Virginia Tech Secures First-Ever Super Regional Appearance
BLACKSBURG, Va. — First baseman Nick Biddison moved to his right, fielded the chopper and sprinted back to beat Columbia’s Cole Hage to first base, and with that, Virginia Tech secured its first-ever trip to super regionals with a 7-2 win over Columbia in the final of the Blacksburg Regional.
Let’s say it again. Virginia Tech is going to a super regional.
The Hokies have been good enough for long enough this season that that might not strike you as particularly notable. They are the No. 4 national seed, after all.
But to look at their program history is to understand precisely why that’s worth reiterating. This is not the kind of thing Virginia Tech baseball does.
It’s been to 11 postseasons in program history, including this season. Of the 14 current ACC teams, only three, Pittsburgh, Boston College and Duke, have been to fewer. Just once, in 1999-2000, have regional appearances come in back-to-back seasons. This postseason appearance is the first in nine years, and since the most recent prior postseason trip, Virginia Tech has had five different seasons of fewer than 10 ACC wins.
Downtrodden is too strong a word to apply to Virginia Tech’s modern program history, perhaps, but suffice it to say that it has spent a lot of time lacking relevance.
Twice the Hokies made it to the stage they were on Sunday night, but both times they came up short, losing to South Carolina in the 2010 Columbia Regional and in 2013 to Oklahoma in the only other time Virginia Tech has hosted.
This time was different.
Ryan Metz helped make sure of it. The righthander turned in his best outing of the season and Virginia Tech’s best start of the weekend against a Columbia team that averaged nine runs a game in its previous three games in the Blacksburg Regional, including 15 runs earlier in the day to eliminate Gonzaga.
He threw 4.2 innings, giving up three hits and one run with one walk and four strikeouts. He was relieved in the fifth by righthander Graham Firoved, who got the Hokies out of the inning. Metz wasn’t necessarily in there for a long time, but it was a good time for him and for a Hokies pitching staff that went into Sunday thinking that it might have to be more of an all-hands-on-deck game from the very beginning.
“We gave the start to Ryan because we know what we’re getting with this guy,” Virginia Tech coach John Szefc said. “He throws strikes, he pounds the zone, he challenges hitters. It’s not ball, ball, ball. He lets the defense play behind him.”
It was somewhat poetic that Metz was the guy on the mound in this spot, propelling Virginia Tech to its greatest postseason success.
He’s seen it all in Blacksburg. He arrived at the exact same time as Szefc and endured the 2018 and 2019 seasons when the Hokies went 8-22 and 9-21 in ACC play. He dealt, as everyone did, with the 2020 season being canceled. And as with so many of his teammates on this team, he was part of the group last season that looked like a sure-fire regional team before stumbling down the stretch.
“I’ve been a part of five Virginia Tech teams, all with different cultures, all with different kind of mottos and the way they go about their business, and this one’s just been the most fun to be a part of, in my opinion,” Metz said. “The way these guys play, we go out and fight and just grit. I think it was kind of funny because at the beginning of the year I looked at these guys and I was like ‘guys, this team is different.’ I honestly could have told you we were going to do this at the beginning of the year before we ever played a game.”
Just like the program as a whole, Metz has come a long way. Over his first four seasons, he threw a total of 35.1 innings. This season alone he has 34.1 innings after Sunday and he’s having statistically his best season. He has a 2.88 ERA, a 27-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a .235 opponent batting average.
John Szefc has talked recently about emerging pitchers at this time of year—on Friday he referred to righthander Christian Worley that way—and Metz has to be in that group. It’s hard to imagine him not getting important innings next weekend in the super regionals.
“He’s turned himself into a quality starter, a leader on this team, he’s a mature guy,” Szefc said. “I think he’s very well respected by our players and our staff.”
What doubt still existed about the result when Metz left the game in the middle of the fifth was extinguished by third baseman Carson DeMartini and first baseman Nick Biddison.
Even with the effort Metz put in, it was still just a 3-1 Virginia Tech lead as things moved to the bottom of the fifth, with the Hokies having been held off the scoreboard in the third and fourth and momentum palpably shifting back toward the underdog Lions.
But with two outs and two on in the fifth, DeMartini hammered a ball over the wall in right for a three-run homer to break things open a bit. On the very next pitch, Biddison launched one out to left to make it a 7-1 ballgame.
With his big hit, which unofficially kicked off an extended celebration at English Field that was capped by a celebratory rendition of Enter Sandman while the Hokies posed for pictures in front of the bracket on the field, DeMartini helped fulfill a promise Szefc made to him during the recruiting process.
“When I committed here in high school, Coach Szefc told me that we really didn’t have the caliber of players that he would have liked,” DeMartini said. “He said that we were building the program and by the time I got here, it was going to be the real deal.”
This team, bucking decades of history that said Blacksburg was a tough place to build a winning baseball program, has now gone further than any Virginia Tech team ever has. Real deal indeed.