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Virginia Tech Baseball Sweeps Rhode Island

Griffin Stieg 1 VT URI 2024 From VT
Photo Credit: Virginia Tech Athletics
Ryan Duvall | @RyanGDuvall
Writer/Baseball Beat Reporter

“That’s really what's supposed to happen,” said seventh year Tech skipper John Szefc following the Virginia Tech Hokies (5-2) blowout 18-3 victory on Friday over the Rhode Island Rams (1-5); in the home opener at English Field.

And if that’s what is expected, then Szefc was certainly satisfied with how the next two games went, with the Hokies winning 7-2 on Saturday to clinch its second series victory of 2024, before going out on Sunday and shutting the door on the Rams with a 14-2 win for the sweep.

Point being - this series wasn’t really close, as Virginia Tech outscored Rhode Island a combined 39-7 over the weekend.

On the bump for the Hokies in the second series of the young season were freshman Brett Renfrow, junior transfer from Rutgers, Wyatt Parliament, and sophomore Griffin Stieg - all right-handed starters, as well as the same trio of arms who went up against the Charlotte 49ers last weekend in a 2-1 series win.

And all pitched successful outings for Tech - despite Szefc noting that both Renfrow and Parliament didn’t have their best stuff this weekend.

On Friday, Renfrow, the first true freshman in program history to start both a season opener and home opener, moved to 2-0 behind an 89-pitch, five-inning outing, punching out five batters and only allowing three runs on seven baserunners, while putting down the last ten Rhode Island batters he faced.

“Feels great,” Renfrow said on being the guy for the Hokies from the jump. “Being with all the boys on the field, having all each others backs out there, it’s a great feeling.”

On Saturday, Parliament went 4.2 innings in a no decision, striking out six while allowing two earned runs on four hits and two walks.

But oh boy, did Griffin Stieg have himself a career best outing to close the series sweep.

On Sunday, the RHP, ranked as the No. 58 starting pitcher in the country preseason per D1Baseball, tossed five scoreless innings, striking out seven batters while allowing just two hits and a walk.

Stieg did it on 76 pitches, picking up his first victory of the season and lowering his ERA to 6.43 after a tough first start against Charlotte in which the sophomore allowed five earned runs.

An unsung hero for Virginia Tech this weekend was the bullpen.

In relief, Szefc tossed nine relievers, with eight of them allowing no runs, backing up the starters well - and overall, just doing their jobs.

“It was good, those guys pitched really well and took advantage of their opportunities,” said Szefc regarding the bullpen. “That’s kind of what you expect those guys to do.”

At the plate, almost everyone got the job done. On Friday, it was Elizabethtown transfer center fielder Ben Watson.

Watson, a graduate student who hit a whopping .486 as a member of the Division III Blue Jays in 2023, nearly hit for the cycle in the home opener, going four-for-six with two doubles, a triple, his first homer as a member of the ‘Blacksburg Bombers’, as well as driving in seven runs.

On his last hit of the day, a double, Watson had the chance to stop at first and complete the cycle - which would have been the first since infielder David Bryant got it done at Florida State last season, but opted for the team play, getting to second; despite some friendly boos from his teammates.

“I think it’s all about bouncing back,” said Watson postgame. “I didn’t have the best of games on Wednesday [In the walkoff loss to James Madison]. But, I’ve been playing baseball for many years now, and it’s just mental. Also good to be back at home. Everybody sees the ball a little different here.”

In addition to Watson, infielders Garrett Michel (two home runs, seven runs batted in), Christian Martin (six hits), Carson DeMartini (seven runs scored) and sixth-year outfielder Chris Cannizzaro (.426 batting average) all shined at the plate this weekend.

One of the deepest position groups on this Hokies' squad could very well be the backstops.

The catcher triad of Henry Cooke, Gherig Ebel, and freshman David McCann have all excelled for Virginia Tech, after being given the opportunity to take over for Brody Donay, who transferred to Florida in the offseason.

Cooke and Ebel have been the primary duo early in the season, with both showing an improved swing in addition to stellar defense.

“He’s the best throwing catcher I’ve had in 30 years,” Szefc said about Cooke. “He’ll be a really solid pro at some point, and offensively, he’s starting to catch up to his defense.”

The best of the bunch may be David McCann though.

The six-foot-one, 195 lbs, Connecticut native was subbed in at catcher late in the first game, collecting his first career RBI on a single, crushed a pinch hit two-run homer on Saturday, and got the chance to start Sunday’s series finale, going one-for-four with a two-run single in the fifth.

“David’s really good. He’s one of the best hitters I’ve probably ever seen…just barrel to ball,” said Cooke on McCann.

Szefc made it clear on Saturday that McCann will be on the field a lot more as Virginia Tech gets further into the season.

Tech will return to action Tuesday at Radford (2-4) before playing host to Stony Brook (3-5) over the weekend.

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