Virginia Tech’s softball team has experienced a historic rebirth this season. First-year head coach Pete D’Amour has led the team to the best start in program history with a 39-6 record that has it nationally ranked at No. 21 in the latest poll. The Hokies have the best record in the ACC and sit atop the Coastal Division with a 16-2 conference record and have been dominant as of late. They’ve won six straight games, and over that stretch the Hokies have outscored opponents 45-1. This team has bounced back from two consecutive losing seasons and continues to get stronger as the season goes on.
“Our pitching has done really well. They’re throwing strikes and moving the ball around in the strike zone like normal,” D’Amour said. “Offensively, it’s not one person carrying the load, we have a chance one through nine to make an impact at the plate. It’s been a team effort.”
The highlight of this current hot streak that Tech is on was a three-game sweep of UVA at home. During this series last weekend, the Hokies did not allow the Wahoos to cross the plate in any of the three games, winning 8-0, 1-0 and 7-0. Tech has 16 other shutouts on the season, but those three against their in-state rival have to feel just a little bit better.
“[Sweeping UVA] meant three more conference victories for us,” D’Amour said. “I know it’s a big deal in the state and you get the point in the commonwealth clash, and it’s a big deal for fans and our players too. As a coach, it’s just three more wins for us.”
Despite the success against UVA at home last weekend, the Hokies have actually been better on the road than at Tech Softball Park. Their record away from home stands at 16-2 and a perfect 9-0 in the ACC. They showed this off on Wednesday with two wins over Charlotte down in the Queen City. The Hokies have been unstoppable on the road as of late, allowing just eight runs over their last 11 road matchups.
“There are very limited distractions on the road. There’s no looking in the stands, there’s no watching video boards, there’s no, ‘Why isn’t my walk out song playing?’ There’s none of that. It’s just softball,” D’Amour said. “That’s just one thing we preach all of the time, and we’re getting better at it at home, but on the road there seems to be a little more focus.”
The pitching will get a lot of credit for Tech’s success this season, and it should. In the circle this year, the Hokies have a 1.94 ERA, which ranks 17th in the nation. However, the work that they have done at the plate has been just as impressive. Tech currently sits at 5th in the country in batting average with a .346 clip. The leader of this effort has been sophomore Darby Trull. She is third in the ACC currently with a .416 average. This is somewhat surprising considering Trull was used in a limited role last year and hit just .233 as a freshman.
“What got Darby into the lineup to begin with was her defense in centerfield. She tracks the ball as well as anybody. At the plate, she’s very disciplined and she uses all fields,” D’Amour said. “I think the biggest change in Darby this year has been her confidence level. She’s an emotional player, and I think she has a better feel for the game since the Fall.”
Now, the Hokies face a tough test this weekend in the North Carolina Tar Heels. Earlier this week, UNC was able to take two out of three games from No. 3 Florida State. The Tar Heels have turned it on late in the season, winning 11 of their last 13 games. Tech will have a double-header on Friday and then finish off the series on Saturday afternoon.
“We need to continue to play really good defense. UNC is going to put the ball in play, we just can’t give them free-bees. That could be errors or walks or a hit by pitch,” D’Amour said. “I can deal with balls put in play, but I want them to beat us, we can’t beat ourselves.”
The Hokies currently sit three games ahead of the Tar Heels in the Coastal division. A series win would clinch not only the division for Tech, but also make the Hokies ACC regular season champions. A year ago, the team finished second to last in the Coastal. This improvement would be a great accomplishment for the program in D’Amour’s first season in Blacksburg.
“I’m extremely proud of them, regardless of whether we win or not, of how that the players have accepted us and accepted the coaching,” D’Amour said. “This is a really fun team to be around and I’m proud of them whether they win this weekend or not. It’s been a dream-like season for me, personally.”