a team but managed to put up 23 runs in the three games. Outfielder Christian Del Castillo led the charge, going 4-for-12 from the plate with six RBIs.
For the Hokies, Texas Tech transfer TJ Rumfield has been the key cog in the middle of the lineup. The 6-foot-5, 225-pound first baseman has gone 4-for-12 from the plate through two games. In Tuesday’s triumph over Radford, he belted two home runs, including a grand slam for a total of five RBIs.
“We had our eyes on the transfer portal, and we certainly saw him as an imposing middle of the order bat,” Elbin said. “He didn’t get a ton of opportunities, but in his short stints there at Texas Tech, he showed well and played well.
“He’s a mature hitter for such a young kid who has not had a lot of college at bats. He’s done a really good job inside the strike zone, and I think he’s still figuring [out] who he is as a hitter… He works and he does a really good job of putting himself in good situations at the plate.”
Rumfield’s day at the plate was part of the larger 22-run barrage against the Highlanders. However, that’s not the way the Hokies will typically win games this year. This year’s team is built on athleticism and speed that won’t always need the long ball to get the job done.
The 3-1 opening game of the season against Kent State showcases the point. The Hokies tallied just three hits in that game, but they found a way to win because of the way they were able to manufacture runs. In the first inning alone, Brennan Reback drew a leadoff walk and stole second base. Gavin Cross advanced him to third on a sacrifice fly, and Kevin Madden grounded out up the middle, picking up an RBI.
Virginia Tech intends to be aggressive on the basepaths as they’ve already shown with four stolen bases, looking to find ways to score without even needing the bats to come alive.
“We know that there’s going to be a Friday night or a Saturday night that we might see here in a couple days where we can’t just stand up and hit because the arm is just too good,” Elbin said. “Baseball operates that way. It’s won by good pitching. It’s the toughest thing to do in any professional sport is hit.
“As we’ve gotten better athletes who can run, as we’ve gotten better athletes who can do the short game and take advantage of things outside of just standing and hitting, we’ve preached to the guys to have the ability to score runs without hitting… I’ve enjoyed watching the transformation of our guys positionally, and they’re just able to do a lot more things.”
First pitch on Friday night will take place at 7:00 p.m. from Alex Rodriguez Park at Mark Light Field. Game time temperature is expected to be 76 degrees.
“I wish they were coming up here to be honest with you,” Elbin said with a grin. “I think the whole group would feel that way to get them out of their comfort zone. To actually get on a field and sweat will be fun.”