By Matt Jones, sports editor
Virginia Tech baseball has their season opener Friday at the Kennesaw State Tournament against Bradley. Head coach Pete Hughes discussed all areas of his team earlier this evening after practice.
Right now, the starting lineup will look like this for Friday:
*Gabe Ortiz/Brendon Hayden 1B
Alex Perez 2B
Johnny Morales SS
Chad Pinder 3B
Chad Morgan C
Andrew Rash LF
Jake Atwell CF
Tyler Horan RF
**Ronnie Shaban DH
*Could change depending on a right-handed or left-handed starting pitcher.
**Has been laid-up with a hamstring injury lately. If healthy, will play first base.
On if he thinks the team is ready for Friday: “I do. I really like our team. Any time you have as much leadership back and seniors, you really feel good about the way you’re going to start because those guys have kind of been there before and they set the tone for your whole team.”
On the leadership in the clubhouse: “I hate to put tags on my career, but as far as overall leadership in our clubhouse, this has got to be one of the top teams I’ve ever coached. We’ve just got so much…we’ve got a great senior core, and guys that have a wealth of experience come back. They’re committed to winning and doing things right and holding each other accountable.”
On what he’s worried about a few days out from the season: “Any time you lose your middle infield in Seaborn and Smalling, you worry a little bit. I think we’ll be young at a couple spots in our infield, but Johnny Morales is so good and he’s such a good leader, he’ll be able to ease the nerves and settle down the Alex Perez and Brendon Hayden guys that are going to be starting.”
On Ronnie Shaban: “I think he’s one of the most-talented two-way guys in the country. He’s hit in the middle of our lineup since he was a freshman, and we’ve got to get him on the mound more because that’s a really, really good arm. That’s what we plan on doing this year, but he’s been slowed down with that hamstring. We’ve been stretching him out, and he wanted to win the third starter spot, and that’s detracted him from that. We look to get him on the mound this week, we’ll be real careful.”
On any other injuries to report: “Chad Morgan has a little strain in his oblique that’s shut him down for about two and half weeks, but he’s gotten healthy.”
On the starting rotation: “Our first four starters will be Joe Mantiply, Manny Martir, Patrick Scoggin who’s been outstanding in this preseason, and Mark Zecchino. We’ve got Mantiply and Zecchino back for the weekend. I think we’re second in the league in returned starts and second in returned appearances. When you have that experience coming back, you feel good about your pitching staff. We’re deep; we’ve got kids that are competitive. We had about seven guys fighting for that third slot. When you have that, it’s competitive every day, but it also tells you you’re a deep program.”
On the bullpen: “Clark Labitan, a kid that pitched for us a lot, coming back from a labrum surgery that sidetracked him last year has been a nice surprise. Jake Atwell has been very good from the left side. Then you’ve got all the other guys; (Andrew) Aizenstadt and (Jake) Joyce, Tanner McIntyre a junior college transfer who’s been very good, and Collin O’Keefe. Collin’s a wild card. He does have the best stuff on our team; he’s getting back in the zone with his command. He’s been the surprise of the preseason. I forgot about Eddie Campbell, he’s got ACC stuff. He’s got four pitches, and he’s going to be a weapon whether it’s out of the rotation or out of the pen.”
On Aizenstadt: “He’s a four-pitch guy and he’s got command. He’s mature; he’s been around it. Just to have a kid that’s a fifth year senior, that age, that level of maturity, he’s in the MBA program, really helps your clubhouse and team. He’s also very talented, he’s got four pitches for strikes and we look for him to make that adjustment from Division III baseball to the ACC a pretty seamless one, and he’s on track to doing that.”
On the new turf field that was installed this offseason: “Developmentally it’s a game changer. We don’t miss practice, we’re on it, we don’t worry about moisture, tarps, thaw, anything. It gets us out here every day, so developmentally we’re ahead of where we were in the past six years because of this surface. To the people that come out and watch, it plays completely natural.”
On Tanner McIntyre: “Tanner’s good, he’s competitive, strike-thrower with three different pitches. When you get those guys that transfer, you have to see how quick they can make the jump from getting junior college hitters out to ACC hitters out. I think he’s athletic enough to be able to make those adjustments. He’s going to give us a wealth of depth and a kid that’s had a lot of success in our bullpen and our whole plan of attack.
On the new freshman: “Alex Perez is going to play in the middle of our infield. That doesn’t happen often. Brendon Hayden is going to play for us. He’s a big left-handed hitter from Wisconsin. Carson Helms from Farmington, CT is very talented and we’d like to get him some action. Sean Keselica has been a nice surprise for us. He’s a first-baseman/outfielder left-handed bat from New Jersey. Then Mark Zagunis is a freshman catcher that will backup Chad and serve as a good No. 2, and we think he’s going to have a good career for us.”
On the season expectations: “Our expectation absolutely is to get into the national tournament, get hot at the right time, and make a run at Omaha.”
Photo by Daniel Lin, SPPS