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Virginia Tech baseball building, ranked in top 25

Virginia Tech's baseball team is ranked in the top 25, according to Baseball America, for the first time since 1992. The Hokies have two potential first-round draft picks and could be headed to the 64-team championship tournament.

But it took three long seasons under Manager Pete Hughes to get there.

When Hughes arrived in Blacksburg in 2006, he had to play with freshman in the competitive Atlantic Coast Conference, and Virginia Tech struggled. Now, with his first group of recruits in their junior season, Hughes has the No. 25 Hokies involved in the national conversation.

"You’ve got to lose, fail and you’ve got to get experienced when you’re doing it, and then you’ve got to get better from it," Hughes said Thursday in a telephone interview. "And that’s what our guys have done."

Virginia Tech went a combined 55-53 in 2008 and 2009, which where Hughes's second and third seasons at Virginia Tech; he previously managed Boston College for the past eight seasons. This year, the Hokies are off to a 21-10 start.

The turning point this season for the Hokies came after being swept in a three-game road trip at Clemson, then ranked No. 7. Hughes met with the team and asked what its goal was, because he felt as if he and his players were not on the same page.

"I told them I was going to stop addressing them and stop trying to motivate them," Hughes said. "I needed to know what their goal is. They said 'Omaha.' "

Omaha, of course, is the site of the College World Series. Since then, Virginia Tech has been building that direction.

The Hokies have a base of talented players. But unlike many of Virginia Tech's other sports programs, which target home-grown talent and try to recruit regionally, the Hokies took a broad recruiting sweep under Hughes. Virginia Tech has six players from California and others from Georgia, New Jersey and Florida.

In explaining his recruiting philosophy, Hughes pointed out four powerhouse programs within Virginia Tech's recruiting turf: Virginia, North Carolina, Clemson and South Carolina.

"We don’t beat those people in recruiting," Hughes said. "I can see all the Hokie alums going crazy over that, but they're funded differently, their facilities are different. The longer we stay in region when they’re funded differently, the more we’re going to play with their B-list recruits."

Virginia Tech is led by pitcher Jesse Hahn and utility man Austin Wates.

Hahn, a junior, is a 6-foot-5 righty with a powerful arm. He throws a handful pitches, but his fastball is his strength and can touch 95 miles per hour with good movement. He has a 2.23 earned run average, 45 strike outs and a 4-2 record in seven starts.

Hahn's intangibles have become something of lore at Virginia Tech. In March, he pitched with kidney stones. He threw four innings and took a loss.

Wates plays in right field and sometimes at first base for the Hokies, but he has been projected as a center fielder at the next level because of his athleticism. He is fast on the basepaths and defensively. He does not swing for power, but he is batting .436 with 33 doubles in 110 at-bats.

"I think both those guys will end up in the first round," Hughes said. "They’re not bothered by that at all."

With the new found talent, Hughes has Virginia Tech moving the right direction. In fact, the Hokies won two of three games last weekend at Florida State, ranked fourth by Baseball America. The Seminoles were ranked and it was the first time Virginia Tech had taken a series against the powerful program.

And in the final game of the series, Virginia Tech had the chance to win, but left a season-high 13 men on base and squandered a late lead. The Hokies lost, 9-6.

"They’re disappointed we didn’t sweep them," Hughes said. "Our mind-set was disappointment leaving Tallahassee. That mind-set shows you the change in our dugout."

By Mark Viera  |  April 8, 2010; 12:10 PM ET
 
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