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June 15, 2011

Metro Baseball Champions - Tech in NCAAs after first ever league title

By: Jimmy Robertson

By Chris Colston
(Reprinted from Vol. 11, No. 32 edition of the Hokie Huddler)


There have been years when Virginia Tech baseball had better teams, gaudier records and more All-Metro Conference players under head coach Chuck Hartman. In fact, this year’s Tech squad entered the 1994 Metro tournament as a sixth seed, its lowest ranking ever.

But for one reason or another, none of the teams could ever capture a league tournament title – a span of 15 seasons. Not the 1982 club that featured Franklin Stubbs, Jim Stewart and Brian Rupe and went 50-9, or the 1985 team with Billy Plante and Bean Stringfellow that was 50-16-1, to name two.

No, this wasn’t Hartman’s most talented squad. But it used confidence, good pitching, slick fielding and timely hitting to become the 1994 Metro Conference Baseball Champions.

And it was no fluke. The Hokies beat the Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 seeds in Louisville en route to the title.

The win gave Tech (32-24) an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, its first postseason trip since 1979.

“It’s scary how well we played,” Hartman said. “The kids came out with the attitude that they could win this thing, then they went out and did it.”

Sophomore left-handed pitcher Brian Fitzgerald was Tech’s star. He notched two wins and was named the tourney’s Most Valuable Player. Fitzgerald (9-2) pitched eight full innings in the 5-3 championship win over Tulane on Sunday afternoon (May 22), allowing eight hits and two earned runs. He pitched a two-hit shutout against South Florida in Tech’s opening game of the tournament.

“I knew I had to come out and keep battling,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m not a strikeout pitcher, so I wanted to throw strikes and get groundouts and pop-outs.”

Designated hitter Josh Herman was the only other Hokie to be named to the all-tournament team.

In any successful run, there has to be an element of luck, and the Hokies received a dose in Sunday’s title game against the Green Wave. Leading 5-3 in the eighth inning, Tulane’s first batter lined a hit. Their next batter crushed a ball down the third-base line, but Tech’s Bo Durkac snared it and turned a double play.

“If he doesn’t do that, they have men on second and third with nobody out,” Hartman said. “That was the key play of the tournament for us.”

Nobody expected much for this team, particularly when it started the season with a glum 12-17 mark.

“Ever since mid-April, when they got rid of that fear of losing, the kids have played with a lot of confidence,” Hartman said. “When you have confidence, it makes a heckuva difference.”

James Madison drilled Tech 12-4 on April 7, but then the Hokies won 10 in a row and 15 of 18.

“That’s quite a turnaround,” Hartman said. “We weren’t smooth and confident like we were in the tournament. We weren’t the same team.”

The title gives Hartman the first trip to the NCAAs during his Tech career.

“You just never know,” Hartman said. “As long as you keep trying, good things will happen. I guess you just have to have enough patience.”

And maybe a little luck. Hartman’s usual maroon undershirt was not dry from a washing for Tech’s Metro opener, so he donned a white T-shirt to wear under his game jersey for the first time in some 20 years. The Hokies won that game, an upset over No. 3 seed South Florida.

“I wore it until we lost,” he said. “Then I went back to my maroon shirt for the championship game.”