BLACKSBURG – Virginia Tech pitcher Graham Firoved watched the ball settle into the right fielder’s glove, then chucked his glove as high as it could go.
Incredibly, Virginia Tech’s baseball team has finished the regular season with the best record in the ACC. The third-ranked Hokies beat Duke 7-2 on Saturday to complete a sweep of the Blue Devils, edge Miami for the Coastal Division crown and secure the top seed in the ACC Tournament.
The progress this program has made is unbelievable — even to some of them.
“This has defied what I thought was going to happen,” Firoved said. “I knew we were going to have a good year. I was assuming we’d maybe go to a regional, but this has by far exceeded my expectations.”
Around here, expectations in the spring have changed. Everywhere. Tech became the first team since Georgia Tech in 2005 to have its baseball and softball teams finish with the best regular-season record in the ACC. As the Hokies were celebrating their baseball victory at English Field at Atlantic Union Bank Park, the softball team was hosting Kentucky in the NCAA regional as the No. 3 overall seed.
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“I’m really happy for Virginia Tech and for Blacksburg in general,” Tech baseball coach John Szefc said. “You’ve got a great softball regional going on over there right now, and hopefully we can have a [baseball] regional here in two weeks. If you like spring sports, what more can you ask for?”
And the community has responded. The scene here Saturday was a special one. The tailgate tents set up in the parking lot, the cornhole games, the fans crammed into two modern stadiums located a short walk from each other.
It’s the kind of spring-sports atmosphere you might expect in Tallahassee or Palo Alto or, yes, Charlottesville. But Blacksburg? Nah. We’ve always done football big here, and we’ve gotten there with basketball, but we don’t do this.
That’s a credit to how sensational both these teams have been. Despite losing to Kentucky on Saturday, the softball team has been a season-long buzzsaw with a superstar pitcher, a relentless lineup and legitimate national title hopes.
The baseball team has been more of a surprise but just as dominant. The Hokies entered Saturday’s game having already clinched their ninth consecutive ACC series victory.
Think about that. Five of the top 14 teams in the D1Baseball poll hail from the ACC. As Frank Beamer would say, this league’ll get after ya. And yet, the Hokies haven’t dropped a series since getting swept at Georgia Tech in the middle of March.
“This is kind of what you hope for,” Szefc said. “It’s extra gratifying to be able to do it in this place in front of our own people. These guys don’t have to get on a bus and travel for three hours back. They’re home. It’s good stuff.”
They’ve done it with six regulars carrying an average of .325 or better. Outfielder Gavin Cross (10th), shortstop Tanner Schobel (116th) and catcher Cade Hunter (120th) all are ranked among Baseball America’s top 300 prospects for this summer’s draft.
The pitching staff is anchored by freshman Drue Hackenberg, who won the ACC ERA crown. Then there are pop-up stars like Carson Jones, whose three-run homer helped put Saturday’s game away.
That was his fourth home run of this series.
He has only 25 at-bats this whole season.
“It’s not like we only have three or four guys,” Szefc said. “I really feel like we have multiple weapons we can beat you with.”
Now they’re off to the ACC tournament in Charlotte, all but guaranteed to host an NCAA regional in two weeks. If they wanted to know what that looks like, they needed only to glance over at Tech Softball Park.
“It’s a good time to be a Hokie, that’s for sure,” Firoved said with a smile. “It’s a really good time to be a Hokie.”