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Still Winners

Still Winners 06/03/08

It was a short series. The Virginia Tech softball team reached the Women’s College World Series for the first time in program history. The magical run that had gone from the stunning upset of the US National Team, through the regular season and ACC tournament, through Knoxville and Ann Arbor for the NCAA regionals and super regional finally ended in Oklahoma City. It ended a bit quicker than most Hokies had hoped.

Tech was the first team ousted. They were joined in the two-and-out, ‘Two and barbecue’ grouping by two-time defending champion Arizona. Tech also achieved distinction by being the only team in the field to not score a run. Sixteen innings, no runs.

It was evident during Tech’s aborted series appearance that they were, at bottom, a one-girl team. But, oh what a girl. Faced with hitting support that graduated between Michigan to Oklahoma from anemic to pathetic, it was obvious that Tech was in the series due to the efforts of one player.

All-everything pitcher Angela Tincher was certainly up to the challenge. She pitched magnificently, blowing through Texas A&M for most of six innings before being let down by a late Tech fielding lapse. Undaunted, Tincher came back in the elimination game against Florida, struck her way out of early trouble, then mowed down Gators like a Pantanal poacher before finally running out of gas 19 strike outs and 160 pitches later in an extra inning, the ninth. Angela gave everything she had to give, which was a lot.

Tech simply could not hit a lick. Even when Florida had seemingly gift-wrapped and handed Tech the game with a late center-fielding gaffe, Tech was unable to convert a bases-loaded with no outs opportunity into anything more than meek offensive ineptitude.

And in the end, it doesn’t matter. Despite hitting an Oklahoma City brick wall, this Tech team had won its way into the hearts and minds of thousands of Tech fans. Hokies who had pre-Tincher paid little attention to Tech softball other than perhaps noticing the field on the way into Lane Stadium leaped onto the bandwagon in droves, marveling at the exploits of this attractive and personable collection of Hokies led by their charismatic pitcher. It was a terrific experience following them, great fun. Things might not have ended as we desired, but so what? These girls are a collection of winners, wonderful ambassadors of Virginia Tech.

And now Tech softball moves on. Scot Thomas talks about maintaining at least a program at ACC championship levels and perhaps he will. Recruiting should certainly receive a boost from the exposure garnered. Tech’s bare-bones softball budget has earned at least a modest boost and maybe facilities will be upgraded to something a bit closer to the ones enjoyed by the softball powers. There will be a post-Tincher decline, to be sure, but there is certainly an opportunity to parlay this year’s success into something long-term.

The real value of Tech’s 2008 magical season, however, likely won’t show up until well down the road. Sunday afternoon found us taking a drive through the adjoining Pittsylvania County countryside. On a field that had undoubtedly been constructed for the purpose of young boys to play baseball, two teams of what looked to be pre-teen girls were playing softball. I imagine the words ‘Angela Tincher’ and ‘Virginia Tech’ were spoken more than a few times. I also suspect there were scenes just like that one playing out all around the commonwealth. All in all, that’s not a bad legacy to leave behind.

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