No. 13 Virginia Tech Baseball Hosts Pitt, Seeks Fourth Straight ACC Series Win

Eddie Micheletti Jr. and Virginia Tech host Pitt on Thursday. (Morgan Gay)

No. 13 Virginia Tech welcomes Pitt to English Field for an unorthodox Thursday-Saturday series this weekend before Easter. 

The Hokies (18-4, 8-1 ACC), who currently sit atop the ACC Coastal with the most wins and longest win streak in the league, are seeking to capture their seventh series in as many weekends this season and continue their program-best start in conference play. With a win, Tech head coach John Szefc will reach 100 career ACC victories.

The Panthers (11-11, 1-8) serve as the antithesis of Tech, currently sitting at the bottom of the Coastal with the fewest wins in the ACC. That’s where they were picked to finish in the preseason poll (17 votes). The Hokies were selected to finish sixth (34 votes), but have shattered expectations early in 2024.

Moreover, while Tech is No. 12 in the NCAA RPI, Pitt clocks in at No. 103. The Hokies are also a projected No. 2 seed in the LSU Regional in Baseball America’s latest NCAA Tournament projection.

In their six years under head coach Mike Bell, the Panthers have struggled, having never finished above fifth in the Coastal and only putting together two winning seasons. The program has never finished above .500 in conference play since it joined the ACC in 2013.

As such, the Hokies have seen success against them under Szefc. Since 2018, Tech is 10-5 against Pitt, with two of those losses coming in close, comeback fashion last season in the Steel City. The all-time series is tied, 23-23-1.

Pitt’s poor 2024 record is a reflection of its anemic offense, which ranks last in the ACC in slugging percentage, runs scored and home runs. The Panthers have hit 25 longballs this season, which is three fewer than Tech’s two, three and four hitters — Carson DeMartini (13), Eddie Micheletti (9) and Chris Cannizzaro (6) — have combined.

The lineup is headlined by junior first baseman Luke Cantwell, a transfer from Fairleigh Dickinson who ranks third in the ACC with a .514 on base percentage and fifth in walks with 23 in addition to leading the team with 18 RBI. Senior center fielder Dom Popa provides some speed at the top of the lineup with eight doubles, good for 11th in the league. Sophomore shortstop Jake Kendro is also making a splash in his first season with the program after transferring from Tennessee, hitting .346 with a 1.015 OPS.

Junior catcher Jayden Melendez — whose brother MJ plays for the Kansas City Royals — paces Pitt in homers with six on the year, while senior second baseman Tyler Bischke — a New Orleans transfer who was First-Team All-Southland in 2023 — leads the way with a .349 avg. 

Like the Hokies, the Panthers have a Division III transfer in the middle of their lineup in catcher/designated hitter Justin Fogel, who led the nation with a .497 avg in 2023 en-route to being a D-III All-American. He’s hitting .300 with two homers and 16 RBI this season.

Their pitching hasn’t made up for the lack of offense. In the ACC, they rank 11th in ERA, 13th in opposing batting average, 13th in strikeouts, last in wins, second in losses and ninth in hits allowed. The Panthers do rank fourth in home runs allowed with 21, which could bode well for them in this matchup, but Tech’s lineup does much more than put the ball in the air.

Friday starter Ryan Andrade, a 2023 Second-Team All-Atlantic 10 arm with Rhode Island, has struggled in his first season at the Power 5 level with an ERA north of 10 and 20 walks to 23 strikeouts. Sophomore Ryan Reed has emerged as a Sunday starter and has been solid with 24 strikeouts, but hasn’t recorded a win yet.

The one remaining member of the 2023 rotation is Jack Sokol, who Tech fared well against last year with seven hits and three runs in his five innings of work. But he struck out nine Hokies in the performance. 

Pitt also returns a key bullpen piece in former Hokie Ethan Firoved — whose older brother, Graham, played in Blacksburg and was recently called up to the Baltimore Orioles. Last year, Tech knocked him around for four runs in a third of an inning, though he’s been much better in 2024, boasting a team-high 25 strikeouts with just six walks in 21 ⅓ innings.

For the Hokies, the only question mark surrounds Gehrig Ebel, who hasn’t played in the team’s last four games while serving a suspension for violating team rules. Szefc was unable to provide an update on a potential return for the catcher, who has excelled at first base in recent weeks.

In his stead, Ethan Gibson and Sam Tackett would continue to share duties, although neither provide the lift with their bats that Ebel does.

Chris Cannizzaro will also be good to go despite leaving Tuesday’s game early. Szefc mentioned the left fielder’s reaggravation of a wrist injury suffered against Stony Brook several times, but he’s only missed time as a precautionary measure. 

With the Hokies’ starting pitching and lineup as hot as they are against a team struggling in both categories, they’re in a solid position to potentially capture another series victory.

Times and TV/Streaming Designations:

Thursday, March 28: 4 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra

Friday, March 29: 4 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra

Saturday, March 30: 4 p.m. ET on ACC Network

Projected Pitching Matchups (Pitt vs. Virginia Tech):

Thursday: RHP Ryan Andrade (0-1, 10.38 ERA in 21 ⅔ innings) vs. RHP Brett Renfrow (4-1, 3.06 ERA in 32 ⅓ innings)

Friday: RHP Jack Sokol (2-2, 6.83 ERA in 29 innings) vs. RHP Wyatt Parliament (3-0, 3.95 ERA in 27 ⅓ innings)

Saturday: LHP Ryan Reed (0-3, 7.83 ERA in 23 innings) vs. RHP Griffin Stieg (3-1, 3.03 ERA in 29 ⅔ innings)

1 Responses You are logged in as Test

Comments are closed.