If you needed a reason to come to Blacksburg this summer, you’ve got one. Virginia Tech is going to do something they’ve never done before: they will be hosting NCAA Baseball Regionals this coming weekend.
Finally, Virginia Tech is on the good side of an NCAA Selection Committee. While the Hokies were making their run through the ACC Tournament, and beating quality teams like UVA, FSU and GT in the process, the hot talk was whether or not Tech would host an NCAA Regional or be a #2 seed, as they were back in 2010.
I was never a believer. I thought we had an outside shot, but not a great one. Don’t get me wrong…I believed in the team. I didn’t believe in the Selection Committee. I figured that not only would the Hokies get a #2 seed and be shipped off to Vanderbilt or LSU, I thought that if there was any such thing as a college baseball NIT, that’s where the committee would prefer to put the Hokies.
Fortunately this is baseball and not basketball. The committee did the right thing. They rewarded a team that went 6-2 against national hosts UVA and FSU, and finished #11 in the RPI with the #3 strength of schedule in the country. The good thing about it is I don’t see anyone complaining about the selection, except for UVA fans of course, and who can blame them? I wouldn’t want the rival in-state school stealing any of my thunder, either.
I’m really happy for Pete Hughes. For all the flak Jim Weaver takes, he made a great hire here. Hughes won 250 games at Boston College, and had an overall winning record in conference play. That’s not an easy thing to do. Getting baseball players to BC isn’t easy. Look at what has happened to the Eagles since Hughes left…they finished 12-40 overall, with a 4-25 mark in ACC play this season.
Hughes took over a Virginia Tech program that was once very strong under Chuck Hartman, but which had fallen on hard times at the end of the legendary coach’s career. There was a major lack of talent in Blacksburg when Hughes took over.
He immediately responded by bringing in players such as Austin Wates, Jesse Hahn, Matthew Price, Ben Rowen and Justin Wright, and that group of players led the Hokies to the NCAA Tournament back in 2010. Tech hasn’t been back since that year, though they’ve been close. Some of those guys are also making a pretty good run in the minor leagues, which we’ll detail later this week.
Virginia Tech isn’t a school that automatically attracts baseball talent. Hughes said himself on Tech Talk Live earlier this year that he has never beaten out South Carolina, UVA, UNC, or any of the major southeastern powers for a recruit. Tech doesn’t have the tradition, stadium, or weather to compete against most power programs in the southeast on the recruiting trail.
The announcers spent much of Sunday afternoon’s game with UNC heaping praise on Tar Heel starter Taylore Cherry, who had pitched just 3.1 innings all season. What they neglected to mention was that Cherry was a top 30 prospect coming out of high school, but he chose to attend college instead. Had he opted for the draft, he would probably be pitching on somebody’s Single-A team right now, not against Virginia Tech.
The Hokies, meanwhile, take guys like Chad Pinder and develop them into players. Pinder, who was undrafted out of high school, is now projected to go in the first five rounds of June’s draft. Mark Zagunis, also undrafted out of high school, could be amongst the top 30 prospects in next year’s draft.
Building a program is a process, and when Pete Hughes first got to Blacksburg in 2007, he didn’t have the facilities, the support, or the players. Tech put a lot of money into their indoor hitting facility, and they improved the playing surface at English Field as well. Hughes has stocked the program with better players, developed them over the course of 3-4 years, and now we are seeing the results. The next step is making English Field look like a major conference baseball stadium, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Playing for the ACC Championship on national television was a big step forward for the program. Hosting a regional is another. Making it past regionals and taking on LSU in a Super Regional would be a giant leap, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s take the week to savor the moment for what it is.
If you’re in the area, I strongly suggest coming out to English Field for the weekend. This team has earned the support of the Hokie Nation, and how many times do you get to see the Hokies playing with the best in America’s Pastime? It was a tough year for the two revenue sports, but the run the Hammerin’ Hokies have made has taken quite a bit of the sting out, for me at least.
Stick around this week, because we’ll have more articles on this team and this program throughout the next few days.