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MICHAEL SHROYER | Special to The Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech junior Eddie Campbell delivers a pitch against North Carolina in the ACC championship game on Sunday in Durham, N.C.
MICHAEL SHROYER | Special to The Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech players shake hands with the Tar Heels after losing 4-1 in the championship game of the ACC baseball tournament on Sunday in Durham, N.C.
North Carolina pitcher Taylore Cherry pitched a gem in a pinch against Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game on Sunday in Durham, N.C.
Monday, May 27, 2013
DURHAM, N.C. — The big fella was going to throw a fastball. It was virtually all he had. The bases were loaded, the count was full, and one of the world’s hottest hitters was at the plate.
This is not a good time to have only a fastball.
“Ten,” North Carolina pitcher Taylore Cherry said, when asked to estimate how many non-fastballs he threw in Sunday’s 90-pitch start.
And none of them would come after the count went to 3-2 in this crucial, fifth-inning showdown with Virginia Tech’s Chad Pinder.
Funny how these ACC tournament championships sometimes get decided. After using every mound arrow in their quiver over the previous three games, the Tar Heels had no choice but to hand the ball to Cherry, a 6-foot-8, 270-pound freshman who had thrown 3 1⁄ 3 innings all season. He entered Sunday with a 13.50 ERA, a fastball and prayer.
And he had his way when it counted.
After fouling off three straight full-count pitches — including a blast down the line that made hearts on both sides skip a beat — Pinder grounded out harmlessly to shortstop for the third out. So ended one of the few chances Tech had in a 4-1 loss to North Carolina in Sunday’s ACC title game.
“Unfortunately it had to end the way it did,” Pinder said. “Not coming up clutch ultimately when it really mattered.”
For the Hokies, that’s the best thing you can say about Sunday: They were mad when it ended. They were upset with their (four-error) defense, frustrated with their lack of timely hitting, angry with their inability to bring an ACC tournament trophy back to Blacksburg.
That’s progress. The Hokies do not view themselves as underdogs, even though that’s what they were in this event. A No. 6 seed in an eight-team field is not supposed to be bummed about winning three out of four games, beating national heavyweights Virginia and Florida State, and losing to the nation’s sixth-ranked club in the finale.
But that’s what they were Sunday. Bummed.
Why? Because the Hokies know they aren’t some rag-tag bunch that simply put together a magical one-week run. They are a good, balanced team that contended here and will contend in the NCAA regionals for a spot in Omaha. This game set up well for them — a fastball in a fastball count, essentially — but they couldn’t quite connect.
Yet even after Sunday, they’re 8-1 in their past nine games, 13-2 in the past 15. They are capable of beating anyone, UNC included, and that’s why they left here with an empty feeling instead of an invigorated one.
The lion’s share of the credit for this must go to Cherry, whose emergency start came on the heels of UNC’s 18-inning marathon victory over N.C. State on Saturday. He allowed just two walks and five hits. The only one for extra bases was Tyler Horan’s double to lead off the sixth — Cherry’s final batter.
“That kid pitched great,” Tech coach Pete Hughes said. “He really did. On that stage, that’s an awesome thing to see. I just think we were one or two hits from really putting pressure on a kid without a whole lot of game experience.”
Tech starter Eddie Campbell was nearly as good. Hughes sent him to the mound thinking he might get three good innings out of the lefty; instead, Campbell delivered seven, yielding just two runs. Both were earned, but both came home on potential double-play balls that Tech could not convert.
“He just made our team a better regional team with that outing today,” Hughes said. “Phenomenal.”
And while an ACC tournament title would have been special, that’s what really matters: how the Hokies perform moving forward. They’ve played their way into a solid regional seed, which will be announced at noon today.
The starting pitchers who got Tech to the ACC title game — Joe Mantiply, Devin Burke and Brad Markey — will all be rested and ready. Players such as Pinder, who powered this team to this point but didn’t like how Sunday went, will get another chance to come through.
More fastballs are coming. The Hokies know this. And they will be geared up to hit them.
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