On Tuesday afternoon, the weather was pretty nice for a February day in Southwest Virginia. It could be said that mother nature knew the 14th ranked Virginia Tech Hokies were hosting the 2023 home-opener at English Field.
With the sun shining bright onto the Hokies home white and maroon striped jerseys, preseason All-American Kiernan Higgins took the mound for Tech, his first career start with the team.
And boy, did the senior deliver. In three innings, the RHP shut down the ETSU Buccaneers, holding them both scoreless and hitless, allowing only a walk, while punching one batter out.
This is a role that Tech skipper John Szefc said the Blacksburg faithful could see Higgins in this year.
“We have two guys coming back in Higgins and Christian Worley. We used them as relievers last year, but they’re a little different right now. Their repertoire is way deeper than it was a year ago, so they could potentially be starters,” Szefc said prior to the season.
Higgins picked up the win in Tuesday's game, a game in which the Hokies would end up winning 15-5, their third-straight win, and the third-straight outing in which Tech put up double-digit runs.
Some of the success could be attributed to consistency, as Virginia Tech made just one change to the lineup from Sunday that also scored 15 runs, starting Gehrig Ebel behind the dish instead of Brody Donay (although Donay would end up getting two at-bats this game).
Bucknell transfer Chris Cannizzaro got the party started, scoring on a wild pitch in the first inning to put Tech up 1-0.
The outfielder would also go deep for the first time as a Hokie, taking a pitch from Landon Smiddy over the fence for a three-run home run , before bringing out the hammer via the NCAA loophole that allows Tech to use it once a series without punishment.
While the new guy totaled three RBI’s on the day, sophomore third basemen Carson DeMartini decided he had to one-up Cannizzaro, launching the first grand slam of his collegiate career in the sixth inning, firmly putting the game out of reach, as Tech led 11-2 heading into the final three innings of play.
Cannizzaro took a chance to push for a media career postgame, interviewing DeMartini for HokieSports.
“I felt good,” DeMartini told Cannizzaro regarding his day at the plate. “I know I’ve got a lot of protection around me, with Jack [Hurley] and you [Cannizzaro] hitting in front of me, so not too worried about getting pitched around, so they gotta come to me…”
Outside of the two bombs, the Hokies had some solid production all around, with second baseman Christian Martin producing two RBI’s in three AB’s, via a single in the second inning, and a triple down the right field line in the fourth inning.
Carson Jones, Sam Tackett, Donay, and sixth year senior Eduardo Malinoski also picked up RBI’s on the day. Martin would also steal home on a double steal in the fourth, in which David Bryant stole second.
Tech tossed five arms in relief of Higgins, with Matthew Siverling and Andrew Sentlinger combining for 2.2 innings, two earned runs, and three strikeouts.
This was LHP Sentlinger’s first outing as a Hokie, and following his day, Jonah Hurney came in to pitch two innings, giving up three runs to the Bucs, including the lone homer Tech would give up, on a 2-0 breaking ball to pinch hitter Justin Hanvey.
Brady Kirtner and Tyler Dean closed out the remaining 1.1 innings of the game on just 20 pitches total, as Virginia Tech picked up the first win at English Field of 2023.
Stolen bases were a huge factor for the Hokies, as they totaled four on the day, with two coming via Eddie Eisert.
The Hokies now sit at 3-1 and will next be in action for a weekend series against the Bryant Bulldogs, who are winless through three games.
Tech will be at home until March 14th, when they meet the Bucs again in Johnson City, TN.