No. 16 Virginia Tech Baseball Looks To Get Back On Track At Georgia Tech

Ben Watson and Virginia Tech are back on the road at Georgia Tech this weekend. (Morgan Gay)

Coming off its first series loss of the season, No. 16 Virginia Tech baseball is back on the road for the first time in three weeks for a three-game set against Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

The Hokies (21-8, 10-5 ACC) have yet to lose a road series this season, but face an interesting challenge against a Yellow Jackets (20-11, 5-7) squad that was swept in its most recent home series against Boston College and was outscored by 18 runs.

Georgia Tech, which missed the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four seasons last year, currently sits at fifth in the Coastal, which is exactly where it was picked to finish in the preseason poll (40 votes). In its 30 previous years under head coach Danny Hall, the four-time ACC Coach of the Year, it went to the College World Series three times, finishing as the national runner-up in 1994.

Though this Jackets team is in the middle of the pack in the conference, it possesses one of the country’s best young talents in true freshman center fielder Drew Burruss. The former top outfield prospect in the state of Georgia has been sensational as a rookie, leading the ACC in homers with 15 while ranking second in slugging percentage at .846. 

He’s also top-20 in RBI (40), batting average (.368), on base percentage (.490), hits (43) and walks (28). On February 27 against Georgia State, he raked four homers — the most by any ACC player this season.

Burruss’ excellence has helped Georgia Tech rise to second in the league in on base percentage (.425) and walks (209), but it’s not necessarily a one-man show. Left fielder Trey Yunger, a graduate transfer from Wofford, has a .369 batting average that leads the team and ranks 13th in the conference. NC State transfer shortstop Payton Green and Indiana transfer catcher Matthew Ellis have complemented Burruss’ slugging with seven home runs each, representing the team’s only two other players with an OPS over 1.000. 

The Jackets’ most fascinating player is freshman two-way first baseman Cam Jones. He’s the team’s third best bat (.314) with two home runs and 17 RBI, but has also made 10 pitching appearances with a 5.14 ERA and 18 strikeouts, including a 4 ⅓ inning start last week in which he gave up two runs. He ranks fourth in the ACC in stolen bases with 17 while also clocking in at sixth with three saves out of the bullpen.

Jones provides an interesting element to Georgia Tech’s pitching staff, which has seen some ups and downs this season. Its best starter has been junior righty Aeden Finateri, who is top-11 in the ACC in ERA (3.89), opposing batting avg (.235) and strikeouts (43).

Friday will be the first time Virginia Tech has played on a dirt field this season. (Georgia Tech athletics)

Logan McGuire and Carson Ballard have made seven and six starts, respectively, but they aren’t necessarily rounding out the team’s rotation on any given weekend as five other arms have made starts this season. That includes Jones and true freshman Tate McKee, who started on Sunday against Pitt and tossed five innings of one-run ball.

With Jones and McKee delivering solid outings in each of their previous starts, they could get continued nods as weekend starters, but the Jackets seem to have plenty of options to follow Finateri.

Regardless of who starts on the bump for GT, Virginia Tech’s bats will need to put forward a much better effort than they did against Wake Forest last weekend, but they won’t be up against three potential MLB arms.

Although they still rank fifth nationally in slugging percentage, the Hokies have hit just one home run in their last five games, which is uncharacteristic, so they might place an added emphasis on putting the ball in the air. The lineup already showed an ability to turn a 180 with its plate discipline, walking 14 times in its 13-3 midweek win over Liberty after striking out 38 times against Wake, so that’s positive momentum in that regard. 

On the flip side, VT’s own pitching will need to shake off the struggles it saw against the Deacs. It’s already difficult to win series in the ACC, and it’s made even tougher when starting pitching isn’t up to par. Virginia Tech is 8-3 on the road so far this season and has found consistency on the mound. If it’s sound in that regard in Atlanta, it will go a long way.

It’ll be an interesting matchup at Russ Chandler Stadium, which will be the first time the Hokies play on a dirt infield this season. If they return to the form that they displayed through their first four ACC series, they can certainly get back to their winning ways, which would be a great display of composure if they can rebound from their lone series loss of the season.

Times and Streaming Designations:

Friday, April 12: 6 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra
Saturday, April 13: 4 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra
Sunday, April 14: 1 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra

Projected Pitching Matchups (Virginia Tech vs. Georgia Tech):

Friday: Brett Renfrow (4-1, 4.07 ERA in 42 innings) vs. Aeden Finateri (4-0, 3.89 ERA in 39 ⅓ innings

Saturday: Wyatt Parliament (3-2, 5.61 ERA in 33 ⅔ innings) vs. Cam Jones (1-1, 5.14 ERA in 21 innings)

Sunday: Griffin Stieg (3-2, 4.58 in 37 ⅓ innings) vs. Tate McKee (3-3, 4.03 ERA in 22 ⅓ innings)