A sophomore for Virginia Tech, Keely Rochard, has been one of the hottest pitchers in the country through the first few weeks of the season. She has dominated hitters with shutouts in six of her seven starts, which leads the country. The team has largely benefited from her contributions on the mound as the Hokies have gone 8-1 in games in which Rochard has appeared.
“She throws strikes, she moves the ball up and down, and she has a good changeup,” head coach Pete D’Amour said. “I don’t want to say she’s been a pleasant surprise, because I knew she’d have a pretty decent year, but she’s just unflappable.”
Virginia Tech softball has gotten off to one of their best starts in program history as well. The team sits at 13-2 and has been receiving votes in the USA Softball Top 25 poll for the past few weeks. This success has been spurred by the performance of Rochard and the other pitchers on the mound. A lot of the credit can also go to pitching coach Doug Gillis, who came to Virginia Tech from Kennesaw State this year with D’Amour.
“[Gillis] just knows how to work with each person and each person’s strengths and weaknesses,” Rochard said. “He’s really good at picking out what someone’s strengths are and finding their weakness and making it better and more of a strength.”
Rochard played well with the Hokies as a freshman, going 5-4 in 18 appearances, but she has taken the next step as a sophomore. Two weekends ago, she proved that she was an elite pitcher for the Hokies. Rochard started on a Saturday against Detroit Mercy and threw a no-hitter with nine strikeouts. Then, the next day against Charleston Southern, she followed that performance with another no-hitter, this time with thirteen strikeouts.
“A lot of it was just trusting my pitches, and I wasn’t worried about throwing a no-hitter,” Rochard said. “I was more worried about winning. I wasn’t really focused on what I was doing, I was more focused on the fact that we were killing it.”
These two games were good enough to earn her ACC Co-Pitcher of the Week for the second consecutive week, and she was also the NFCA Division I National Pitcher of the Week. It was only the third time in school history that a pitcher had thrown back-to-back no-hitters, and the first time since 2000.
“I don’t really have any emotion when I play. I don’t really care about what the outcome is, I just try to do what I’m taught to do,” Rochard said. “My emotion doesn’t get too high or too low, because all I’m thinking about is ‘keep doing what you’re doing.’”
Heading into last weekend, Rochard had recorded a complete game shutout in all five of her starts. That streak ended on Friday. She allowed five earned runs and only lasted 3.2 innings in a 17-5 loss to Texas State. However, Rochard was able to bounce back on Saturday with another shutout with nine strikeouts and another win.
“I try to not think about the day before. I just know that if I thought about it, I would do it again,” Rochard said. “I’m really good at forgetting about what’s happened in the past, even the good stuff. I don’t try to think, I’m going to try to throw another no-hitter. I didn’t want to think about the outcome on Friday, I just wanted to do what I had to do on Saturday.”
Rochard’s success is crucial to the Hokies, as she will be leaned on throughout the season. If she and her fellow pitchers are able to continue to shut down opposing hitters, Virginia Tech may be able to reach their first NCAA Tournament since 2015.
“It’s been a cliché that pitching and defense wins games,” D’Amour said. “The new buzzword is focus on offense right now, and I’m kind of going old-school where if we pitch and we play defense, we have a chance in every game.”
For the season, Rochard is 7-1 with a 0.73 ERA.