No. 11 Virginia Tech Baseball Hosts No. 21 Wake Forest For First True ACC Test

Wyatt Parliament and the Virginia Tech arms will have to be strong against Wake Forest. (Morgan Gay)

No. 11 Virginia Tech baseball’s litmus test has arrived as No. 21 Wake Forest comes to Blacksburg for a three-game weekend set. It’s the first ranked series for Tech since late in the 2022 regular season.

The Hokies (21-5, 10-2 ACC) and Demon Deacons (18-10, 4-8) met last year in Winston-Salem when Wake was the nation’s top-ranked team, where Tech stole a win but still lost the series. Wake Forest leads the all-time series, 52-45-3, though the teams have split the eight games they’ve played in John Szefc’s tenure at Tech.

Later in 2023, Wake Forest won the ACC regular season title for the first time since 1963, going 22-7 in conference play, and served as the No. 1 seed in the College World Series before losing a nail-biter in the semifinals to No. 5 LSU — the eventual national champion.

Though they’ve seen early struggles this season, the Deacs are far and away the toughest, most talented team the Hokies have seen thus far. They were the unanimous preseason No. 1 team in the country and overwhelming favorite to win the ACC, receiving 10 of the 14 votes in the coaches poll. Their poor ACC record is more of a reflection of their difficult schedule, which included series against No. 9 Duke, No. 10 North Carolina and No. 15 Virginia and a road midweek at No. 20 Coastal Carolina.

While they’ve stumbled out of the gates in 2024, it’s very easy to see why the Deacs received such praise. They boast five of MLB’s top-31 draft prospects, highlighted by Preseason National and ACC Player of the Year Nick Kurtz (No. 2) and Pitcher of the Year Chase Burns (No. 16).

Burns, a transfer from Tennessee who D1Baseball ranks as the second-best pitcher in the nation, has been one of the top starters in the league this season. He boasts a 2.89 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP with 82 strikeouts — a figure which leads the ACC and is top-five nationally — and just 12 walks. Opposing batters are hitting just .183 against him, better than all but three other arms in the league. 

After leading the country with 14.3 strikeouts per nine innings a year ago, he has risen to an amazing 16.9 K/9 in 2024. While he can touch 102 mph with his fastball, his money pitch is his 70-grade upper-80s slider, which had an incredible 61 percent whiff rate in 2023.

Wake Forest has become a pitching factory — each of its three weekend starters in 2023 were selected in the first three rounds of the MLB Draft, including seventh-overall pick Rhett Lowder — so Burns is complemented well in the rotation by Josh Hartle, a preseason Perfect Game First Team All-American, and Michael Massey.

Chase Burns is terrific for the Demon Deacons. He’ll pose the greatest challenge yet this season for Virginia Tech. (Wake Forest athletics)

Though Hartle has struggled this season with a 6.68 ERA and 33 strikeouts in 33 ⅔ innings, he has the talent and ability to throw strikes at will, punching out 140 batters last season. Massey has emerged a solid option on Sundays for the Deacs with his miniscule 1.35 ERA in 20 innings. His WHIP of 1.00 with 32 strikeouts gives Wake a reliable arm to win potential rubber matches.

An important note on Wake Forest’s bullpen is the massive addition of Cole Roland, arguably its best relief arm, who is expected to make his season debut this weekend in Blacksburg. He dealt with a stress fracture in his forearm that kept him out of winter and spring ball. In 2023, he had a 2.15 ERA in 29 ⅓ IP with 50 strikeouts.

Offensively, Wake’s star power hasn’t translated into on-the-field success. In the ACC, it holds the second-lowest batting average (.279), fifth-lowest slugging percentage (.507), fourth-lowest on base percentage (.407) and fourth-fewest hits (266). That has been one of the key reasons for its poor start to league play — most recently, it was swept at home by UNC. Still, the talent speaks for itself.

Like Burns, Kurtz is the proverbial silver medalist at his position, according to D1Baseball. The potential No. 1 pick in the 2024 MLB Draft might not be lighting up the box score as much as expected, hitting just .247 with six home runs and 17 RBI in his 22 games of action. Still, he has walked 30 times, which ranks third in the ACC, and is always a threat to do damage with his bat.

