For the first time since April 24, 2011, the Virginia Tech men’s baseball team swept an ACC series on the road.
This past weekend, the Hokies (17-5, 4-2 ACC) concluded a spring break road trip, which consisted of three stops across the state of North Carolina, in Durham against the Duke Blue Devils.
“I sent our guys on the road for spring break so we could be tougher, so we could be a better road team,” said Hokies head coach Pete Hughes. “That’s why we were at Charlotte, at Elon, at Duke, because I honestly think you have to be tough to win games on the road in this league. So that’s why we didn’t sit home during spring break and have northern teams come in.”
The team understands the value of conference wins — they missed the postseason by a single game last year — but for Hughes, the series finale win marked a career milestone.
Hughes, who coached at Trinity University and Boston College before coming to Tech, recorded his 500th win as a head coach on Sunday.
“I knew I was at 499 (after Saturday),” Hughes said. “To put it in perspective, you got 500 good players, coaches, support staff and one really good wife to get 500 wins — that’s all it means to me. I was looking for 501 as soon as it was over.”
Andrew Rash, the Hokies senior centerfielder, has been at Tech for five of Hughes’ seven years. Rash remembers when Hughes “wasn’t winning that much,” and has played a large role in the program's rejuvenation.
“His 500th win … means a lot, not only for what he’s done for me, but I look at him as a father figure and as a coach,” Rash said. “It’s unbelievable to be a part of that when he does so much for us on and off the field. As players, we have rewards and accolades everyday, and coaches don’t have that, so to see him get that personally means a lot to us.”
Win No. 501 was a 16-6 bashing of the Liberty Flames on Tuesday, and now, Hughes and the team have turned their attention to the next upcoming ACC weekend series.
The Hokies will play three games against the University of Miami (16-7, 2-4) and look to win their first series in Coral Gables since Hughes came to Blacksburg.
“It will be a good test for us on the road this weekend,” Hughes said. “Since I’ve been here, we haven’t played well at Miami. We’ve played them twice here, and we’ve beaten them twice here, but we’ve got to play better at their place. It’s a tough place to play.”
Rash, who has used his veteran status to take over a leadership role in the dugout, understands the challenges of going on the road in the conference. He also understands the value of it.
“The biggest challenge is going down there and playing in that environment,” Rash said. “When you go on the road in the ACC, it’s a hostile environment, and we know that we have to play our best. They’re always known for the pitching staffs that they have, and I know they have three great weekend starters this year.”
The Hokies have some impressive pitching themselves.
With the return of Joe Mantiply into the weekend rotation, the Hokies weekend starters of Devin Burke, Brad Markey and Mantiply are a combined 8-1 with a 3.10 ERA.
The biggest staff surprise has been Burke, who was slotted for the bullpen at the beginning of the year. He is 5-0 in five starts and has stymied every opponent he has faced, most notably a Georgia Tech lineup that the other Hokies pitchers had no answers for.
Burke, along with the rest of the team, will have to continue performing at a high level to meet Hughes' ever-rising expectations.
“It’s all about the league — I don’t know how many times I can say it,” Hughes said.
“We better win in this league. I’m not sitting home in June with an RPI of 32 or 33 this year.”