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Virginia Tech has brought NCAA baseball action to its own doorstep for the first time ever.
MICHAEL SHROYER | Special toThe Roanoke Times
Virginia Tech head coach Pete Hughes speaks with the media during his pre-tournament press conference. Regional NCAA baseball action begins today in Blacksburg and Hughes says the Hokies’ approach will be different from their last tournament appearance in 2010.
MICHAEL SHROYER | Special toThe Roanoke Times
Connecticut outfielder Bryan Daniello practices laying a bunt down at the start of batting practice Thursday. Each of the four teams playing in Blacksburg this weekend held practice at English Field for an hour and 15 minutes. In addition, a press conference was held for each head coach. The Huskies start pitcher Carson Cross (8-4, 2.50 ERA) against the Hokies’ Joe Mantiply in the late game today at 5:30 p.m.
Friday, May 31, 2013
BLACKSBURG — The Virginia Tech baseball team is a confident and comfortable bunch as it begins its NCAA regional today.
Not only did the Hokies (38-20) win three games in the ACC tournament last week in Durham, N.C., but they are also hosting a regional for the first time.
“We’re confident. We’re playing great baseball,” Tech shortstop Chad Pinder said Thursday. “Playing at home just amplifies that because we do play well at home and we’re going to have a great crowd.”
The Hokies face Connecticut (34-26) at 5:30 p.m. in the four-team, double-elimination regional. Oklahoma (40-19) will meet Coastal Carolina (37-21) at 1 p.m.
Playing at home is big for the Hokies. Tech is 17-9 at English Field this year.
“Our guys love our field,” coach Pete Hughes said. “It’s [also] where we practice. The hitting background, the pitcher’s mound — everything’s comfortable.”
Tech is the top seed in the foursome, with Oklahoma second, Coastal third and UConn fourth.
So the odds are in Tech’s favor.
But the odds were also in the Hokies’ favor in last Sunday’s ACC tournament final, when the Hokies played a North Carolina team coming off an 18-inning game. UNC started a pitcher with a 13.50 ERA but beat Tech 4-1.
“It’s a huge advantage [to host], but we had a huge advantage [Sunday] too and that didn’t work out for us,” Hughes said.
This is Tech’s first NCAA appearance since 2010, when the team lost in the final of the South Carolina regional. Andrew Rash, Joe Mantiply and Jake Joyce are the only current Hokies who saw action in that regional.
“You’ve just got to relax and enjoy it, like we did in the ACC tournament,” Rash said. “We got away from that a little bit in 2010 because the stakes were a little higher.”
Tech lost to The Citadel in the opener of that 2010 regional.
“We kind of tippy-toed our way into that regional, rather than attacking it,” Hughes said. “Our approach will be much different than it was in 2010. It’s all about keeping all the noise out.”
Mantiply (6-0) will be Tech’s starting pitcher tonight. He was chosen by Philadelphia in the 28th round of last year’s major league draft but opted to return to Tech for his senior season.
“When I came back to school in the fall, I was always thinking about how I could be in pro baseball right now,” Mantiply said. “But I would’ve regretted it way more if I wouldn’t have come back and been a part of this unbelievable team.”
Devin Burke (10-3) will start for Tech on Saturday. He began his career at Duke before transferring to Tech in 2010.
“It wasn’t fun to come to the baseball field every day [at Duke]. It was more of a job,” he said. “Here, it is our job, but it’s fun.”
Carson Cross (8-4, 2.50 ERA) will start for UConn against the Hokies tonight, as the Huskies come in off a remarkable turnaround.
In one episode of the old TV show “Seinfeld,” the character George Costanza improved his life by doing everything the opposite way .
The Huskies had a similar moment in the Big East tournament, which they won as the eighth seed after going 9-15 in league play in the regular season.
“We Costanza’d that tournament,” UConn coach Jim Penders said. “We just did the opposite of what we normally do.”
In today’s early game, Jonathan Gray, who has been clocked at 100 mph, will start for Oklahoma against Coastal. He is rated the No. 1 prospect in next week’s major league draft by Baseball America.
Gray is 9-2 with a 1.55 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 110 innings.
Left-hander Dillon Overton (9-2, 2.89 ERA) will start for the Sooners on Saturday. Baseball America has him rated the No. 59 prospect in the draft .
The Sooners won a super regional at Virginia in 2010 as well as a regional at UVa last year, so they are excited to be making another visit to the commonwealth.
“We’ve got a good track record here [in Virginia],” Overton said. “And the scenery here is beautiful, all the greenery and trees. We don’t have that. In Oklahoma, it’s a bunch of dirt and wind.”
The Big 12 tournament champion Sooners are trying to give a lift this weekend to the people of Moore, Okla. Since Moore was hit by a devastating tornado on May 20, the Sooners have visited Moore twice to pass out food and help with relief efforts.
“We’re most definitely playing this week, and we also played last week, for those people,” Overton said.
The daughter, son-in-law and grandson of Sooners coach Sunny Golloway live in Moore.
“For us right now, it’s much more than baseball,” Golloway said of his team. “We want to play inspired baseball for the state of Oklahoma and we want everybody to know back home that we’re thinking about them.”
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