There are so many great things going on in Virginia Tech athletics right now. With the men’s basketball team going to the Sweet Sixteen and Mekhi Lewis winning an individual National Championship in wrestling, the Hokies’ softball team is flying under the radar.
They shouldn’t be. At 27-4 and 8-1 in ACC play, the team is off to the hottest start in program history and is currently ranked 24th in the country. They have a road win over Georgia, who was ranked 8th in the country entering that game, and have now won ten straight games. In head coach Pete D’Amour’s first season, softball has been on fire through the first half of their season.
“I’m pleased [with the start], obviously. I told the girls after the Pitt game, ‘I’ve been on some really good teams, teams that made the World Series and Super-Regionals. I don’t know if my team has ever had a start like this,’” D’Amour said. “It’s been a good journey so far, so I’m just hoping we can keep it up.”
The Hokies can attribute a lot of their success to the way they have played defensively. The team has an overall ERA of 2.12 and has committed just 26 errors on the year. It’s hard to lose when the other team doesn’t score, and the Hokies have been one of the best in the country at keeping opposing teams off of the scoreboard. Opposing teams have been shut out 12 times by the Hokies already this year, which accounts for almost half of the team’s wins.
“[Our success] goes back to pitching and defense. I know it’s a cliché, but our pitching has been really, really good and our defense has been as advertised,” D’Amour said. “If you have those two ingredients, you can be in every game.”
The key to keeping opponents from crossing home plate has been the dominant pitching from junior Carrie Eberle and sophomore Keely Rochard. These two have accounted for all but four of the Hokies’ innings in the circle this season. Eberle is 16-1 with a 1.68 ERA, acting as the ace for Tech. Rochard has been a problem for opposing hitters as well with just a .158 batting average against.
“They both move the ball in the strike zone. That sounds elementary, but good pitchers are able to move the ball in the strike zone to get swings and misses,” D’Amour said. “Carrie has been able to spot her drop better in the past couple of weeks, which has limited her pitch count and caused quick at bats, as well.”
Although pitching and defense may be what it takes to stay in games, the Hokies have also been hot at the plate. They rank in the top ten in the nation in home runs per game, batting average, and runs scored. They were fantastic last week especially. In six games, they averaged just under 13 runs per game and hit 16 home runs. Although the pitching and defense have been great for Tech, the Hokies’ offensive prowess has been a large part of their success.
“[The key to our offensive success] has been a multitude of things,” D’Amour said. “It’s approach, pitch recognition, being on time, it’s all of those things. We really hit home the importance of bat speed, just swinging the bats harder with intent. I can’t pinpoint one thing, it’s a lot and they’ve worked really hard since I got here.”
The Hokies will be looking to stay hot against Radford on Wednesday at home and continue their scorching season. This may be the best start in school history, but the team is working hard to get better and set themselves up for a postseason run.
“We’re going to go to practice and just keep doing what we’ve been doing, then we’re going to play Radford and prepare for them the same way we have all year,” D’Amour said. “The one thing I don’t want is for them to say, ‘We’re sitting at this ranking,” and get a little bit complacent. If we just keep doing what we’ve been doing, I think at the end, they’re going to get the result that they want.”