Another key offensive contributor is outfielder Seaver King, a transfer from D-II Wingate who is a top-10 MLB Draft prospect. After winning MVP honors in the Valley League with Virginia’s own Harrisonburg Turks and holding a ridiculous 47-game hit streak across 2022 and 2023 with the Bulldogs, King has made the jump to the highest level and has played very well. A solid contact bat with good speed, he’s hitting .301 with seven home runs and 29 RBI.

Perhaps unexpectedly, the Deacs’ lineup has been anchored by third baseman Adam Tellier and outfielder Jack Winnay. A transfer from Ball State, Tellier ranks in the ACC’s top-20 in average, hits, home runs and steals; Winnay leads the team in home runs with 11 and is fifth in the conference in slugging percentage at .747.

It might sound boring and cliché, but with the abundance of talent in both lineups, this series will come down to pitching. Both staffs have seen their ups and downs — Wake just allowed double-digit runs in all three games against the Tar Heels and Wyatt Parliament gave up six runs in an inning on Friday against Pitt. English Field is far more pitcher-friendly than David F. Couch Ballpark in Winston-Salem, which is 300 feet down both lines, and temperatures will be in the high-30s on Friday and Saturday night, so this could be a spot for the Deacs’ arms to thrive.

As such, if Tech wants to win this series, its bats will need to return to form. After a sleepy week where they averaged 4.2 runs per game, the offense has to put up better numbers against perhaps the most talented set of arms it’ll face all season. The good news for the Hokies is that they’re 13-2 at home this year while Wake is just 3-4 on the road. 

They haven’t faced this level of competition yet, however. This is the true benchmark test for this Virginia Tech squad. Is this truly a first-place team that can compete for a league title or are the naysayers that point to Tech’s weaker schedule right?

A series win would go a long way towards hosting an NCAA Regional, but perhaps more importantly, could give this team the confidence it might need as the schedule really ramps up.

Times and Television/Streaming Designations:

Friday, April 5: 7 p.m. ET on ACC Network

Saturday, April 6: 7 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra

Sunday, April 7: 1 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra

Projected Pitching Matchups (Wake Forest vs. Virginia Tech):

Friday: RHP Chase Burns (5-1, 2.89 ERA in 43 ⅔ innings) vs. RHP Brett Renfrow (4-1, 3.26 ERA in 38 ⅔ innings)

Saturday: LHP Josh Hartle (4-1, 5.58 ERA in 33 ⅔ innings) vs. RHP Wyatt Parliament (3-1, 5.59 ERA in 29 innings)

Sunday: RHP Michael Massey (2-1, 1.35 ERA in 20 innings) vs. RHP Griffin Stieg (3-1, 3.60 ERA in 35 innings)

6 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Couple whiney points….
    We “stole” a win last year? Remember, we held multi-run leads in every game in that series…. Perhaps the thievery belonged to Wake. We were in that series the entire way against the #1 team in the country….

    Yes, Wake will be the most talented team that we’ve seen thus far in our ACC scheduling but they are not our first test. Our first test was to match expectations and win the first 4 ACC series…..where nothing is easy. 10-2 receives an A from me…..that was the first test.

    Kills me to not be there this weekend as duty and patients call….. Hoping English Field is ROWDY on these cold spring eves!

    1. Yeah, I was gonna say, Tech truly should’ve won the series last year when it was all said and done. That BC series this year was no joke — low temps, clawed out with a sweep. Tough to sweep any ACC opponent – even if they only have a few wins.

      Nonetheless, great preview, Raza!

      Let’s go Hokies! Hope to see you at a home series later this season, Gobbler.

  2. Definitely getting into the hardest part of the ACC schedule. Hope we can avoid any sweeps.

  3. These games would have been a lot more interesting and fun if they were played in the daytime when the temperature is above freezing. Guess the programming gurus at ESPN have never been to Blacksburg in early April (more likely, just don’t care).

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