Just when the Virginia Tech baseball team looked like the most focused in the country, it fell through a trap door, also known as the series finale against Duke.
After winning games on Friday and Saturday by scores of 11-3 and 18-8, respectively, Tech was embarrassed on Sunday 11-7 in a game that was not as close as the score might indicate.
Entering Sunday, the Hokies had a realistic shot to put themselves in position to finish in third place in the Coastal Division. Instead, pitcher Jesse Hahn returned from injury and was shellacked.
Tech proved it could dominate Duke's weak pitching staff in the first two games of the series. Ronnie Shaban went 6-10 with eight RBI and a home run in the two victories. Steve Domecus went 7-11 with four RBI as well.
It would seem that the third game of a series prefaced with two snoozers would lack for drama. Instead, the Hokies took the field Sunday trailing Georgia Tech by two games in the Coastal Division and Miami by three. The Yellow Jackets and Hurricanes were wrapping up a weekend series as well.
For Hokie fans, their best hope was to beat Duke and have Georgia Tech win. That would bring the Hokies within two games of Miami with the Hurricanes facing Virginia, the best team in the ACC, next weekend. If Tech could win Sunday then sweep North Carolina next week and Virginia win the series over Miami, the Hokies would supplant the Hurricanes for third place in the division.
It was a complicated possibility, but realistic all the same.
Instead, the Hokies lost to Duke. Georgia Tech beat Miami, which means the Hokies are three games behind both of those schools. Virginia Tech's only hope of finishing third now is to win out against UNC and for Virginia to sweep Miami.
Back to the Duke game.
The other compelling side note was the return of Hahn, who had not pitched since April 18 due to inflammatory stress in his elbow. Hahn was a dominant pitcher prior to being sidelined, and the Hokies need him to come back strong if they want to contend in the postseason.
Hahn allowed three runs in four innings before coach Pete Hughes pulled him from the mound. He walked four batters and struck out none. It was not an encouraging performance against one of the worst offenses in the league.
He'll likely get another chance to return to form next Sunday, which could turn out to be a very critical game.
Joe Mantiply was absolutely atrocious in relief. The Blue Devil batters devoured him for eight hits and six runs in one inning pitched. Duke led 8-0 midway through six innings, and a late Hokie rally was not enough to make it back.
The past two months, Tech has been arguably the most consistent, even best, team in the ACC besides Virginia. An untimely loss on Sunday makes the separation between the Virginia and all of the other conference contenders even greater.