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2008
27
May

On to Oklahoma

05/27/08

The party continues for the Virginia Tech softball team. A week after acting as a sandman to Tennessee’s season in the Knoxville regional, the Hokies rolled into Michigan to tangle with the Wolverettes in the super-regional. After spotting Michigan the opening game to make things interesting and increase ESPN face time for star pitcher Angela Tincher, Tech swept through two games on Sunday to advance to something called the Women’s College World Series. It is quite a run.

The Tech women’s romp through spring has turned into both a major competitive story and feel-good one. The success of what seems to be a Tech team comprised of equal parts athletic ability and high character stands as an interesting counterweight to the news last week from the football program, where it seems the recruits are no longer waiting until they get to Tech to be arrested.

I’m sure the Blacksburg Police Department appreciated the saving of man-hours of labor, as they must have been happy to see Frank bound totally out of character and move to jettison Rose rather than giving the usual five or six second chances while prattling on about his being a ‘good kid’ [given what happened with Ore and now Rose, it is understandable to ponder if it is still Frank’s call to make].

The softball team continues to provide both play of a very high quality and a major public relations opportunity for the sport. It was hard not to notice over the weekend that Tech and the telegenic Tincher were getting the lion’s share of attention from ESPN. Every single pitch from Angela was televised live, relegating most of the rest of the field to announcements of their scores between innings of Tech games. The boys in Bristol are no fools and know how to drive ratings.

The Tech team shows up very well on television. It had seemed that was the case for the entire sport. Tech’s wins over NC State in the ACC Tournament final and the she-Vols in the NCAA regional had been over teams that primarily looked to be mirror images of Tech. To the casual observer, such as this one, it appeared this was a sport peopled mostly with lithe bodies, attractive faces and long blond hair.

More than once or twice over the past weekends, I have found myself pondering that if the NCAA and ESPN REALLY wanted to grow and develop this sport, outfit the girls similar to those in the Lingerie Football League.

Then came Michigan. Yikes! Those were some big girls. Their collective team weight certainly produced a gross tonnage that far exceeded Tech’s. No wonder the ESPN announcers seemed to be openly rooting for Tech. Shots of Jessica Everhart certainly made for superior television images than those of that Michigan first baseperson.

It made little difference to Tincher. She proved just as adept at striking out the supersized Michigan behemoths as she did the more moderately-proportioned State and Tennessee players. It would seem that in softball, unlike basketball or pornography, size doesn’t matter.

For all the good it did them, many of the Wolverettes could have been carrying fried chicken legs instead of softball bats as they lumbered to the plate like African buffalo.

They would at least have something to snack on as they headed back to the dugout following three Tincher strikes, helping to maintain what must be enormous daily caloric requirements.

So far, at least, Tincher has dominated this tournament. Tech is most definitely not a great hitting team, or even a good one. Scores of these games have resembled more closely soccer results rather than the 11-10 slugfests that were in abundance last weekend at the pitching-challenged ACC baseball tournament.

Tincher, however, doesn’t need many. Often times, one is enough. After Tech did provide some offensive support in Sunday’s second game, bolting to a 6-0 lead, it was apparent that the game was over. If the USA national team couldn’t manage a single hit off of Angela, the Michigan team sure wasn’t getting six runs and they didn’t. The Michigan team was aware they were doomed as well. The occasional times that ESPN focused a camera on something other than Tincher the facial expressions and body language of the Michigan players and coaches greatly resembled those of Lloyd Carr following an Ohio State or Appalachian State game.

When the opposing team manages to luck up and actually hit the ball, the Tech team does support Tincher with what looks to be pretty good defense, especially from the center-fielder Everhart, who appears capable of catching everything and anything hit to the outfield. Strong pitching and solid defense up the middle is a classic recipe for baseball success, one that seems to hold true in softball as well. Tech coach Scot Thomas has complemented Tincher nicely in the field.

Thomas is an interesting story himself. A Blacksburg native, he found himself following college at East Tennessee State working in the Tech football equipment department. This was at the time jimmy found enough change in Jamerson sofa cushions to decide to fund a softball program.

Not getting a lot of takers for coaching a new program on a shoestring budget, jimmy found himself wandering the halls of Jamerson calling out, “Anybody want to coach softball?” Thomas was working in an equipment room counting football helmets or preparing to send out Frank’s dry cleaning when jimmy strolled in and began a conversation that went something like,

jimmy: “Hey, you. Do you work here?”

Thomas: “Uh, yes sir.”

“Do you know anything about softball?”

“I once played on my church team.”

“Congratulations, Coach.”

From such humble athletic beginnings, Thomas now finds himself coaching a team headed to the softball World Series and routinely the subject of interview requests from ESPN and scads of state media. Not bad for a guy whose total budget is still only around $150k, about what Frank spends each year on golf apparel.

It can be expected that a little more coin will be shoved Scot’s way, especially in light of those stories about the ACC-leading amounts of cash being thrown off by the Tech football program. The chances, however, of Thomas being able to frank like Frank are non-existent. Softball remains a sport that produces practically nothing in revenue, only bills. Anybody still wondering why purchasing tickets to the game in Charlotte was mandatory or future football schedules contain lots of home dates OOC dates against teams willing to come to Lane for the cheapest guarantees? It is so teams like the softball one can be funded.

The future of softball seems pretty bright at Tech, even without the superstar Tincher. We are reliably informed that Thomas has been able to ride Angela into a recruiting upgrade. Tech very likely won’t dominate the sport without their pitching ace, but they won’t fall off the mountains, either.

That, however, is down the road. For now, we await this weekend’s Women’s College World Series and the opportunity to watch this very likable Tech team again and to watch Angela Tincher pitch one last time. Go get ‘em, girls.

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