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March 16, 2010

In the dugout with Pete Hughes

By: Matt Kovatch

Pete Hughes

Though the wintry weather may suggest otherwise, the college baseball season is underway. After back-to-back weekends in South Carolina, the Virginia Tech Hokies returned home with a 4-2 record at press time, with the only losses coming to two teams currently ranked in the nation’s top 25. Head coach Pete Hughes sat down for a quick update on the season’s early going:

Q: Were you glad to find some decent weather and get those first games under your belt?

A: It was great to get outside and play. No matter how good your indoor facility is, it can never replicate being outside and competing. But I don’t think [the lack of outside practice] had anything to do with us getting beat by Coastal Carolina or Kentucky. We let a couple of innings get away from us in both of those games and that’s why we got beat. That’s disappointing because I really feel that toward the middle and end of this year, we’re going to be a really good team. I wish we had played that way in those two games.

Q: What about the team’s play has stood out to you so far?

A: I’m really happy with our defense right now. Our infield is playing excellent defense. We’re really good at the catching position. We’re really good up the middle as far as experience and we have a fifth-year senior in center field. I look at our club up the middle and it makes me feel really good. [Redshirt junior shortstop] Tim Smalling is everything we thought he’d be as a nice, calming presence in the middle of our defense. I think we’re third in the league [in fielding percentage] after six games.

Not only has newcomer Tim Smalling steadied the defense from his shortstop position, but he has also been one of the Hokies' most potent offensive weapons.

Q: Speaking of Smalling, he’s also been a huge asset to the offense so far, ranking second in average and first in runs batted in.

A: Tim had some success [before coming here]. He played in the SEC as a freshman and sophomore at Arkansas. His game has matured since then because his two-strike approach looks great to me, and he has the ability to hit [pitchers’] mistakes, track secondary stuff and be productive with it. We knew he had abilities at the plate and we knew he had some power, so we expected him to be a major contributor to our ball club offensively. But it sure is fun to watch him run around and play defense.

Q: You’ve got to be impressed with the maturation of pitcher Jesse Hahn, who finally seems to be harnessing his potential after giving up just two runs in his first 14 innings.

A: Jesse has been getting hammered with the pressure of pro scouts for a long time now, and when you have marquee tools like he does, that’s what happens. I think he has finally matured enough to know that he can’t control how the scouts think. The only thing he can control is doing his best, staying within his mechanics and trying to win for Virginia Tech. When he does that, he’s really good. I think he’s realized how to handle all of the attention that he’s garnered. He knows now that he’s pitching to win and not to light up a radar gun. He’s been really good when he pitches under those terms.

Q: The March schedule has a stretch of 12 games in 13 days. What will be the challenge of such a busy slate?

A: When you want to get an invite to the national tournament like we do, [the committee] is going to look at how many games you win, but they don’t necessarily get focused on when you’re winning those games. We’ve scheduled a bulk of our games here at the beginning of the season and they all add up at the end of the year when at-large bids are going out. That’s why it’s critical for us to stay focused and bring the intensity level to the field every day. It’s going to be a grind, no question about it, but our guys know how pivotal this stretch is for us. We’ve talked about it for a month now. We’re going to ask a lot out of a bunch of pitchers who haven’t pitched much for us. They’re going to have to throw critical innings for us.