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 series win over Louisville and, at No. 3 in two polls Monday, are the highest-ranked ACC team. D1Baseball.com lists Virginia Tech as a 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 told the Roanoke (Virginia) 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 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.
Graduate transfer Eduardo Malinowski has hit 10 homers, matching his total in four seasons at Penn, and his three errors are tied for 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, 4 saves), who pitched at Division II Shippensburg last season, has allowed six earned runs in his 16 appearances and none over his last seven 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.
IN THE POLLS
D1Baseball.com, Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball newspaper agree on the top three — Tennessee (45-7), Oregon State (40-11) and Virginia Tech. Tennessee took two of three from Georgia at home and Oregon State lost two of three at Arizona.
RED RAIDERS RISING
Texas Tech had its best weekend of the season, posting a road sweep of Oklahoma State in a matchup of top-10 teams and positioning itself to win or share the Big 12 regular-season title for the fourth time since 2016.
First-place TCU (32-18) finished conference play 16-8. Texas Tech (35-16) is 14-7 in the Big 12 and would win the championship outright with a sweep of Oklahoma at home.
REBELS ON RADAR AGAIN
Mississippi (31-19) has won seven straight games following its first three-game road sweep of LSU and has surged into contention for an NCAA regional bid. The Rebels had started SEC play 4-12 and now are 13-14.
PAC-12 IN PLAY
Oregon State's series loss to Arizona leaves four teams in contention to win or share the Pac-12 title. Second-place Stanford (33-14, 18-9) hosts last-place Southern California this week and is one game behind the Oregon State (40-11, 19-8).
Third-place UCLA (33-18, 17-10), two games behind, visits Oregon State in control of its destiny. Defending champion (35-18, 16-11) and fourth-place Arizona is three games out entering its series at Oregon.
BIG TEN BATTLE
Maryland (41-10) and Rutgers (39-12) go into the final week tied for first at 16-5 in the Big Ten with Iowa (30-17) and Illinois (28-20) each two games behind at 14-7.
The Terrapins visit eighth-place Purdue and the Scarlet Knights go to sixth-place Michigan. Iowa hosts Indiana, which is tied for sixth, and Illinois goes to fifth-place Penn State.
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