2011 ACC Baseball Preview: Virginia Tech Faces Rough Road to Postseason

The Hokies open ACC play this weekend against Miami.

Virginia Tech and the rest of the ACC begins conference play today, with the Hokies starting their season in Miami for a three-game series against the Hurricanes. While the Hokies lost a lot of talent from last year's team that played in the NCAA Tournament, they have played well so far in non-conference play.

Tech has faced two teams that participated in last year's NCAA Tournament so far. In its third game of the season, it lost a heart-breaker to Coastal Carolina in controversial fashion. After a couple of questionable ball-strike calls, the Chanticleers' Tripp Martin hit a walk-off two-run homer off Jake Joyce to hand Tech its first loss of the year.

The other game against a tournament team from last year came in Tech's last game this past Tuesday against Florida Atlantic. The Hokies destroyed the Owls, 14-2, thanks to a strong pitching performance from Joe Parsons.

Virginia Tech Hokies

Pitching will be the key for the Hokies if they hope to compete for an ACC title in 2011. The bullpen has been inconsistent, but they've received strong outings from their three presumed weekend starters: LHP Joe Mantiply, RHP Marc Zecchino and RHP Patrick Scoggin.

Mantiply has been the ace so far at 2-1, 3.05 in three starts against Indiana, Niagara and Bryant. While the quality of his opponents hasn't been great, Mantiply has been able to work efficiently and eat innings, something Tech will need until the bullpen comes around.

Zecchino is 2-0, 3.32 in three starts against Tennessee Tech, Niagara and Bryant. What's impressive about Zecchino's stats so far is a 22-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .169 opponents' batting average. He's kept guys off base, which is huge.

Scoggin has been fine this year, but hasn't gone more than 4.0 innings in three starts against Coastal Carolina, Niagara and Bryant. One other pitcher to watch is Parsons, a senior RHP. The only two earned runs he's allowed all year came in a relief appearance in a loss to Niagara. In three starts against USC Upstate, Liberty and Florida Atlantic, he's 3-0, 0.00 with 18.0 IP.

Among the hitters, a guy we discussed in the season preview has really stepped up in non-conference play. Mr. Utility, Andrew Rash, leads the Hokies with a .380 average and 21 RBIs. He's had six multi-hit games this year and a pair of two-homer games, including one against FAU. That's the kind of production Tech knew it would need from the middle of its order. The other player having a good season for Tech comes from another critical part of the lineup. Lead-off batter Tony Balisteri is batting .357 with a .390 on-base percentage.

Tech has hit for power better than any team in the ACC so far, with a conference-high 20 home runs and a .494 slugging percentage that is better than any ACC team except Florida State. Where they've struggled, both at the plate and on the mound, is with consistency. That's why we probably won't know how good this team really is until ACC play.

The Hokies also have to play better behind their pitchers. They're currently 10th in the ACC in fielding percentage.

Atlantic Coast Conference

The always tough ACC does do Tech some favors in terms of scheduling this year. The Hokies will face Clemson, Georgia Tech, Florida State, Virginia and North Carolina all at home. It's an enticing home schedule for Tech fans and something the Hokies need to take advantage of.

Their first road trip this weekend against Miami also comes at an opportune time for the Hokies. The Hurricanes are a young team and struggled in non-conference play at 5-8 and are 11th in batting, 8th in ERA and 12th in fielding in the ACC. It's no surprise the Canes have struggle early as we look at returning stats from ACC play in 2010. These tables are sortable for all your sorting needs:

Pitching

TEAM RET ERA W L APP GS SV IP H R ER BB SO
BC 11 5.84 7 9 72 20 7 171.0 188 123 111 95 111
CU 10 5.61 12 10 66 20 5 173.1 201 122 108 73 122
DU 6 7.33 6 16 50 24 3 174.1 228 157 142 83 135
FS 10 5.04 13 7 89 19 9 187.2 201 126 105 88 173
GT 9 4.82 11 3 59 12 2 132.2 148 81 71 58 110
MD 7 7.54 4 16 48 28 0 160.0 203 146 134 100 151
MIA 5 2.21 6 3 63 0 3 81.1 58 24 20 33 89
NC 11 5.99 7 10 76 17 3 154.2 181 126 103 77 132
NCS 10 5.55 9 9 79 12 5 167.0 182 120 103 79 145
VA 10 3.02 14 4 55 20 3 181.2 145 64 61 56 168
VT 7 8.53 2 4 36 3 0 64.1 90 67 61 40 54
WF 10 6.35 6 20 66 29 0 214.0 243 196 151 94 173

