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Hurting Hokies return to action

KRISTEN GELINEAU • Apr 21, 2007 at 1:00 AM

BLACKSBURG - It was a small rally, yet it signaled the start of a much, much larger one.

Trailing Miami by five runs in the bottom of the eighth inning, Virginia Tech scored three quick runs to tighten its baseball game Friday night, injecting life into a crowd desperate for it.

The Hokies went on to lose 11-9, but on a day marked by tears and mourning, prayer vigils and tolling bells, an evening at the ballpark - Virginia Tech's first sporting event since Monday's rampage by a student gunman - provided a hint of relief.

"We won before we got to the field today. The scoreboard was insignificant," Hokies coach Pete Hughes said.

"It was a bittersweet feeling playing this game," Hokies outfielder Jose Cueto said. "It feels good to get out and get away from everything, but the fact that we're getting away from that tragedy makes it hurt."

In certain moments, there was a strange sense of normalcy. A little boy played catch with his dad. Teens scrambled to scoop up foul balls. Fans shifted impatiently in the long lines to buy hot dogs and Cracker Jack.

But Friday was a day of statewide mourning, and even at the ballgame, the pain from the slayings of 33 people, including 23-year-old gunman Seung-Hui Cho, was never far from the surface.

Tears spilled down the cheeks of one player from the home team as a recording of Virginia Tech professor Nikki Giovanni's poem, "We Are Virginia Tech" echoed through the stadium. Several Hokies cried as the national anthem played.

Miami players and coaches wore black wristbands in memory of the victims during the three-game series against the Hokies.

Miami coach Jim Morris drew raucous applause when he presented a $10,000 check on behalf of the university for the Hokie Spirit and Memorial Fund.

The rowdy crowd of more than 3,132 - an English Field record - grew somber as they rose to observe a 32-second moment of silence.

"You've either got to move forward or you move backward," athletic director Jim Weaver said. "We think it is the beginning of the healing process."

Freshman Andrea Hacker, 19, said the game would help her set aside the horrific memories from Monday, when she heard Cho's gunshots from a nearby building.

"Looking around, seeing the seas of orange and maroon - it's a special time today," Hacker said.

"Students need to get back to normal," said junior Chance Hellmann, whose friend Nicole White, 20, was killed in the shooting.

"Anything that keeps your mind off this is a good thing," he said.

The Hurricanes upped their record to 23-17 overall and 9-10 in the Atlantic Coast Conference . The Hokies dropped to 17-21,4-15.

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