Virginia Tech baseball ends regular season on sour note

This is not the way Pete Hughes wanted the week to unfold.

A week ago Sunday morning, the Virginia Tech baseball team had a realistic visions of a third seed in the ACC Tournament.

Instead, coach Hughes and the Hokies missed out on sweeping lowly Duke, then followed that up with a sweep on the chronic underachieving North Carolina Tar Heels. Tech finished the season 16-14 in ACC play and will be the sixth seed (third in Division B) for this week's conference championship.

The UNC losses, though not surpising, were tough to swallow. The Tar Heels have as much talent as many teams in the conference, and were far better than their 14-16 ACC mark indicates. The Heels finished just off the cusp of a spot in the ACC Tournament, and will be one of the best teams in the nation staying at home this week.

It didn't take long for the Heels to send a strong message in the series. Shortstop Ryan Graepel sent a Justin Wright pitch sailing past the outfield wall in the first inning on Thursday for a three-run home run.

The Heels didn't stop there. They led 7-3 after four innings and 13-3 after seven in a 13-6 rout. Matt Harvey, one of the best pitchers in all of college baseball, had a strong performance, going seven and one-third innings before showing true signs of fatigue. Harvey had not received such strong run support on many other occasions this season.

Wright, on the other hand, struggled.

The Hokies' series-opening hurler lasted only three and one-third innings, allowing seven runs on six hits and walking five batters. Normally consistent and in control, Wright was off the mark on Thursday.

Friday arrived, and the fortunes didn't improve much for HokieBall.

Tech led 3-0 in the sixth thanks to a big third inning, before Carolina began to crawl back in. Jacob Stallings' RBI single brought the Heels within two, and UNC scored three more runs in the seventh to hold a 4-3 advantage. Brian Goodwin's RBI double off Tech reliever Ben Rowen in the eighth inning concluded the scoring, and Carolina clinched the series with a 5-3 win.

Matthew Price pitched well for the Hokies, going six innings and allowing two runs (one earned). Price was pulled from the mound after giving up a single to the first batter of the seventh inning with a 3-1 lead.

Buddy Sosnoskie, Steve Domecus and Austin Wates each had an RBI in the loss.

Entering Saturday, the Hokies' fate was sealed as the sixth-best in the conference. Whether that affected the players or not, Tech struggled for a third straight day in a 10-2 loss.

Jesse Hahn struggled for the second time in as many starts since returning to the mound from injury. He allowed six runs (five earned) on nine hits and struck out four in four and one-third innings of work. He has not been the same dominating pitcher that was 5-2 in the first three months of the season.

The Tar Heels broke a tight ballgame wide open in the bottom of the fifth inning, scoring four runs to take a 7-2 lead. They added two more in the sixth, and that pretty much sealed the deal.

The play of Andrew Rash was a positive thing to take away from the final game in the series. Rash started as the designated hitter and went 3-4. In a weekend where there was not much of anything to remember, Rash's improvement towards the end of the season bodes well for the coming week, and 2011.

For now, though, it's off to Greensboro for the Hokies, where the ACC Tournament kicks off Wednesday. The Hokies should be in Division B, along with Clemson, Georgia Tech and NC State. The Hokies were a combined 2-4against those teams. Clemson swept them in mid-march, and they took two of three at Georgia Tech in April. They did not face the Wolfpack during the regular season.

The Hokies will play all three teams between Wednesday and Saturday in a round-robin pool play format. The teams with the best records from each division will advance to the championship game on Sunday May 30.

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