Ryan Kennedy saw how well pitching at Virginia Tech worked out for good friend and former Millbrook High School teammate Anthony Simonelli.
And given the opportunity to follow in Simonelli’s path to Blacksburg, Kennedy jumped at the chance.
Kennedy, a 6-foot-2 left-hander, entered the NCAA’s transfer portal after a successful junior season at Division I Kennesaw State and the Hokies were one of the teams who came calling. On July 2 via Twitter, Kennedy announced that he would join the Virginia Tech program.
“Once I went into the transfer portal, I had interest from a lot of schools,” said Kennedy, who went 8-2 for Kennesaw State. “One of the main schools I had my eyes on was Virginia Tech. Obviously with Anthony Simonelli being there and he and I being friends since high school helped me out a lot. Talking to Virginia Tech … and them talking to me about what I could bring to the table helping the program and getting to the next level, that was a good selling point for me.”
Certainly seeing how things worked out for Simonelli didn’t hurt. Simonelli transferred to Virginia Tech and went 7-3 in two seasons as a member of the starting rotation. Simonelli was selected in the 16th round of the recent Major League Baseball draft by the Kansas City Royals, one of three Hokies pitchers to be selected.
“All three guys on the weekend staff, including one of the reliever guys, got selected in the draft,” Kennedy said. “For me that’s a really good sign at what Virginia Tech is offering to the table as far as me getting to the next level. That’s one of my main goals is to make it to the next level, so I believe Virginia Tech is very well equipped to help me do that.”
Kennedy proved he could be an asset for the Hokies with both outstanding seasons at Kennesaw State and in summer league play in the Coastal Plain League.
Kennedy’s season at Kennesaw State, a Georgia school that plays in the Atlantic Sun Conference, didn’t get off to a great start. After a season-opening victory against Saint Louis, Kennedy gave up eight runs in a three-inning stint against Coastal Carolina and five more in an inning against UAB, both no decisions, in his next two starts.
“I had struggles early on,” Kennedy admitted. “… I was at a point where it was now a make-or-break time. Do I turn my back and just say the season is how it is or do I say it’s go time and it’s time to work and make a good season out of it?”
Kennedy made good on the latter decision. In his next start against the University of Georgia, Kennedy threw six scoreless innings. He allowed just four hits and did not allow a walk while striking out four Bulldogs.
“Really, that’s when everything changed when I went to the University of Georgia,” he said. “After that start, it was rolling from there.”
While he did not get the win in that game, he’d go 7-2 from there for the Owls, who finished 29-22. He’d earn a win over Georgia Tech and his only two losses would come against conference champion Liberty (41-16), which advanced to the NCAA Tournament. He’d finish with a 4.16 ERA with 56 strikeouts and 16 walks in 71.1 innings.
Kennedy says he is a much different pitcher now than when he was at Millbrook, where he went a combined 9-3 with a 1.38 ERA over two seasons and was the Star’s Baseball Player of the Year in 2017.
“For me, it’s more experience,” he explained. “It’s learning the game and being around the game at this high of a level as long as I have been. You learn a lot of different things when you go from high school to especially Division I level. For me it was more of the experience thing of knowing how different hitters work, learning different techniques and styles on the mound and knowing how to get hitters out.”
And he grew to like the trust of having the ball in his hands to start the game.
“I think that’s one of the biggest factors for me that helped elevate my game throughout the entire season was just knowing that every time the coach gave me the ball that it was my game to win and that I was going to give my team the best chance to win.”
Kennedy’s fine season carried over into the Coastal Plain League, a summer wooden bat league similar to the Valley Baseball League.
In his third season with the Savannah Bananas, Kennedy has been outstanding. The lefty is 5-1 with a 1.46 ERA. He’s struck out 53 batters and walked 14 in 37 innings. He had a 27-inning scoreless streak and combined with two teammates to throw the first no-hitter in team history.
He’s part of an organization that has captured the fascination of the fans. Kennedy said the team sports five or six different uniforms. Kennedy started in a game in which the players wore kilts.
“To be honest with you, it’s something you can’t put into words,” Kennedy said of playing with the team, which won the first half and has the best overall record in the league at 33-7. “You really have to come experience it for yourself. Every night you show up to the ballpark and you don’t know what you’re going to get. The only constant is that there’s going to be a sold-out crowd of 4,500 to 5,000 people cheering for you if you’re out there playing.
“I really think Savannah has allowed me to elevate my game to the next level. The Coastal Plain League is one of the top premier summer leagues in the country. I’m definitely throwing against really good competition day-in and day-out.”
Kennedy’s next start will be in the Bananas’ playoff opener on Aug. 1. As his walks-to-strikeouts ratio attests, he has command of all of his five pitches — two-seam and four seam fastballs, slider, changeup and curve (his big out pitch).
Kennedy credits his brother Sean, who pitched three seasons at Virginia Tech, and his instructor Zach Dials (from the Sterling/Loudoun County area) with refining his delivery.
“I’ve really learned how my body works,” Kennedy said. “As a pitcher, I believe it’s vitally important to know how your body works in order to command the zone.”
He hopes to do just that for the Hokies, who also have added former Millbrook standout Conor Hartigan, a transfer from James Madison.
“I think it’s really awesome getting to link up with one of my old teammates,” Kennedy said of Hartigan, who hit .364 for the Dukes last season. “He’s definitely a well-respected player and I’m looking forward to seeing him. I haven’t seen him since 2017, so I’m definitely looking forward to getting back on the field with him and having him in the outfield behind me.”
Kennedy said his parents Stanley and Kristy and Sean are looking forward to getting a chance to see him pitch in Blacksburg and he’s also heard from former teammates and friends.
“They’re excited that I’m going there,” he said. “They’re looking forward to seeing me play and I’m definitely excited to come back to my home state and play for Virginia Tech.”
And Kennedy hopes to make the most of the opportunity.
“I believe that Virginia Tech brings out the scouts and the people that I would want to see me,” he said. “I definitely believe that if I have another successful season at Virginia Tech, I will definitely be able to find myself in pro ball next year and definitely hear my name called in the draft.”