A traditional also-ran in Atlantic Coast Conference baseball, Virginia Tech has reached unprecedented heights and is looking for more with one week left in the regular season.
The Hokies (36-11, 16-9 ACC) are coming off their first conference series win over Louisville and, at No. 3 in two polls Monday, are the highest-ranked ACC team. D1Baseball.com lists Virginia Tech as the No. 4 national seed in its latest NCAA Tournament projections.
A program that has never advanced past regionals isn’t afraid to let it be known the College World Series is the goal in coach John Szefc’s fifth season.
“We’ve been thinking that since the start,” right fielder Nick Biddison, a junior from Glen Allen and former Peninsula Pilots player, told the Roanoke Times after Sunday’s 6-4 win. “We know we’re a good enough group to go to Omaha. Coach Szefc is kind of pushing that. He’s like, ‘We’re a good enough team to play deep in the postseason.’”
The Hokies’ baseball history is modest. They made four NCAA Tournament appearances from 1994-2000 but only two since, in 2010 and 2013. They haven’t won even a share of a conference title since 2002 (Big East). Since they began playing baseball in the ACC in 2005, the Hokies have finished sixth or seventh in their division 10 times and never higher than third.
Outfielders Jack Hurley, Gavin Cross and Biddison and shortstop Tanner Schobel — a former star at Walsingham Academy in Williamsburg — returned from last year’s team, which was 27-25 and 16-20 in the ACC. All four have batting averages of .335 or higher and have combined for 44 of the Hokies’ 88 homers.
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Schobel is batting .362, with 14 home runs and 60 RBIs, while Carson DeMartini, a freshman standout from Ocean Lakes High in Virginia Beach, has a .340 batting average, 11 homers and 35 RBIs.
Graduate transfer Eduardo Malinowski has hit 10 homers, matching his total in four seasons for Penn, and his three errors are tied for the fewest among second basemen with more than 150 chances.
Sophomore Griffin Green (7-2, 3.78 ERA) has held down the No. 1 starter’s job, and freshman Drue Hackenberg (9-1, 2.54) leads the ACC in wins as the No. 2. Closer Kiernan Higgins (3-0, 2.22 ERA, four saves), who pitched for Division II Shippensburg last season, has allowed six earned runs in his 16 appearances and none over his last seven innings.
Graham Firoved of Virginia Beach, who has pitched for First Colonial High, has been valuable for the Hokies after stints with Radford and Northwest Florida Junior College. He is 2-0 with a 4.50 ERA, two saves and 54 strikeouts in 19 games, spanning 36 innings.
The Hokies, picked sixth in the Coastal Division in the preseason, have won 26 of 31 and are 11-5 against teams in the D1Baseball Top 25 over that span. The Saturday and Sunday wins over Louisville came after the Hokies allowed six runs over the last two innings in an 8-1 loss Friday.
“That’s like a mental test,” Szefc said. “The fact that we were able to come back off of that and kind of do what we did, I think hopefully it speaks a lot to the guys in our dugout and our coaching staff.”
Virginia Tech closes the regular season against last-place Duke at home this weekend and is still alive in the Coastal Division. First-place Miami (37-14, 18-9) finishes against Atlantic Division-leading Notre Dame at home.