History made: Tech softball team uses freshman to make run to NCAA tournament by Bryan Johnston

Virginia Tech head softball coach Scot Thomas realized in early February that he had something special on his hands. The Hokies were in the midst of an 18-game winning streak, finding different ways to win games every time out.

Going into the Atlantic Coast Conference portion of its schedule, Tech was all but a lock for its first NCAA tournament appearance in the program's 10-year history. Then, star freshman pitcher Angela Tincher was diagnosed with a pair of stress fractures in her left leg that sidelined her for three weeks. In her absence, the Hokies faltered and went just 4-13 in conference play, which landed them in the cellar heading into the ACC tournament.

Luckily, Tincher was able to return in time for the tournament and the team got its confidence back. In their opener, the Hokies bested second-seed Florida State in 14 innings, 3-2. Tincher led the way to the win by striking out 21 batters in 12.2 innings. The next day, however, Tech fell to U.Va., putting the team's hopes of reaching the title game on the line.

Yet the Hokies came through again. Catcher Megan Evans blasted two two-run home runs to lead Tech to a 4-0 win over North Carolina. The next day, the Hokies downed Maryland, 5-3. Later that night, Tincher struck out 16 batters as Tech beat U.Va. 2-1. That win led Tech to a berth in the title game, where its run ended with a 1-0 loss against top-seeded Georgia Tech. But the Hokies' three wins were good enough to re-ignite the flames of hope for a regional bid.

Angela Tincher

Angela Tincher
photo by Dave Knachel

On the ride home, the team bus was pulled over to the side of Interstate 81 so the players could watch the NCAA selection show on the satellite television. As the brackets rolled by, teams Tech had beaten were called, but not Tech.

Finally, with just three brackets left, there it was: Virginia Tech. The dream had become a reality and the players erupted in jubilation. The Hokies were going to the NCAA tournament, something never before accomplished in the history of the program.

While Tech went just 1-2 at the regional competition hosted by the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, the tournament losses couldn't take away from the outstanding season that saw the team go 44-25. Tincher re-wrote the record book, striking out 349 batters and finishing in the top five nationally in strikeouts per game.

Evans finished her Tech career as the greatest power hitter in the program's history. She broke several school records, including those for career home runs (50), career RBIs (161), career walks (121), home runs in a season (16), RBIs in a season (50), and slugging percentage.

Outfielder Kelly Brown also set new school marks for hits in a season (76) and hitting streak (24 games). Brown and Evans were both named All-ACC and, along with Tincher, were named All-Northeast Region.

Thomas is banking on the 2005 NCAA bid not being Tech's last. With an athletic group of position players--as well as one of the best pitchers in the nation--returning, he is hoping that the second bid will come next May. Maybe next time, the suspense leading up to the bid won't be quite as dramatic.

Bryan Johnston is assistant director of sports information.