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Oklahoma's Ethan Carnes (19), Kindle Ladd (17), and Kyle Hayes (36) celebrate with teammates after beating Virginia Tech in the NCAA Blacksburg regional final at English Field on Sunday.
Virginia Tech closer Clark Labitan (center) celebrates with Chad Morgan (33) after the Hokies beat UConn 3-1 in the NCAA regionals at English Field on Sunday.
Virginia Tech's Andrew Rash (bottom) is tagged out by Oklahoma's Anthony Hermelyn (top) in the bottom of the seventh inning of the NCAA Blacksburg regional final at English Field on Sunday.
Monday, June 3, 2013
BLACKSBURG —That all happened so fast. A 2-0 Virginia Tech lead became a 4-2 Tech deficit. A one-run thriller became a six-run loss.
A chance at a winner-take-all game today disappeared, lost in a flurry of Tech errors and Oklahoma hits.
Salute the journey, hate the ending. That’s all you can do if you’re the Hokies, who had visions of Omaha that fell two steps short after Oklahoma rallied to defeat them 10-4 Sunday night, ending one of the finest baseball seasons in Tech history.
The game got away in the ninth, when the Sooners put together five hits and capitalized on the fourth Tech error of the game to plate six runs. And it’s a cinch to identify what Tech didn’t do well enough this weekend: defend.
Nine errors in the four games? That can’t happen when you’re trying to win one of the toughest regionals out there, host or not. And Tech compounded those fielding errors with multiple blunders on the bases that minimized their scoring chances.
The difference between Tech’s defense in the first five innings and the last four Sunday night was striking, and it speaks to the demands of this level of postseason baseball. Defend well, as Tech did early, and the Hokies can beat anyone. Kick it around a bit? Watch the other guys dogpile near your mound after the final out.
What’s most disappointing for the Hokies is this: It’s anybody’s guess when this will happen again. Two regional appearances in four years have laid a nice foundation for the program, but logic tells you it could be a while before Tech gets another opportunity to host.
The Tech roster will turn over in a big way. Slugger Andrew Rash and the top two starting pitchers, Joe Mantiply and Devin Burke, have exhausted their eligibility. Shortstop Chad Pinder, whose brilliant defense this weekend stood out even more given his teammates’ fielding struggles, is a junior who should go in the top three rounds of the draft. If he does, he’s likely to sign and move on.
Closer Clark Labitan, who picked up his 11th save with 3 2⁄3 innings of brilliant relief in Tech’s win over Connecticut on Sunday afternoon, is a senior. So is fellow reliever Jake Joyce. The Hokies will have some talent coming back, but another 40-win season is asking a lot.
There’s still a gap between Tech and those teams that can automatically reload. The Hokies have to identify and lure hidden talent as they continue to build their program.
The two pitchers who combined to beat Connecticut, Brad Markey and Labitan, are both shy of 6 feet tall. Both have live arms, but both took unusual paths to Blacksburg.
The 5-foot-11 Markey started his career at Georgia Tech before spending a year at junior college and transferring to Tech.
The 5-foot-8 Labitan, who led the team in ERA this season, is a West Coast product who was overlooked before the Hokies spotted him at a tournament and tendered him his only Division I offer.
“We don’t get tall pitchers, honestly, because those are the pretty guys in the recruiting process,” Tech coach Pete Hughes said. “We have to sometimes go with – I don’t want to say bad-body – but [players who are] undersized and not pretty as far as recruiting profile.
“But who’s effective and who has and competitiveness? That fits both those guys’ profile. Those guys love to compete and their stuff’s really good. Give me some more Clark Labitans. I’ll take ’em any day.”
Hughes will need to find some more, and he’s been good at it. He brought a struggling Burke in from Duke and developed him into a draft prospect. He fielded a lineup with game-changing power that could hang with the best in the ACC.
It was fun to watch — the run to the ACC tournament final, the pageantry of the first game on Friday, the tension of win-or-go-home battles in Blacksburg.
Salute the journey, hate the ending. The Hokies can only hope it turns out to be the beginning of something bigger.
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