Virginia Tech baseball has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2013.
Fourth-year head coach John Szefc believes that can soon change.
“There’s a lot to like,” the former Maryland head coach said in a phone interview, referring to his team. “The player personnel is probably about as good as we’ve had as far as the talent level, and as far as the experience level.”
Although picked sixth out of seven teams in the ACC Coastal, there’s lots of reasons to be excited about the Hokies in 2021.
Szefc mentioned that his fifth-year seniors that returned after the 2020 season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said they have been a big boost to the program. That list includes outfielder Tanner Thomas, right-handed pitcher Jaison Heard, and left-handed hurler Peyton Alford.
“There’s a lot of experience that returns,” Szefc pointed out.
That list is highlighted by infielders Nick Biddison and Kevin Madden, as well as star left-handed pitcher Chris Gerard. All three guys have the potential to eventually be drafted in the earlier rounds of the Major League Baseball Draft.
The Hokies had two players selected in the five-round 2020 MLB Draft. Starting pitcher Ian Seymour went to the Tampa Bay Rays in the second round, followed by catcher Carson Taylor going to the World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers in the fourth round.
Those guys are both tough losses for Virginia Tech. But Szefc isn’t blinking an eye when it comes to this year’s team.
“We have experience, but we’re also very young,” Szefc said. “What I mean by that is we have sophomores that are kind of regular guys last year.”
Who To Watch Out For
He mentioned guys like shortstop Fritz Genther, who started 15 of 16 games there as a true freshman last season, as well as catcher Cade Hunter, who is set to be Taylor’s replacement behind the plate.
Outfielder/pitcher Gavin Cross is another sophomore Szefc mentioned. The Bristol, Tenn. native started all 16 games for Virginia Tech last season, and ended up being named a 2020 Freshman All-American following the Hokies’ 11-5 start. That’s a nice young core for Virginia Tech.
The head man noted that every team in the league will have to deal with this. But the amount will be determined based on returning talent and experience.
“That’ll be good for the league, I think,” he said. “It’ll just be the most challenging schedule I’ve ever coached in college baseball. With 36 league games, and just dealing with the ups and downs of COVID and weather.
“But I can’t complain,” Szefc continued. “We’re in a lot better place then we could be in this stage of the game. All our guys are healthy. We haven’t had any positive COVID tests since we got back to school in January. So we’re about as prepared as we could be at this point.”
The Hokies will open up their season this Sunday in a doubleheader starting at 11 a.m. ET against Kent State at English Field at Union Park. But they also get to host quite a few big names in the ACC in Blacksburg this season. That list includes North Carolina, Florida State, Boston College, Georgia Tech, Virginia, and Notre Dame.
Szefc called this a “challenging schedule” for Virginia Tech.
“It’s a good schedule obviously,” he said. “Those guys are all good.
“There’s no pushovers; there’s no easy games,” he said. “You’re going to be constantly challenged in this league. It’s going to be a battle to keep our guys playing their best for 36 games. Keeping them healthy, and hopefully having some luck avoiding some COVID issues. There’s going to be a lot that goes into this season that maybe the casual fan doesn’t see.”
Szefc said he’s just taking this season “day by day,” trying to keep his team prepared and healthy every single day.
“We’re always going to play against a good opponent,” he mentioned. “(We) always have to be ready to go, and be prepared. Because if we’re not, someone’s going to eat our lunch that day.”
The Diamond Awaits
Although results can’t be promised, Szefc said that “you’re going to get a lot of effort out of our guys.
“They’re going to show up every day and give it all that got.”
He then said of his team that, “I think we’re going to be in a pretty good place to be competitive in this league and represent the University well.
“It’s taken a while to get our personnel right,” he said. “Every bit of the three years. I think we would’ve been in a good spot last year had we played the season. But hopefully we can pick up where we left off last year on March 12 and kick it in gear pretty quickly. That’s the plan at least.
“I think you’re going to see an aggressive group of guys that are eager to get to play,” he added.
What Else To Know
Although picked next-to-last in the Coastal division, is it realistic to think this Hokies team can get back to the NCAA Tournament? Absolutely.
The weekend rotation is set with two of D1Baseball’s top 150 starters in Gerard (1-1, 1.57 ERA in 2020) and Anthony Simonelli (2-1, 2.95 ERA in 2020). Add Peyton Alford (1-0, 3.12 ERA in 2020) or Ryan Okuda (2-0, 4.60 ERA in 2020) to that duo, and Virginia Tech has a nice 1-2-3 going on the weekend.
The outfield is strong – Tanner Thomas (.286, 0 HRs, 5 RBIs in 2020) in left field, Biddison (.344, 2 HRs, 6 RBIs in 2020) in center field, and Cross (.369, 0 HRs, 8 RBIs in 2020) in right field round out a list of good hitters that’ll roam the gaps for the Hokies.
Biddison is the one we’re a little unsure of in center. The Glen Allen native can play pretty much anywhere for Virginia Tech. So it wouldn’t be surprising to actually see him at second base, where he spent the majority of his time last season.
More Familiar Faces
The left side of the infield is also extremely talented for the Hokies with Madden (.250, 3 HRs, 15 RBIs in 2020) manning third base, and Genther (.260, 1 HR, 5 RBIs in 2020) at shortstop for Virginia Tech.
The bullpen has some talent as well. Jason Heard (0-1, 2.16 ERA in 2020) may very well be the closer for the Hokies. Henry Weycker (0-0, 1.13 ERA in 2020), and Matthew Siverling (0-1, 4.15 ERA in 2020) may also have big roles in the ‘pen for Virginia Tech. Watch for The Citadel transfer Shane Connoly (3-1, 3.29 ERA in 2020) to have some sort of role on the pitching staff for the Hokies.
So overall, it could be a very solid year in Blacksburg as well as a momentum builder for the program in year No. 4 of the John Szefc era.
Opening day is Sunday. Virginia Tech is set to host the Kent State Golden Flashes, a team picked second in the MAC, in a doubleheader inside English Field at Union Park.
First pitch of the first game will be thrown at 11 a.m. ET and will be streamed on the ACC Network Extra.