The whole year has been a fantasy come to life, a magic carpet ride from the first pitch on Feb. 18 to the heart-pounding thrills of the early summer. As it inched even closer Thursday night to its crowning moment of a top-eight seed in the NCAA Tournament, No. 3 Virginia Tech somehow found itself in a delirious way of locking down a national seed for the first time in program history.
In the first inning against Duke, Cade Hunter gave the Hokies their first lead of the day, 3-1, the first of four lead changes. And then trailing by three runs, 7-4, in the fourth, ill-used Carson Jones smoked his first of two homers that inched Tech a little closer.
An inning later, after Duke scored two more runs to extend its lead to four, 9-5, VT countered with six runs.
Hunter drove in his third run of the day with a single into right field. Next, Eduardo Malinowski pulled a three-run home run to left-center that cleared the wall by plenty for his first homer since April 1, which tied the game at nine. And finally, Jones lifted his second big fly of the day to center — his third in two games — that gave the Hokies the lead for good.
To add some separation, Nick Biddison tacked on another with a solo shot, which was the fifth of six home runs the Hokies hit on Thursday. Tech, who led 11-9 at that point, never trailed again in its 15-11 win over the Blue Devils.
“I just wanted to get out there and show how hard I’ve been working,” Jones said after his third start of the year. “I feel like I did that and it was just exciting to get back out there.”
That all accumulated to Tanner Schobel’s sixth inning solo home run that extended Tech’s lead to 12-10, and it turned out to be the critical insurance run Virginia Tech (38-11, 17-9 ACC) needed in its victory over Duke (22-30, 10-18 ACC). Tech, too, recorded its 17th conference win of the season, which set a new program record.
“I thought that was one of the best [games] we’ve had all year,” head coach John Szefc said after the win. “Reason why, it was ugly and sloppy at times — it was difficult — but our guys still found a way to come through that, and even more so on the pitching side. … That was a really difficult way to pitch with how hot it was.”
Tech remained in second place in the Coastal Division — it was once expected to finish sixth before the season began — and once No. 9 Miami beat No. 14 Notre Dame, still trailed by a game-and-a-half. For Tech to win the division and surpass Miami, it needs to win one more game than the Hurricanes this weekend.
If that happens, then Virginia Tech more than likely wins the ACC regular season title — which would be a first in program history. And it would create a new baseball memory.
Schobel’s home run, though, created an entire memory in itself when it was ruled a foul ball. He immediately called for the home run to be reviewed — which it was — but that wasn’t even the wackiest part.
Schobel grabbed his bat after jogging back towards home plate as the umpires reviewed the call under the concourse. He waited some more and once they returned to the field to overturn their call, he flipped his bat 10 feet into the air towards the third base dugout in celebration — a phantom home run, if you will.
“I never usually flip my bat on a home run,” Schobel said. “But I really wanted to there.”
The Hokies lost some control after the Blue Devils stung Griffin Green for six runs in three innings, then the bullpen for four more earned runs. Once Tech took the first lead of the day in the bottom of the first, Duke battled back, tying the score at three in the top of the second on Alex Stone’s first of two home runs Thursday.
Then, when Nick Biddison grounded out to short to manufacture a run in the fourth, the Blue Devils powered back with a four-run fourth and a two-run fifth to put themselves on top, 9-5.
But together, using a six-run fifth, the Hokies turned a watch-through-your-fingers game into a comfortable victory by the time the final pitch was thrown.
“We’re just trying to keep guys in as ‘play mode’ as possible, let’s just worry about what’s in front of us right now,” Szefc said. “And at the end of it, you can celebrate or do whatever you want to do. But, like, you cannot just [look too far down the road] right now.”
But what turned it from a close, two-run game into a four-run victory after Schobel’s home run in the sixth? Well, a three-run seventh inning that included a Biddison RBI double, a Gavin Cross fly out and Schobel’s ground out that Biddison slid head-first into home, just narrowly beating the tag.
Virginia Tech took a 15-10 lead heading into the final two innings, and aside from a solo home run Jonah Hurney yielded in the ninth inning, the Hokies never looked back.
They haven’t looked back since the season began. Not when they were 10-1 to open the season, not when they dropped the first four conference games only to go 17-5 since, and certainly not now.