Tech duo formed lasting bond
Fragale, Coward have been friends since elementary school
Sam Fragale and Connor Coward have known each other longer than they’ve been playing baseball, and that’s saying something.
Pittsburgh natives and friends since elementary school, the two Virginia Tech seniors played their final home game Tuesday night at English Field.
Fragale doubled in the tying run in the eighth inning as the Hokies erased a 7-0 deficit, rallying for a 10-8 win over William & Mary. Coward pitched a scoreless ninth inning for the save.
Following the final out, the two met behind the pitcher’s mound and embraced.
“We’ve known each other for quite a while,” Fragale said.
Pittsburgh was home and there was nowhere the pair felt more at home than on the diamond. Always a year apart — Fragale is a year older — the two were always in the same organizations if not on the same teams.
Then, in high school, they played together, helping Seneca Valley win a pair of state titles. Fragale was a shortstop who moved to third base his senior year, to play the position where Virginia Tech intended to use him.
Coward played all over, and didn’t become a pitcher until his junior year, after a growth spurt finally gave him the size and strength to throw harder.
“I was always a really small kid when I was younger,” Coward said. “I had to learn that I couldn’t throw really, really hard. I had to learn to throw a good change up, a good curveball and locate.”
Coward stood 5-foot-9 and weighed just 150 pounds as a sophomore, but by the time his junior year began, he was up to 6-0, 180.
The plan wasn’t to go to college together, the players said. It just worked out that way.
“I kind of wanted to go away from home a little bit. I think it was the same for him,” Fragale said. “It was definitely cool find out that he was coming here, too.”
The two have found mixed results in college, with Tech never having a winning season with either on the roster. Fragale redshirted in 2014, so both players are seniors this season.
Last year, Fragale cranked a team-high 15 home runs in 55 games, but he got off to a slow start to this season. Through the first 29 games, Fragale had hit just two home runs.
But he got going at the end of the team’s series against rival Virginia, clubbing a two-run shot in the team’s 6-5 loss on April 8.
Starting with that game, he’s hit six home runs in his last 22 outings for Tech (21-30, 8-19 ACC).
“I had been feeling good that whole weekend,” Fragale said. “I had been seeing the ball well. I think that’s when it really started picking up. The confidence went up. I was just able to relax and play more free from that point.
“The less I thought about it, the better I played. When you start to press, everyone knows that, it doesn’t go well for people.”
Coward similarly had his best college season last year, earning a weekend starter position and going 5-4 with a 4.75 ERA. This season, he’s 2-6 with a 4.85 ERA. Tuesday night’s ninth inning was his first relief outing of the year.
Five of his 12 starts have been decided by a run or less, a theme for the Hokies this season, their first under new coach John Szefc. The team has played 16 games decided by one run. It’s just 5-11 in those contests, including 2-6 in one-run ACC games.
“We’ve been on the bad end of the majority of them,” Fragale said. “If you look at that right there, that will show you how close we were to breaking out.”
Tech plays a final three-game ACC series at North Carolina starting on Thursday and still has a long shot chance to make the conference tournament.
It needs to sweep the Tar Heels, and Virginia and Pittsburgh must be swept in their final threegame conference sets. That would create a threeway tie that would put the Hokies in the ACC tournament in Durham, N.C., next week.
ABOVE: Tech senior Connor Coward, shown pitching against Duke, is 2-6. LEFT: Coward and senior Sam Fragale embrace after the Hokies won their final home game of the year Tuesday, 10-8, over William & Mary. BELOW: Fragale, shown against Duke, has hit...
VIRGINIA TECH AT NORTH CAROLINA Thursday: 6 p.m.