Virginia Tech's Outgoing Transformational Diamond Stars

Virginia Tech's Outgoing Transformational Diamond Stars
Photo Credit: Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech Athletics
Tim Thomas

Tim Thomas | @TimThomasTLP

TLP: Editor
Jun 13, 2022

While the ends of their seasons were heartbreaking, heights that haven't been reached before for Virginia Tech Baseball and Softball were reached this year as both teams earned their highest national seeds in program history, won ACC regular season titles, and hosted Super Regionals for the first time in each program's history (with it being VT baseball's first Super Regional appearance ever).

Those outgoing stars were largely recruited when both programs were struggling while these players were in high school with VT Softball falling into a rut at the end of Scott Thomas' impressive tenure and VT Baseball becoming an ACC bottom feeder under Pat Mason.

During their times in Blacksburg that ranged from 3-5 years, these players led a revival and transformation that has raised the bar significantly for what the standard is, and made clear that dreams of baseball and softball national titles are absolutely possible in Blacksburg.

Any conversation has to start with the two biggest stars of these two teams in Keely Rochard and Gavin Cross who will both likely be on the Mount Rushmores for each program.

Prior to Rochard's arrival in Blacksburg, Angela Tincher was a clear #1 greatest pitcher of all-time for Virginia Tech softball. As Rochard leaves, she's at least put herself in a strong conversation that warrants merit as to whether Tincher or Rochard is Tech's greatest pitcher of all-time.

She played an incredible role in elevating Virginia Tech Softball to one of the top programs as the ace for the past three seasons after being a strong #2 starter in 2018 and Pete D'Amour's first season in 2019 that saw Tech return to the NCAA regionals.

The past two seasons have seen Rochard transform and cement her legacy in Blacksburg starting with an All-American level 2021 where she emerged as one of America's best pitchers and almost willed Tech to the Women's College World Series as a 2 seed in their Tempe Regional winning that and then almost taking out one of the top overall seeds in UCLA in Los Angeles.

2022 saw Rochard have another All-American level season and though it ended how no one could have imagined, she prove time and time again to be the right pitcher in numerous big games. There's a reason why she has already signed a professional softball contract with the 2022 NCAA softball just ending recently and she definitely deserves to have her name and #3 on the outfield wall alongside Tincher.

Meanwhile, Gavin Cross showed that big time talent could be developed and thrive in Blacksburg as a three-year starter who never hit below .325 in a single season which is absolutely absurd. His career stat line is really good with 28 home runs, 93 RBIs, 174 hits, and 28 stolen bases in roughly 2 and a third seasons with an incredible slash line of .340/.412/.609. Though he won't be at the top of record books given that the financial demands of the MLB Draft lead to shorter careers, he's been as highly productive game-by-game as the Tech baseball greats.

Cross will go on to likely be only the fifth Virginia Tech baseball player to be selected in the first round of the MLB Draft this year and the first in two decades since Joe Saunders went 12th overall to the Los Angeles Angels in the 2002 MLB Draft. He also has a chance to surpass Saunders and become the highest drafted player in VT history.

However, we can't just talk about Cross and Rochard when talking about the legacy of this outgoing class with one area of commonality coming behind the plate.

Cade Hunter and Mackenzie Lawter both had very different look tenures yet their impacts are both strong albeit Lawter's being stronger.

Lawter was a four-year starter for the Hokies at catcher being the one helping call games for Tech's numerous star pitchers including Rochard and Emma Lemley this year while also being a quality hitter for Tech. Her hitting success took center stage at time both with clutch home runs in the Blacksburg Regional this year and a big RBI against UCLA in the 2021 Los Angeles Super Regional.

Catchers are even more important in softball than in baseball and though she may not have had the biggest offensive numbers during her career, her play behind the plate combined with that clutch hitting helped Lawter elevate Virginia Tech Softball to greater heights.

Hunter's breakout didn't come till this year but when it arrived, it was huge as Hunter was one of the key cogs to Tech's tremendous offense this year with 11 home runs, 59 RBIs, a .330 batting average, and 11 stolen bases. The presence of Georgia Tech's future high draft pick Kevin Parada prevented Hunter from being All-ACC First Team, but Hunter was an undoubted star who is the latest big time catcher who, like Carson Taylor, will likely be drafted in the first five or so rounds this year.

While Cross and Hunter will be drafted higher, Nick Biddison was the veteran leader that saw Tech from earlier stages of the John Szefc "Build It In Blacksburg" rebuild who also helped fulfill it. Though he downplayed his veteran leadership, there's no doubt that whenever he got to talk with us in the media and when seen on the field, he was the type of veteran leader that great teams like Tech need.

Biddison was a starter whenever he was healthy over the past four years with his All-ACC Third Team honor looking like one of the great snubs this year after the best season of his career hitting .347 with 14 home runs, 47 RBIs, and 14 doubles while stealing 21 bases.

Part of his legacy of leadership will be his role as Mr. Versatility for Virginia Tech being able to play wherever was needed and then doing so. That included moving from right field to first base when it became clear that Tech was better off with having Carson Jones, a pure outfielder, in the lineup down the stretch to elevate Tech's lineup even further.

Beyond that, Tanner Schobel made a big jump from 2021 to 2022 developing into an All-American in what will be his second and likely final year as a starter given that Schobel is eligible already due to him turning 21 already.

If it is, his 2022 season was a tremendous one to remember as Tech's #3 hitter with a .362 batting average, 19 home runs, 74 RBIs, and 18 doubles while having a .689 slugging percentage and .445 on-base percentage plus a good .954 fielding percentage.

Darby Trull is the third of Tech's outgoing four-year starters who ran the show in center field and shined throughout her career as a steady presence for Tech there. Her hitting numbers may not be the flashiest but her defense was strong while she also provided big hitting scoring a run against UCLA in that LA Super Regional Game 1 win in 2021 while being one of Tech's best postseason bats this past year.

There are plenty of others who could be mentioned from Ryan Metz who got to have his big moment with the start of his career in the Blacksburg Regional clincher against Columbia to Ally Repko who had some big pinch hit at-bats for Tech that included drawing bases-loaded RBI walks which takes a heck of a lot of plate discipline for a pinch hitter to do that.

This includes transfers like Repko plus Kiernan Higgins and Jordan Geber who played big roles on the pitching staff with Higgins being Tech's top reliever as Geber stepping up plenty as Tech's third starter down the stretch this year along with Eduardo Malinowski and Conor Hartigan who proved to be solid starters. Less prominent players who played at times but proved great for the culture as well like Ryan Okuda and Kayleigh Addington deserved to be mentioned here as well.

These players leave a tremendous legacy that has changed the expectations and either restored the high bar that softball had set with the Scott Thomas-Angela Tincher days or set a higher bar or what can be expected for VT in baseball. We've seen plenty of emotion from both Pete D'Amour and John Szefc at the end of these seasons wanting to more than rightly celebrate the accomplishments of these transformational classes that made impacts on and off the field.

And in the end, these players helped pioneer the restoration and transformation of these Tech baseball and softball programs that showed what can be possible at Virginia Tech.

Though the heartbreak hurts, these tremendous accomplishments and tremendous players should be celebrated for making the type of transformation impact that has Virginia Tech closer than ever before to winning its first national title with these players laying the foundation to achieve that.

And that, should be celebrated not overlooked.