No. 23 Virginia Tech Baseball Hosts No. 7 Duke In Pivotal ACC Coastal Series

Brady Kirtner and Virginia Tech have a big task this weekend with Duke coming to town. (Morgan Gay)

Ranked ACC baseball returns to Blacksburg this weekend as No. 23 Virginia Tech hosts No. 7 Duke for a three-game set with massive implications in the Coastal Division.

The Hokies (24-10, 11-7 ACC) and Blue Devils (27-10, 11-7) are tied for second place in the division alongside No. 10 Virginia, which hosts Georgia Tech this week. With four league series remaining this season and both teams looking to boast their tournament résumés, plenty is on the line at English Field.

Despite trailing in the all-time series 32-45, Tech has seen recent success against Duke, including a sweep in Blacksburg in 2022 and a split doubleheader last year before the series finale was canceled due to weather. The Blue Devils wound up in the Charlottesville Super Regional in 2023 — their third Super Regional appearance under head coach Chris Pollard — where they fell in three games to UVa.

As one of the more well-rounded teams in the ACC, Duke is a top-10 team for a reason. Offensively, it ranks in the top five in the conference in average (.285), on-base percentage (.383), runs (130) and walks (88), although it has struck out more than any other team (182). Meanwhile, its pitching staff boasts the lowest opponent avg in ACC play (.234) with a top-five ERA (5.37) and the second-most strikeouts (190) despite giving up the third-most hits (139).

The Duke lineup is spearheaded by hitting machine Ben Miller, who leads the ACC with an astonishing .452 avg while boasting a 1.297 OPS. The graduate transfer from UPenn, who hails from Durham, made the Golden Spikes Midseason Watch List. He ranks second in the league and seventh nationally with a whopping 61 hits and carries a 14-game hitting streak into this series.

Miller is complemented well by a trio of hitters with an OPS over 1.000: Devin Obee, AJ Gracia and Zac Morris. Gracia, a true freshman who was the No. 1 outfield prospect in New Jersey, has slugged eight homers with 38 RBI and ranks fifth in the ACC in walks with 33. Morris, a transfer from VMI, leads the team with 10 homers while Obee has clocked eight of his own with 27 RBI. 

But perhaps the second-hottest Blue Devil bat belongs to senior catcher Alex Stone, who is slashing .474/.545/.842 in his last five games, ballooning his OPS to .868.

The Blue Devils’ rotation is headlined by star lefty Jonathan Santucci, who also worked his way onto the Golden Spikes Midseason Watch List. The potential first-round draft pick has bounced back tremendously from a season-ending elbow injury sustained in 2023, ranking second in the ACC in ERA (2.86) and third in both opposing average (.185) and strikeouts (71). The Hokies have struggled against southpaws this season, and Santucci might be the best one they face all year.

Jonathan Santucci leads a Duke team that has a number of solid arms. (Duke athletics)

The remainder of Duke’s rotation has seen some shuffling, but one certainty is Kyle Johnson getting the nod as the Saturday starter. A two-way freshman out of Leesburg, Va., and the D1Baseball Preseason ACC Freshman of the Year, he’s been money for the Blue Devils this season with a miniscule ERA of 1.93 with 26 strikeouts to nine walks in his 23 ⅓ innings of work. It’ll be the second consecutive weekend that the Hokies face a two-way arm after being mowed down by Georgia Tech’s Cam Jones last Saturday.

Duke also possesses one of the best bullpen arms in the country in Charlie Beilenson, who leads the league in saves with eight (Tech’s Jordan Little is second with five) with a 2.36 ERA to boot. In his second year with the program after transferring from Brown, Beilenson has racked up 50 strikeouts with just 10 walks in his 34 ⅓ innings.

Pitching will be a focal point of this series with Virginia Tech switching up its rotation for the first time this season. After nine weeks of running out Brett Renfrow on Fridays, left-handed reliever Jeremy Neff is getting the nod in the opener with Renfrow moving to Saturday. It’ll be Neff’s second start of the year after opening the Hokies’ second midweek of the year on February 27 at Radford with two solid innings

Though he was shelled two weeks ago in his outing against Wake Forest, Neff provides an arm with plenty of starting experience from his time at Richmond, where he made 28 starts in the last two years with a 5.54 ERA in 126 ⅓ innings.

The change comes after Wyatt Parliament, who was previously Tech’s Saturday selection, started to falter in ACC play, failing to make it out of the second inning in two of his previous three starts. He gave up 10 runs across those outings. 

The Rutgers transfer made his first relief appearance of the year on Tuesday against Radford, where he pitched the ninth inning and topped out at 97 mph with his fastball. Reliever Grant Manning said the team had discussed bringing Parliament in as a closer previously, so it can be expected to see him in a high-leverage spot at some point in this series.

While a Sunday starter hasn’t been announced yet, it’s hard to believe that the Hokies won’t continue to throw Griffin Stieg, who has been arguably their best, most consistent starter in ACC play. 

Having lost five of their last six conference games, including a home sweep at the hands of the Demon Deacons, the Hokies aren’t making these types of changes for no reason. The schedule isn’t getting any easier, and this series could prove as a turning point in their season. 

If the new look in the rotation provides a lift and helps them win their first series in three weeks, it might give them the momentum they need as they continue to fight for an ACC title and the right to host in the NCAA Tournament.

If not, it’ll be right back to the drawing board for Tech, with its season suddenly unraveling.

Times and Streaming Designations:

Friday, April 19: 7 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra
Saturday, April 20: 7 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra
Sunday, April 21: 1 p.m. ET on ACC Network Extra

Projected Pitching Matchups (Duke vs. Virginia Tech):

Friday: LHP Jonathan Santucci (5-0, 2.86 ERA in 44 innings) vs. LHP Jeremy Neff (0-0, 7.43 ERA in 13 ⅓ innings)

Sunday: LHP Kyle Johnson (3-0, 1.93 ERA in 23 ⅓ innings) vs. RHP Brett Renfrow (5-1, 3.75 ERA in 48 innings)

Sunday: RHP David Boisvert (2-0, 1.02 ERA in 17 ⅔ innings) vs. RHP Griffin Stieg (3-2, 4.54 ERA in 41 ⅔ innings)

2 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Why do small, private schools like Duke and Wake have good/great baseball teams? This is almost as puzzling as why the same schools ever beat VT in football.

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