JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – Virginia Tech slugger Gavin Cross looks comfortable and confident each time he steps in the batter’s box these days and that’s because he is.
The former Tennessee High baseball star is still hitting the ball hard, hitting the ball far and hitting the ball where they ain’t and on Tuesday he hit for the cycle in Tech’s 15-5 triumph over the East Tennessee State University Buccaneers at Thomas Stadium.
Starting in right field and holding down the third spot in the lineup, Cross finished 4-for-6 with seven RBIs and achieved the cycle in this order: home run, triple, double, single.
He crushed a grand slam in the second inning off ETSU reliever Tucker Rogers that gave the Hokies a lead they never relinquished.
Cross flied out to center field against right-hander Walker Trusley of the Bucs in his first at-bat, but that was certainly not a sign of things to come.
There was the no-doubt grand slam down the right-field line on a 1-0 pitch from Rogers.
“I did the same thing against Boston College [last week], but hit it foul,” Cross said. “I wasn’t sure if it was going to stay fair, but I knew I hit it good.”
There was a fourth-inning triple that traveled nearly 400 feet, followed by a fifth-inning two-run double.
After striking out in the seventh, Cross stepped to the plate in the ninth and delivered a two-out RBI single on the first pitch he saw from Zach Kirby to complete the rare feat.
It was the first time a Virginia Tech player had hit for the cycle since Tim Smalling in 2010.
“Coming into the ninth, I was just hoping I’d get a chance to hit,” Cross said. “I had a poor at-bat in the seventh and I wanted another chance. I was going to go on another first-pitch fastball. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do if I had hit it in the gap.”
The season stats for Cross now include a .396 batting average, .740 slugging percentage, seven home runs, 26 RBIs, three triples, 27 runs scored – all of which are among the top marks in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
After hitting .369 and earning Freshman All-American honors during the truncated 2020 season, he’s had no second-year slump.
“The biggest growth I have made in my swing is just getting stronger and making my swing more adjustable,” Cross said. “That was the main focus my freshman fall with [VT assistant coach Kurt Elbin] was getting my lower half more adjustable and able to be on time with fastballs and stay in my legs with offspeed pitches. Other than that, I have tried to keep everything the same for the most part since THS.”
Pitchers from Kent State, Miami, Florida State, Pittsburgh, Boston College and ETSU have surrendered home runs to Cross. He’s become accustomed to being at the center of the Hokies’ homer celebration, which includes the use of a sledgehammer.
Which clout was the most memorable?
“I would say the biggest moment for me personally this year was the home run against Miami in the opening ACC weekend on the road to give us a three-run lead in the eighth inning in the rubber game of the series on Sunday [Feb. 28],” Cross said. “It really gave me confidence and the team confidence that we can play with anybody.”
Tuesday night’s performance ranks up there as well since Cross was back in Northeast Tennessee doing what he does best with a large cheering section rooting him on. His father, Adam, was among those in attendance and played at ETSU from 1993-95.
“I’m always looking forward to coming home,” Cross said. “I love being home and seeing family and my hometown friends. Definitely a game I had in mind when the schedule was released.”
Gavin Cross likely had more homers this season than Adam Cross did in his entire collegiate career. His old man never hit for the cycle either.
“I just told him after the game that he could never do that when he played,” Cross wryly said. “He was congratulating me and I gave him the ball and the lineup card.”
Virginia Tech (16-9) entered Tuesday’s contest ranked 13th nationally by Baseball America and 23rd by D1Baseball.com as Cross hopes the Hokies are on the road to Omaha, the site of the College World Series.
Cross was the cornerstone as Tennessee High won the 2019 TSSAA Region 1-AAA championship, the first regional title for the Vikings since 1980. With Cross setting the tone, perhaps the Hokies can reach new heights as well.
“A regional is something that our team and coaching staff strive for – it’s our main focus, continue to win series and build a resume that gives us an opportunity come postseason time,” Cross said. “If we can make a run to get into the postseason, it’s a new season and anything can happen. Our team and Virginia Tech baseball needs to be back in the postseason. The amount of support from the community and our students has been awesome and would be great if we can continue to build the baseball brand that we have going in Blacksburg.”
The only thing missing from Cross’ Tri-Cities return was a postgame meal at Pal’s, where his go-to order is a Big Pal with cheese, fries and sweet tea. He munched on some pizza from Mellow Mushroom as the bus ride back to the New River Valley was a good one for a guy whose season has been simply splendid.
“This season has got off to a really good start for me and most importantly for our team,” Cross said. “We have found different ways to win with different guys and we are having a lot of fun.”
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Bristol to Blacksburg
If Gavin Cross maintains his current pace, he would become the fourth player who attended high school in Bristol to lead Virginia Tech’s baseball team in batting average:
Mike Reedy (Tennessee High) 1992 .418
Gavin Cross (Tennessee High) 2021 .396*
David Halstead (John Battle) 1974 .366
Kevin Barker (Virginia High) 1996 .361
*season in progress