The Virginia Tech baseball team opens its 2011 home season this weekend with a four-game series against Niagara.
The Hokies (3-1) are coming off a 10-0 shutout of USC-Upstate on Tuesday.
Last weekend, a walk-off, pinch-hit home run by Coastal Carolina kept the Hokies from a sweep of the Caravelle Resort Tournament.
“It was pretty tough for everyone to swallow,” said Ronnie Shaban, junior first baseman. “The bus ride, there wasn’t much talk at all. You know it’s tough to swallow when you go six hours without saying a word.”
The two-run shot came with two outs, one at bat after Hokies pitcher Jake Joyce appeared to have struck out Coastal batter K.J. McAllister looking with a full count, only to have the umpire rule the pitch a ball.
“He’s such a competitive kid I don’t worry about that kid losing confidence for a second. If anything, it will motivate him,” said head coach Pete Hughes of Joyce.
The Purple Eagles (0-3) come to Blacksburg looking for their first win of 2011. They were swept at Wichita State last week by a combined score of 28-1.
The Hokies won’t overlook any opponent, however. The days of being a traveling punching bag for more established programs aren’t too far in the rearview mirror.
“You really can’t take anyone lightly at all,” Shaban said. “We’ve seen in the past that we can easily lose games that we’re not supposed to. We’re going to play our best and hopefully come away with four wins this weekend.”
Hughes hopes this weekend will help further solidify his pitching rotation.
Tech entered the season with five pitchers vying for three spots among the normal weekend rotation. With four games this weekend, there will be ample opportunity for any part of the unit to prove themselves.
Joe Mantiply appears to be firmly entrenched in the Friday spot, typically reserved for the staff’s ace. In his first start against Indiana, he lasted seven innings, allowing just two runs on nine hits in the Hokies’ 2-1 win.
Mantiply will start on Friday again, with Marc Zecchino and Patrick Scoggins taking the double-header on Saturday. Eddie Campbell, a true freshman, will make his first career start on Sunday.
The Hokies come into the weekend averaging 7.5 runs per game.
Second baseman Michael Seaborn has had the hottest bat so far this season. He enters the weekend with a .429 batting average and a team-high of eight runs scored (next highest total: four).
Meanwhile, senior shortstop Tim Smalling hopes to break out of an early-season slump this weekend. Smalling is 3-of-17 on the season despite lofty preseason expectations. Also struggling early is Shaban, who is 2-for-15 so far with three strikeouts.
“You don’t start getting caught up with results and stressing when you’re four games in,” Shaban said. “A lot of things can happen in four games. I’m just going to keep working hard and doing the same thing.”
Hughes used a different lineup in each of the first four games, and he’s still trying to get some players in the game. He expects to play outfielder Tyler Horan and first baseman/designated hitter Matt Blow more often this weekend.
One major change Hughes has made is moving former infielder Tony Balisteri to the outfield.
“I’ve put Tony in the outfield to make us a little more athletic there,” Hughes said. “He made one of the best defensive plays I’ve seen an outfielder make in college baseball against Coastal. He looks really good out there.”
Hughes hopes for a good crowd turnout this weekend, as part of a busy weekend for athletics on campus.
“I don’t think our student body understands how talented our team is,” he said.