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May 9, 2011

June 9, 1997 - Duo helps Tech end 28-year NCAA dry spell

By: Jimmy Robertson

Matt Reynolds’ solo homer in the ninth inning of a 1997 NCAA regional game enabled Tech to win its first NCAA Tournament game in nearly 30 years.

In a year where Tech athletics accomplished so much, outfielder Matt Reynolds fired off one last salvo to cap off an unbelievable athletics season.

Reynolds’ solo homer – his second of the game – in the top of the ninth inning broke a 2-2 tie and led the Tech baseball team to a stunning 3-2 win over Southern Cal in the first round of the South II Regional tournament played in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Hokies (34-28) bowed out of the double-elimination tournament two days later after losing to NC State 12-6 and Southern Cal 6-2 in a rematch. But Reynolds’ rip completed a miraculous run for the boys of summer, who barely got into the A-10 tournament and then won it in convincing fashion to advance to the NCAAs for just the second time in head coach Chuck Hartman’s 19 years.

“He’d [USC starter Scott Henderson] been working me outside with some pitches and he threw me a high fastball,” Reynolds said. “I knew that one was going out as soon as I hit it.”

How big was Tech’s win over Southern Cal? It marked the Hokies’ first win in the NCAA Tournament since 1969 when they knocked off Furman 6-3. To put that in perspective, the writer of this article hadn’t been born yet. And to top it all off, the Hokies beat a team with 11 national championships, 18 College World Series appearances and 30 regional berths on its resumé.

“It’s one of the biggest wins at Tech in the baseball program,” said Hartman, whose Tech team lost to Auburn 7-0 and The Citadel 4-3 in the 1994 regional. “I feel like I’m about 25 years old. It was very exciting. It really was. The players can tell ya I get excited.

“I’m so proud of our kids. They stayed calm, kept their composure, kept battling and battling and then Matt happened to strike the big blow. And Denny went out there and showed a lot of intestinal fortitude.”

Ah, yes. Denny Wagner. He of the rubber arm. The right-hander pitched a complete game, scattering eight hits and allowing two runs. He walked three and struck out seven. And threw a career-high 140 pitches.

Matt Reynolds had two homers in the win over Southern Cal – the first and only two-homer game of his collegiate career.

“Probably the most I’ve thrown in college is somewhere around 120,” Wagner said. “I got tired. I got real lazy on breaking balls. Started flipping ‘em up there instead of pulling through. I still had a good fastball and I was locating it pretty well. And the split-finger was working pretty good for me.”

Hartman added, “If I’d known it was that many [pitches], I’d have probably taken him out. I didn’t know it was quite that many. I looked, and I knew he was in pretty good shape in the seventh inning.”

Wagner (10-4) gave up both USC runs in the fifth when he allowed a one-out homer to Jeremy Freitas and a two-out RBI single to Marc Mirizzi as the Trojans took a 2-1 lead. Barry Gauch’s sacrifice fly in the sixth, though, tied the game and then Reynolds’ homer gave Tech a 3-2 lead heading to the bottom of the ninth.

In the bottom of the ninth, Wagner allowed a one-out double to Brad Ticehurst and then walked Wes Rachels to put runners at first and second. He thus induced a visit to the mound by Hartman.

“He told me he was a little tired when I went out there in the ninth,” Hartman said. “And I said, ‘Well, do you want ‘em?’ and he said, ‘I want to finish this thing.’ And I said, ‘Okay, let’s go with it.’

“When I went out there in the ninth, I had almost made up my mind unless it got real wild and he started making some poor pitches, I was going to stick with him.”

Wagner then struck out Mirizzi and got Greg Walbridge to fly out to end the game.

“I thought it was a great game,” Hartman said. “You saw two teams play it right to the hilt. We just happened to get the big lick [Reynolds’ homer].”