Tincher and Crew Grab Hokie Nation’s Attention

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Hardly anybody — certainly not those of us at TechSideline.com — saw this
coming. When it came to Tech softball, many of us knew Angela Tincher was a
great pitcher, even one of the best in NCAA history, but almost nobody foresaw
this. It’s almost June, graduation was over two weeks ago, and first summer
session has started, but softball, of all things, has drawn the interest of
Hokie fans around the nation and the world. Virginia Tech is on their way to the
Women’s College World Series (“softball” is implied), and Hokie Nation
is abuzz.

Where
to begin? When you’re largely unfamiliar with a sport, and your knowledge
doesn’t go beyond “Angela Tincher’s really good,” it’s a challenge to
talk intelligently about a sport — and a team — without sounding like the
Johnny-come-lately bandwagoneer that you are.

So we’ll fess up to that right away: we’re just now getting on this train,
just like you. That’s okay. We’ve even got Angela’s permission to be on board.
In the audio
interview with Tincher
that we ran Friday, ESPN Radio’s George Hunsicker
asked Tincher, “There are plenty of people like me who are now calling
ourselves softball fans. Will you allow us on the bandwagon?”

She replied graciously, “Of course, yes. As many people as want to jump
on is fine.” So we have permission from our fearless leader.

That established, how ’bout them Hokies? We just met them, and we’re barely
beyond the handshake and the how-are-you, but they have impressed us mightily.
You don’t have to watch them long to know that the feat they have achieved,
making the Women’s College World Series (WCWS), the final eight of their sport,
is a remarkable accomplishment. Hokie teams don’t make the Elite Eight of their
sports very often, and when they do, it’s worth sitting up and taking notice.

But it goes beyond that. The simple truth is this: the teams the Hokies have
been beating are a lot better. Their lineups are deeper, their batting averages
are higher across the board, and they’re generally bigger and more athletic.
We’ve all played in those games and watched those games, the ones where you step
onto the court or the field and you know you’re overmatched. The Hokies were
overmatched against Tennessee, and they were overmatched against Michigan, but
the Vols and the Wolverines will be watching the WCWS at home. Tech will be in
Oklahoma City.

Of course, Tincher is the great equalizer. She is a rarity in any sport, the
athlete that can dominate the competition, no matter how accomplished or
talented the foe. As good as Tennessee was, the best they could cart out
pitching-wise was Megan Rhodes, whose ERA of 2.24 was roughly four times
Tincher’s 0.57. That hardly seems fair, does it?

It wasn’t. Last weekend boiled down to Tincher vs. Rhodes three times, and
though UT got to Tincher once, in game two, they couldn’t do the
near-impossible: get to her twice. The Hokies advanced.

Michigan, in addition to a gaudy 51-6 record and two pitchers with ERAs under
1.00, posed a stouter test. Not only could they hit, they had a couple of
outstanding hurlers, and even with Tincher in their pocket, the Hokies’ nice
little postseason run was in big danger of coming to an end.

For
the Hokie softball team, which features just a couple of hitters over .300 and
way too many of them south of the Mendoza Line (.200), facing a pair of sub-1.00
ERA pitchers was a dicey proposition. In game one Saturday, Tech’s worst fear
came to light, as they squandered a great first-inning opportunity, fell silent
at the plate, and watched in dismay as Michigan scratched out a late-inning run
to win 1-0.

That set up a tough scenario for Sunday. Not only was Tincher going to have
to go both games, but the Hokies were going to have to generate some runs from
somewhere. A softball newbie, I didn’t know if a pitcher, even one of Tincher’s
stature, could be effective for two full games.

While I concentrated on plate production and pitcher fatigue, something else
happened, in my layman’s opinion: Michigan lost their composure. The Wolverines
hadn’t lost two games in a row all season, much less both ends of a
doubleheader, and perhaps they relaxed a little mentally. They showed up and
kicked the ball around a little in the first game, committing four errors,
including two first-inning gaffes that gave the Hokies an unearned run.

Tincher made it stand up. Tech won 1-0, and suddenly, Michigan’s collar
tightened. Things started to go south for Michigan in the third inning of the
second game when they gave up a double, committed a throwing error, started
issuing walks, and started shuffling pitchers in and out. They clearly got
rattled by some pitch calls that didn’t go their way, and you could see it in
their eyes: They knew that if they gave up two or three runs, they were done.
They did (eventually surrendering four runs), and they were.

When the game gets beyond the first couple of innings, and you let the Hokies
get you down 3-0 or 4-0 with Tincher on the mound, the handwriting’s on the
wall. The remainder of the game was one long victory lap for the Hokies,
eventually ending up 6-1, with the signature moment being the first home run of
Tech right fielder Whitney Davis’s career in the fourth inning.

Just like that, Michigan is gone and Tech is on their way to the WCWS. It’s
easy to hang it all on Tincher, and yes, she is great, but the Hokies have
produced some runs, too. They scored four twice against Tennessee, and they
brought home six against Michigan when they needed them. If you missed Caroline
Stolle’s at-bat against Tennessee that produced a grand slam, you missed a
classic, two-out, bases-loaded, 13-pitch at bat … from a .157 hitter.

Making it farther than ever as a team requires great moments from unlikely
places, not just, say, overpowering pitching from your ace. This trip to
Oklahoma City has been earned by more than just Tincher. It has been earned by
the entire team.

And that’s about all I know. I’m new to the bandwagon. This time of year is
usually a quiet one for Hokie fans, but Tincher and her teammates have given us
one more weekend of excitement and Hokie pride, when historically, we have least
expected it.

Now about that eight-team WCWS, it took me a few minutes to figure out the
double-elimination format
. We’ll be back soon with some info on that, but
for now, let’s put that aside and just enjoy the victory over Michigan, okay?

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