Nine years after the Pete Hughes-led Virginia Tech squad was dumped in the Blacksburg Regional by Hughes’s future employer, Oklahoma, the Hokies had one more wait.
They had to wait for a finish that seemed predetermined when No. 4 Virginia Tech stepped out onto the field on Sunday night. After all, it had defeated Columbia a night earlier by 20 runs. It had to wait, because, in baseball there’s no chewing the clock and nothing more dangerous than an assumption.
But the hunch that Virginia Tech was heading to its first Super Regional felt clear when it pushed across three runs in the first two innings and Ryan Metz threw 4 ⅓ innings of one-run ball in the start of his life.
“This team has just been different,” Metz said after the Hokies advanced to the Super Regional. “I’ve been a part of five different Virginia Tech teams, all with different coaches, all with different mottos and the way they go about their business. This one has just been the most fun to be a part of in my opinion. The way these guys play, and we love each other. We go out and fight and just grit.”
It felt clear long before the Hokies beat Columbia for a second consecutive night, 7-2, to complete the NCAA Regional sweep of Wright State (Friday night) and Columbia twice, that was one-sided from the very beginning. But it started to feel a little less clear when Graham Firoved walked the leadoff batter in the eighth inning and a run came around to score after he was replaced with Henry Weycker.
But Weycker, as he’d done all season, buckled down and held strong for the final six outs. After that? Well, it all turned into sheer celebration.
Because once the baseball settled into Nick Biddison’s glove and he stepped on first for the final out, the contest was over — really, really over — that Virginia Tech could claim Blacksburg’s first Super Regional. And when the Hokies did, when nothing stood between them and the promise of a chance, they sprinted towards Biddison at first in celebration.
They smiled through their yells and bellows. They dogpiled on first base. The Hokies dumped a Powerade bath on head coach John Szefc. And Biddison and Cross, the two that jump-started Szefc’s rebuild when he arrived in 2018, slapped the Virginia Tech sticker on the regional bracket.
“It’s pretty cool,” Biddison said of getting the chance to put Virginia Tech on the NCAA bracket as regional champions. “Just to have that last little punch.”
Enter Sandman played over the speakers and it triggered the biggest cheers of the night.
The Hokies will either host Oklahoma or No. 13 seed Florida for a berth to the College World Series. They’ll arrive there after having been picked sixth in the ACC Coastal and starting 0-4 in ACC play. To that, they responded with a surge and nine-straight conference series victories.
They collected themselves after three one-run losses to open the conference schedule, in the midst of a five-game losing streak, to post 19 wins over their final 23 conference games. That journey started with a rebound against Pitt on March 19 after the one-run loss to drop them to 0-4 in the conference the night before. The Hokies were a freight train that couldn’t be stopped after that.
Then on May 21, Virginia Tech clinched the ACC Coastal title and the league’s regular season crown in the process.
The Hokies are the buzzsaw this year – they scored 46 runs in three games this weekend – and buried Columbia with 31 of them in back-to-back days. Sunday evening’s action all started when Metz worked around a lead off infield single in the top of the first and then Tanner Schobel’s two-run blast to left field in the bottom half. Biddison followed suit in the next inning with an RBI triple to push the lead to 3-0.
Columbia nudged a run back in the third when Tyler MacGregor tripled home Andy Blake with one out, but Metz handled the rest of the inning with ease. MacGregor’s hit came with two outs so Metz was quickly able to bounce back with a flyout to center field that ended the inning.
Virginia Tech loaded the bases in the bottom half of the third with an out against Lions’ starter Joe Sheets and that’s when he was pulled. Columbia went with Saajan May, who struck out Conor Hartigan and Carson DeMartini with cutters to end the frame and hold Tech off the scoreboard.
In the fifth, a similar situation arose. Carson Jones walked with one out and then Hartigan followed with a soft single through the right side to move Jones to third. That set up DeMartini’s second opportunity to put the game away. This time, he delivered.
The freshman sent a 2-2 pitch – a cutter that was low-and-inside – over the right-center field wall. He flipped his bat, trotted around the bases and slammed the home run hammer into the turf, which extended the Hokies’ lead to 6-2.
“I wasn’t really thinking about that at bat,” DeMartini said of striking out in the third. “I tried to flush it [out] as quick as possible. Striking out with the bases loaded, that’s not fun. The guys before me that led up to that at bat, they put me in the position to do that. Without those guys there, I wouldn’t have been able to hit a home run.”
One batter later, Biddison followed suit, homering to left center. By that point, the Hokies led 7-1, and it felt like the game was over. And outside of the Lions pulling a run back in the eighth, it was.
Firoved shoved in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, finishing with 2 ⅓ innings while yielding a run and striking out five. Weycker, meanwhile, finished the job in the eighth and ninth and notched the final out, to which there was no planned celebration. Instead, all mayhem broke loose.
Most of the crowd stayed, close to 4,000, craning their necks, lifting their cell phones and bellowing “Enter Sandman.” They screamed until the Hokies left the field and continued to congratulate their team some more. The players met with their families, friends and strangers to celebrate, sign autographs and take pictures.
Biddison, one of Szefc’s first recruits, its backbone, its leader, the player that has gone through two major surgeries, jumped up and down once he slammed Tech’s sticker on the bracket. He jumped into his teammates arms because, arguably, no one deserved the moment more than him.
“It’s really special to win an NCAA regional,” Szefc said. “… I’m just so happy for our players and our coaching staff. I’m really happy particularly for Ryan Metz. Metz has been here for five years and got to start an NCAA regional championship game. Just think about that for a second. The guy is a survivor, he’s been here for a long time. Biddison has been through two shoulder surgeries and he’s lived to tell of it.”
This all began in the fall, through winter workouts and on February 18 when Tech beat down UNC Asheville at English in a 14-run runaway win. That was 107 days ago.
Szefc wasn’t sure how his team would hold up. He didn’t know if the Hokies would stay healthy through the long season. Also, his pitching was unproven. There were a few mid-major transfers and some freshman talent that was unproven against ACC competition.
After last year’s start and subsequent fall, it felt like this season was the year that Virginia Tech needed to take that next step in the John Szefc era. Making the NCAA Tournament seemed attainable.
The Hokies exceeded all external expectations – they hosted an NCAA Regional as the nation’s No. 4 seed – becoming the story of the year in the process. But they knew they were talented. And now, college baseball is witnessing Virginia Tech’s coming out party.
“Being [in Blacksburg], it meant the world,” Biddison said. “We could’ve won somewhere else, but I’m very glad we ended it in Blacksburg.”
Only 16 teams in college baseball make it to the Super Regional around. Virginia Tech is one of them.