Overcoming the odds: Higgins flourishing at Virginia Tech
by Matthew Ondesko: Managing Editor
Photos: Virginia Tech Athletics
It’s been quite a ride for Virginia Tech baseball player Kiernan Higgins. One that he could have given up on a long time ago. Coming out of Bishop Timon High School as an undersized pitcher, Higgins was all set to head to Niagara County Community College to continue his baseball journey.
Over that summer, Higgins had a chance meeting with Coastal Carolina where everything changed. Higgins went from an undersized prospect to a Division I baseball player in one summer.
If that was the beginning and ending off the story, it would be a great tale to tell. But, the story, and journey, of Higgins was just beginning.
“Right out of high school, I was supposed to go right to NCCC,” stated Higgins. “I was playing summer ball and a coach from Fredonia said he could help me get to some local DI’s. I was going to go back to NCCC, because I gave them my world. Sure, enough, somehow he knew coach Gilmore from Coastal Carolina and he gave me a ring. He came down and saw me, and like a week later I took a walk-on there. It was awesome down there, it was just the fact that I was so far behind the guys.”
While his time at Coastal didn’t go according to plan, Higgins still was able to get a taste of what is was like pitching against some of the best college baseball players in the country. That helped him when he made the transition to Shippensburg.
While at Shippensburg, Higgins transitioned back to a starter, something he was while pitching for Timon during his four-year career. It was like he never left the rotation as he led Shippensburg in strikeouts and was second in innings pitched.
“I probably talked to four or five schools and went to visit Shippensburg, and it snowed pretty heavy and coach was still there waiting for me and that showed me how much he actually cared about my visit,” stated Higgins. “When I go there is was kind of a different story, they were like you are going to be our guy. It showed how much trust they had in me, and boasted my confidence in myself.”
For Higgins being able to get back out there and compete was the biggest thing. His first couple of years of college baseball, Higgins really didn’t pitch a lot. He would throw on the side, but nothing when it came to a competitive fire.
When he got to Shippensburg that’s when everything changed. He needed to build back up the arm strength since he was going to be asked to go deep into ballgames.
“It was interesting. I would always throw every week,” stated Higgins. “The biggest thing you want to do is compete and help the team win. So, just getting back into the competitive mindset, and really seeing the bigger goal there of getting my arm ready. Seeing the pitch count get back up there, and just coming back from the shoulder was great.”
For the first time in his career, Higgins also battled a shoulder injury. While people on the outside looking in thought it could be serious, it was just some of the normal wear and tear that pitchers go through throwing as much as they do.
Higgins in high school was also a two-sport athlete - as he played for the Timon hockey team. The body can only take so much punishment over the years. The injury to Higgins was more about getting over the mental hurtle than anything else.
He knew if he did everything that was asked of him during rehab that he would be able to get back on the mound and continue dominating hitters.
“It was just a little impingement, and a little slap tear in my labrum, which is pretty common for baseball guys,” stated Higgins. “It was nothing really serious. I had to rehab it for about six to eight weeks, and for there I just had to get back in the grove of things. It was probably more mental than it was anything physical. I just had to let myself know that it was fine and ready to go. I just stuck with it, and stuck with the process of it all, and moved forward from it.”
Higgins was also going back to the bullpen, something he thrived in while at Coastal - of course in a small sample. At Virginia Tech he has become a key member of a very strong Hokies' bullpen.
Higgins last year was a beast for Virginia Tech. The 6-foot-4 right-hander led the Hokies' arms in ERA (1.99) and opposing batting average (.202), toeing a 3-0 record while racking up 38 strikeouts through 31 and two-thirds innings on the mound, and five saves as the Hokies made a run to the NCAA Super Regional weekend.
His play on the field erred him third team 2023 Preseason All-American honors. While the honors are something that he is proud off, Higgins knows there is a lot of unfinished business heading into the season.
This Virginia Tech team was poised to make a trip to Omaha, and the NCAA College World Series. This year, Higgins knows it’s College World Series or bust for a very talented team.
“It definitely was a little different (bullpen role) because at Shippensburg I was a starter,” stated Higgins. “Moving to the bullpen it was like hey you have to be ready whenever they call your number. I wanted to make sure my body was ready to go on a short notice. I was kind of just feeding off the other guys that were in bullpen. I was taking to them about their routines and how they get ready so fast. Also, just making sure the mentality was there. As a starter you may get some leniency, but in the bullpen, if you don’t have your best stuff they can move on from you pretty quickly.”
Over the years, Higgins has transformed himself into a very good college pitcher. He was a skinny kid while at Timon, but has put on the weight to help him endure a lot of innings. Professional scouts have taken notice of Higgins as well.
He had a chance to test the waters of professional baseball after last year, but decided to come back for one more season. A season he hopes will end in Omaha.
“Last year kind of left a butter taste in our mouths,” stated Higgins. “We were one game away from Omaha. We don’t think it was a fluke by any means, and we are reloaded this year. We basically return all our arms, expect one big bullpen piece. Overall, expectations are the same, standards are the same. We expect to compete for a National Championship this year, and anything less would kind of be a disappointment for us.”