Virginia Tech concluded its regular season this weekend, taking two from Wake Forest before rain ended the series before the third game could get underway. It was Pete Hughes'seventh season in charge in Blacksburg and, for the second time during his tenure, the Hokies will play in the NCAA Tournament. The Hokies finished 35-19 overall (15-14 in the ACC) and could definitely make a run in the postseason.
Entering this season, the strength of the team was clearly the lineup. Fifty-four games later, that belief remains true. The Virginia Tech lineup is one of the best lineups in the country, and it is exactly the reason why the Hokies have a chance to make some noise in the postseason. The Hokies have a plethora of talented hitters from left fielder Tyler Horan to shortstop Chad Pinder to catcher Mark Zagunis and right fielder Andrew Rash.
Horan, who finished the season on a ridiculous 11-15 tear, led the team with a .344 batting average and 11 home runs. He also tied for first in the ACC in doubles 22. Rash, who struggled last year after a terrific 2011 season, returned to form by hitting .327 with nine home runs and a team-high 56 RBIs. Pinder, who moved from third base to shortstop late in the season, is the top MLB draft prospect on the team and hit .322 this season with four home runs and four RBIs.
As a team, the Hokies scored more than seven or more runs in 31 games this season. The offense is not a concern at all heading into the postseason.
On the mound is where the concerns are. Brad Markey began the season as the top starter. However, he lost his spot as the Friday starter after an awful April in which he went 0-2 in five appearances (four starts) and compiled a 12.19 ERA. Since Pete Hughes moved him to the bullpen and then back in the rotation a slot, he has recovered though. The Hokies need him to be on top of his game this postseason, as pitching depth is crucial to going deep into the postseason.
The two pitchers the Hokies have relied on over the course of the season are Joe Mantiply and Devin Burke. Mantiply, a lefthander, finished the year 5-0 with a 3.14 ERA in 11 starts. Burke finished 18th in the country with nine wins and excelled on Sundays for much of the season.
In the bullpen, Hughes relied heavily on sidewinder Clark Labitan(2.97 ERA, 9 saves, 26 appearances) and right-hander Jake Joyce(3.64 ERA, 7-1, 27 appearances).
Best Player and Hitter: OF Tyler Horan
Horan, a power hitting left hander, is a machine at the plate and came up with numerous big hits throughout the season. He's a doubles and home run machine and, slotted in the cleanup spot in the lineup, is the guy the Hokies want at the plate when runners are on base. He was 12th in the country in total bases this season with 130.
Best Pitcher: Devin Burke
Burke wasn't the biggest name in the rotation nor does he have the most impressive stuff, but he went came up with a number of clutch performances. On April 21st, he threw a complete game as the Hokies defeated Maryland 3-2. He threw 7.1 innings in an 11-6 win series clinching win over Virginia a week later on April 27th. He followed that up with seven innings of shutout ball in a win over Boston College the next weekend. Burke also earned a win in March with eight innings of work during a 6-2 win over 14th ranked Georgia Tech. He finished the season 9-3 with a 3.49 ERA in 87.2 innings of work.
Best Series: vs. Florida State - March 29th and 30th
The 'Noles arrived in Blacksburg as the number four team in the country and boasted a 23-2 record. Over a span of 24 hours, the Hokies battled them hard and took two victories that look extremely good on the postseason resume. Markey started things off with a brilliant complete game effort in which he scattered 11 hits while surrendering just two runs as the Hokies pulled out a 3-2 nail biter. The Hokies almost swept FSU as they lost the second 11-10 despite being down 8-1 after two innings. The Hokies had runners on 1st and 3rd with one out, but couldn't get the run in to tie the game. Impending Sunday rain forced the Hokies to move up the series finale to Saturday night and the earlier loss didn't stop the Hokies. Mantiply threw 6.2 innings; Labitan closed with 2.1 shutout innings; and the Hokies pounded out six doubles and 12 hits on their way to an easy 8-1 victory.
What Lies Ahead
Virginia Tech begins play as the sixth seed in the ACC Tournament on Wednesday, May 22nd. The tournament runs through Sunday, May 26th, when the ACC Championship will be played. The NCAA Tournament selection show is Monday, May 27th. The tournament consists of 64 teams split into 16 regionals of four teams each in the first round. Teams are seeded 1-4 and the teams play a double elimination bracket. The winners of each regional advances to play in a best of three super regional, with the eight winners of each super regional advancing to Omaha.
Right now, most projections have the Hokies as a two-seed in the tournament, which put the Hokies in terrific shape to compete for a spot in a super regional. Of course, a poor showing at the ACC Tournament might drop the Hokies down to a three-seed.
We will have more on the ACC Tournament on Tuesday and more on the NCAA Tournament as it approaches.