2013 may have been Virginia Tech's greatest season ever as a baseball team. Yes, even greater than any season under legendary Coach Chuck Hartman. Virginia Tech finished the year with a record of 40-22, and for the first time in school history it hosted an NCAA Regional. The baseball atmosphere in Blacksburg has never come close to that of football or even basketball during the glory days of Dell Curry. But 2013 was a huge step forward for the baseball program that hopes to compete in what is widely considered the best conference in college baseball, next to the elite of the SEC. Top to bottom the ACC is stacked, with seven teams in the initial AP Top 25 poll released last week.
Similar to most seasons, 2013 started with an easy road to conference play. When you play in the ACC it's hard to find out of conference opponents that match up to the teams you play in conference. The Hokies took advantage of their weak out of conference schedule and started the season 11-2 with one of their losses coming against a ranked Notre Dame club. When it was time for ACC play to start, Tech was ranked 24th in the nation and was hosting #14 Georgia Tech. In the series Tech dropped two of three, and star Pitcher Brad Markey got rocked for six earned runs. Not the start Coach Pete Hughes envisioned for conference play. The team quickly refocused and won five of the next six games including a sweep of Duke and once again found themselves ranked nationally. The middle of the season the team tread water as the Hokies squad predictably won the games they were clearly supposed to and lost to the elite ACC teams. Nothing appeared to be deviating from the norm.
One of the biggest moments of Tech's historic season came in a loss. On April 5th the 22nd ranked Hokies traveled to take on 25th ranked NC State who was led by once in generation talent Carlos Rodon. To the readers who don't know who Carlos Rodon is, it is all but given that he will be selected #1 overall this June by the Houston Astros. He is the only prospect in the game with a Grade 80 Slider. When Rodon faced the Hokies it was expected that the Hokie battery would be over-matched. Instead the Hokies surprised and forced him to throw 110 pitches in 5.2 innings in which he gave up 5 runs (3 earned). Tech would later go on to lose in extra innings but this game showed they could compete with anyone in college baseball.
Editor's Note: Scouts for Major League Baseball use a rating system that ranges from 0-80. 80 is also considered plus-plus in scout vernacular.
After being swept by NC State and #1-ranked UNC there was a little more than a month left in the season and Tech sat at 22-15. At this point it would have been laughable to proclaim that English Field would be the site of an NCAA regional. But somebody forgot to tell Pete Hughes and his team because they raced to the finish line and ended the season winning 13 of 17 including huge wins over rival UVA.
They entered the ACC tournament ranked 21st but getting through that minefield still appeared to be a longshot. They started off the tournament with a 10-1 blowout over #5 UVA. They then went on to upset another team, this time #7 Florida State (a game in which featured the infamous "Throw" by Jameis Winston, seen below). After defeating Georgia Tech all they needed was to beat UNC and they would be ACC Champions for the first time in school history. Unfortunately top prospect Skye Bolt of UNC was on his game and finished the Hokies with a big performance at the plate which propelled UNC to a 4-1 victory. The selection committee was duly impressed, and they deemed Virginia Tech to be worthy of hosting a regional at English Field, essentially meaning they had finished as a top 16 team.
ACC Must See Moment | FSU's Jameis Winston Throws Frozen Rope to Home | ACCDigitalNetwork (via ACC Digital Network)
The 2013 season for Virginia Tech baseball showed how much this fan base rallies around its' teams. While baseball has never been the talk of the town here in Blacksburg, you wouldn't have known it if you showed up at English Field to watch the Hokies in regional play. The fans packed the bleachers some 90 minutes before the first pitch and attendance reached a whopping 3,566 vs their first opponent Connecticut. Tech ultimately went 2-2 in the tournament and was knocked out by powerhouse Oklahoma, failing to make it to the SuperRegionals.
While the Virginia Tech program took a huge step forward in the 2013 season, the program also took a few major steps back after the season. Head Coach Pete Hughes took the Oklahoma job after the season, meaning that after 27 seasons with Coach Chuck Hartman, the Hokies were forced to scramble and find their 3rd coach since 1979. Yes he took a job at the exact school who just knocked him out of the tournament. Oklahoma's coach Sunny Golloway took the Auburn job following the season and the Sooners made Hughes an offer that VT simply couldn't match. Hughes did a good job rebuilding the program, and will probably be missed in the short-term. Hughes did a good job going from 23-31 his first season to 40-22 his last (222-144 overall), and navigating the team to two NCAA tournaments in a very tough ACC environment. In a recurring nightmare of a theme, former AD Jim Weaver made his third consecutive major sports hire from within, promoting an assistant to the head job. The vacancy was filled when former Associate Head Coach and Pitching Coach of the Hokies Patrick Mason was hired in the interest of continuity. Whether it was a sound gambit, we won't know for some time, but it would be reasonable to expect the team to take a step back.
Pete Hughes wasn't the only loss the Hokies suffered in 2013. The historic Tech squad lost six players to the MLB Draft, all of whom signed Major League contracts. Here they are:
- SS Chad Pinder. Selected with the 32nd pick of the 2nd round (71st Overall) by the Oakland Athletics.
- LF Tyler Horan. Selected with the 26th pick of the 8th round (252nd Overall) by the San Francisco Giants.
- P Jake Joyce. Selected with the 30th pick of the 9th round (286th Overall) by the Washington Nationals.
- P Eddie Campbell. Selected with the 11th pick of the 15th round (447th Overall) by the Seattle Mariners.
- P Joe Mantiply. Selected with the 20th pick of the 27th round (816th Overall) by the Detroit Tigers.
- P Colin O'Keefe. Selected with the 21st pick of the 33rd round (997th Overall) by the Los Angeles Angels.
While the Hokies suffered many losses following the 2013 season, the future still looks promising for Patrick Mason and his team. One of their most effective batters Mark Zagunis returns as does star P Brad Markey. Website College Sports Madness has the Hokies finishing 8th in the ACC (which is loaded with seven ranked teams). It is reasonable to expect the team to be competitive, and with a little luck they could perhaps gain a little traction once again as spring turns to summer.
Editor's Note: We'll be back with frequent updates on the baseball team this season, and hope to become one of the go-to sites for baseball coverage. Furthermore, if anyone regularly takes game photos they might like to contribute to the site, please contact me at email@example.com. Thanks.