TEAM RET ERA W L APP GS SV IP H R ER BB SO
BC 73% 5.84 50% 56% 69% 67% 100% 66% 61% 60% 59% 69% 63%
CU 71% 5.61 67% 83% 69% 67% 71% 65% 67% 67% 67% 72% 62%
DU 38% 7.33 75% 73% 49% 80% 100% 66% 60% 56% 56% 56% 66%
FS 71% 5.04 72% 58% 75% 63% 82% 72% 68% 65% 63% 66% 72%
GT 64% 4.82 52% 33% 58% 40% 29% 50% 52% 51% 52% 54% 47%
MD 47% 7.54 80% 64% 44% 93% 0% 61% 58% 54% 56% 66% 65%
MIA 38% 2.21 30% 30% 54% 0% 60% 30% 23% 18% 19% 31% 36%
NC 79% 5.99 50% 63% 72% 57% 100% 59% 61% 68% 67% 63% 55%
NCS 71% 5.55 60% 60% 75% 40% 100% 62% 59% 62% 63% 65% 64%
VA 71% 3.02 61% 57% 65% 67% 33% 67% 64% 58% 61% 64% 69%
VT 64% 8.53 13% 29% 43% 10% 0% 25% 31% 37% 38% 38% 22%
WF 67% 6.35 75% 91% 62% 97% 0% 83% 83% 84% 84% 82% 87%
Hitting

TEAM RET GP GS AB R H 2B 3B HR TB RBI BB SO SB AVG SLG
BC 14 238 180 630 99 176 31 4 10 245 92 79 164 21 0.279 0.389
CU 11 202 164 654 146 194 29 6 14 277 131 100 150 38 0.297 0.424
DU 8 150 120 455 77 130 24 2 8 182 48 34 92 20 0.286 0.400
FS 13 257 209 759 152 218 43 7 28 359 147 104 188 15 0.287 0.473
GT 9 106 79 307 62 81 16 3 10 133 55 44 77 3 0.264 0.433
MD 7 150 130 485 54 135 24 1 11 194 63 28 82 17 0.278 0.400
MIA 11 201 176 668 105 169 31 3 27 287 106 73 173 39 0.253 0.430
NC 10 203 151 603 130 182 49 4 13 278 104 69 116 28 0.302 0.461
NCS 10 222 172 677 123 183 40 1 22 291 118 99 149 5 0.270 0.430
VA 11 185 138 563 121 178 39 2 15 266 107 53 103 16 0.316 0.472
VT 7 144 122 465 80 128 19 3 19 210 80 36 107 13 0.275 0.452
WF 10 219 183 711 116 199 53 2 21 319 99 82 184 27 0.280 0.449

TEAM RET GP GS AB R H 2B 3B HR TB RBI BB SO SB AVG SLG
BC 78% 71% 67% 63% 60% 63% 65% 40% 33% 56% 59% 75% 67% 55% 0.279 0.389
CU 73% 65% 61% 61% 62% 61% 53% 100% 52% 60% 62% 61% 65% 83% 0.297 0.424
DU 44% 45% 44% 44% 49% 44% 49% 50% 33% 43% 34% 50% 48% 65% 0.286 0.400
FS 76% 75% 77% 75% 70% 76% 67% 78% 68% 73% 76% 69% 78% 38% 0.287 0.473
GT 45% 34% 29% 29% 25% 25% 27% 27% 17% 23% 24% 31% 31% 13% 0.264 0.433
MD 33% 43% 48% 49% 46% 54% 55% 100% 73% 57% 65% 41% 42% 41% 0.278 0.400
MIA 73% 67% 65% 66% 56% 58% 53% 33% 64% 58% 63% 51% 72% 75% 0.253 0.430
NC 63% 61% 56% 57% 61% 60% 65% 67% 65% 62% 55% 53% 54% 70% 0.302 0.461
NCS 63% 66% 64% 62% 58% 58% 62% 25% 59% 58% 62% 70% 67% 29% 0.270 0.430
VA 69% 58% 51% 52% 56% 52% 53% 22% 47% 50% 54% 43% 47% 47% 0.316 0.472
VT 44% 45% 45% 45% 43% 43% 33% 38% 61% 45% 48% 42% 58% 46% 0.275 0.452
WF 56% 66% 68% 68% 67% 71% 77% 67% 75% 72% 65% 69% 75% 75% 0.280 0.449

Combine those stats with how the teams have fared so far and I think the Hokies could easily finish fourth or even third in a very tough Coastal division. As much as it pains me to say, the teams to beat in the ACC are probably UVa along with Clemson and FSU.

In the end, I think the Hokies will be able to steal a series here or there at home and avoid the colossal regression some around college baseball had predicted at the start of the season. But like I said, we won't really know how good this team is until this weekend and probably more realistically, next weekend when they host a North Carolina team that is currently 13-1.

When it's over, I think the Hokies will find their way into a second consecutive ACC baseball tournament, but fall short of making an NCAA regional.

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