This might have been the year Franklin Stubbs single-handedly directed national attention to Virginia Tech's baseball program. The sophomore first baseman from Hamlet, N.C., is on the verge of surpassing the NCAA one-season home run record, but, while hitting 28 homers, he hasn't exactly overshadowed his Tech teammates.
When the Hokies (44-7) host James Madison at 2 p.m. Sunday, Stubbs will seek to tie or break the national record of 29 set by UCLA's Jim Auten in 1979. Tech will have two games after Sunday before the start of the Metro Conference championship tournament Thursday in Tallahassee, Fla. t
By virtue of their 35-5 record against Division I opponents, the Hokies have drawn the top seed in that tournament and will face Cincinnati in the opening round.
Scouts have seen Stubbs as a major-league prospect from the day he arrived in Blacksburg. But he isn't one to dwell on his phenomenal season, which also includes a .436 batting average, 78 RBI and 30 stolen bases. He would rather talk about a Tech squad that has broken 32 individual and team single-season records and has a team batting average of .350.
More impressive, however, is the development of a once-suspect pitching staff. And even with Stubbs' home run ability, the Hokies struggled to receive anything more than regional attention because their 58-game schedule was not as strong as that of other Division I clubs.
"We aren't surprised," Stubbs said. "Maybe we didn't think we'd be averaging more than 10 runs a game, but before the season started some of the guys wrote down what they thought our record would be and some of them are going to be pretty close.
"I think a lot of people are sort of shocked that we are playing this well, but we're not. I think the coaches have been surprised by the pitching -- it's not the greatest in the world -- but I think we are a better hitting team now because our pitching has become so reliable."
Senior left-hander Paul Levy is Tech's most succesful pitcher with an 11-1 record, a 3.46 ERA and nine complete games.
"We haven't had many bad ball games," Coach Chuck Hartman said. "You don't win 44 games and lose just seven unless your pitching is pretty good.The scouts all say that we have as good a ball club as they've seen . . . Our offense has exceeded my expectations. I've never had a club that has hit the ball like this before.
"If we can hold a team to five or six runs, we can usually win. Of course that's the advantage of having a club that scores runs."
Although Stubbs has played a major role, junior Brian Rupe, the center fielder, and second baseman Jay Phillips have made significant contributions. Rupe, from Robinson High School in Fairfax, Va., is batting .420 and has 76 hits. Phillips, an old rival of Rupe when he played at Oakton High School in Vienna, Va., has a .340 average and has stolen 25 bases in 27 attempts.
In all, Tech has a school record 91 home runs (the old mark was 64 in 1978), and has six players bunched in its batting order with .300-plus averages.
Stubbs keeps these numbers in mind whent he subject of home run records is mentioned. He is impatient about launching No. 30.
"I hope it's soon, so I can get it out of the way," Stubbs said. "You can't ride on it. You've just got to worry about going out and winning.
"I'd set a goal of hitting 25 or 26 home runs this season, but when you start hitting homers, you start to wonder. I was kidding around with some people last summer about how many I'd hit, but when you get serious it starts getting tough. It's nice to hit it and know it's going out of the park. I'm not going to tell you any stories about that."
Hartman assumes that Stubbs will continue to produce in the cleanup spot, and with third baseman Jim Stewart (.364, 17 homers, 77 RBI) preceding Stubbs in the batting order and designated hitter Andy Aldrich (.370) following him, he isn't worried that Tech will struggle in postseason play. Before the Hokies can think about an NCAA bid, they'll have to contend with 11th-ranked Florida State and 14th-ranked Memphis State in the Metro tourney.
"We're really looking forward to seeing what happens in that tournament," said Lou Pavlocivh, who coordinates the top 30 biweekly poll released by the Tucson-based Collegiate Baseball. "That's the true test.
Tech has a fantastic record. That's really the key, and with that many pro prospects, they have to be legitimate. Their schedule was the only thing holding them back in our analysis."