Posted: 1:35 p.m. Monday, June 3, 2013
By Casey Richey
The Hokies started out the season red-hot, winning 11 of their first 13 games and cruising up to No. 24 in the nation before ACC play started. Tech dropped two of three to No. 14 Georgia Tech, a team that ended up in an NCAA Regional themselves. Tech then lost a mid-week game to Elon, another team that ended up in an NCAA Regional, but rebounded with a sweep of Duke and a 16-6 crushing of Liberty, yet another team that ended up in an NCAA Regional.
Tech then hit a rough patch as the Hokies lost 11 of the next 16, which included two series sweeps at the hands of No. 25 NC State and No. 1 UNC and a headscrathing loss to a bad VMI team. However, sprinkled in there was a huge series win over then-No. 4 Florida State in which the Hokies were incredibly close to a sweep.
Tech turned things around with a series win over Maryland and then took two of three from then-No. 5 Virginia. Tech downed Boston College in two of three games, beat High Point, Marist twice and Wake Forest twice in a weather shortened series. The Hokies finished regular season play at 35-19 overall and 15-14 in the ACC, an improvement on a 35-21, 11-19 mark from a year ago.
Tech went on to the ACC Tournament for the first time since 2010 and hammered Virginia 10-1 in the opener thanks to a pair of homers from Chad Pinder. Tech edged Florida State on a walk-off home run and then held on for a win over Georgia Tech for a spot in the ACC Championship game. The Hokies fell to North Carolina 4-1, but had already done more than enough to secure a spot in the NCAA Regionals. Hosting the regional was just the icing on the cake.
The NCAA Regionals came to Blacksburg for the first time ever and the Hokie fans showed up en masse. Tech dropped the first game of the regional, a 5-2 decision to Connecticut, and was sent to the loser's bracket. There, the Hokies hammered Coastal Carolina 9-1 and edged out Connecticut 3-1. Playing their second game of the day, Tech fell to Oklahoma 10-4 in a game that looks more lopsided than it actually was.
Virginia Tech finished the season at 40-22, the best club mark since an identical mark in 2010 when the Hokies were eliminated from the Columbia Regional by host South Carolina.
There's quite a few options to choose from here, but I think the obvious one is hosting an NCAA Regional. This was huge for the program and will go a long way towards building the program. Sure, you would have hoped that the Hokies would have been able to survive to the next round, but it was a great showing nonetheless.
There are several other options to choose from such as a series win over Florida State, beating Virginia three of four times (including the ACC tournament), and advancing to the ACC Championship game. My personal favorite might be Chad Pinder slapping UVA around in the ACC tournament with a two-run home run AND a grand slam.
The aforementioned rough patch certainly qualifies as a lowlight, but I think I was more disappointed by the weak losses that the team turned in at times. The Elon game isn't as bad in retrospect, but the 8-0 loss to VMI at English Field hurts, as does a 5-3 loss to Boston College, who finished the season with just four conference wins. This team also dropped several close games and they very well could have finished the season with 45-49 wins.
Reeling with 11 losses in 16 games, Tech righted the ship with a series win over Maryland and followed that with a series win over in-state rival Virginia. Tech won 13 of 16 down the stretch of the regular season and three of four in the ACC Tournament. Oddly enough, I think the real turning point was when Gary Schneider broke his wrist in the loss to Virginia. The Hokies were forced to change their line-up a bit and it meant that every player had to dig just a little bit deeper day in and day out. To think, there was a point during the season in which it looked like the Hokies might not even play in the ACC Tournament, yet we are talking about Hokieball in June.
There are a lot of candidates for this, but I have to give it to Andrew Rash. Rash was a clutch hitter this year and he plays with such a high level of competitiveness that it's hard not to like the guy. His 62 RBIs led the team and his 11 home runs were tied with Tyler Horan for the most. He racked up 22 doubles and batted .315 with a .368 on base percentage while appearing in all but one game. Of Rash's 62 RBIs, a whopping 31 came against ACC foes and six of his 11 homers came in conference play. That's not to belittle Horan's efforts by any means, just a sign of how big of a factor Rash was for the Hokies down the stretch.
This will break your heart...
#Hokies Andrew Rash, through tears: "This could be the last time I ever put on a uniform... I couldn’t ask for a better college career."— Mike Barber (@RTD_MikeBarber) June 3, 2013
I really hope that Rash gets drafted. He's been one of the constant forces for the Hokies over the past few years and I hope he gets rewarded for how much effort he puts into it.
Revisiting my preview post
My predictions from back in mid-February:
My expectations: I expect the Hokies to finish with a record similar to last season, but there's also a good chance that they'll improve with key chunks of the line-up returning.
Yep. That's incredibly vague. So basically I was predicting that they'd finish with anywhere between 33-38 wins. It's a little difficult to predict things like this sometimes. The Hokies had a lot of pieces returning, but its not easy to tell whether or not the team will come together quickly.
The Hokies return a good portion of the line-up. There are a few seniors that will be moving on and the list includes: Andrew Rash, Jake Joyce, Joe Mantiply, Tanner McIntyre and Clark Labitan. Of the five that have used their eligibility, four are pitchers. Meaning that a good portion of the team's high powered offense should return. Of course, there's always the chance of players like Tyler Horan and Chad Pinder getting selected in the upcoming MLB Draft. Pinder is ranked in the top 55 in various publications and has shown that he's very versatile. Hopefully, though this comment following the Oklahoma loss indicates that he wants to return to Blacksburg:
"We'll take it when the time comes," Pinder, the team's top draft prospect, said after the Hokies' season-ending 10-4 loss to Oklahoma in the NCAA regionals. "It's not something I need to think about now. It's the last thing on my mind."
Should all of the underclassmen return, Tech has a strong returning line-up that includes Horan, Pinder, Mark Zagunis, Chad Morgan, Gary Schneider, Alex Perez, Sean Keselica and Kyle Wernicki in the field. The Hokies could also return Devin Burke, Brad Markey and Eddie Campbell to the mound in 2013-2014.
In the end, I think this has been an excellent season for Tech and there's no reason they shouldn't continue that success into next year. I think the Hokies will make the ACC Tournament again and hopefully have the chance to host another regional.