Virginia Tech Softball (4-1) has grown under head coach Pete D’Amour into one of the better teams in the nation. After a breakthrough season last year, the team looks to prove itself with an even better follow up campaign.
Last weekend, the Hokies started out their season at the Kickin’ Chicken Classic in Conway, SC on the campus of Coastal Carolina where they won their first four games by a combined score of 35-8. However, on Sunday, the Hokies bats went cold late as they fell in extra innings to Iowa who they had already mercy-ruled earlier in the week.
“We were knocking the rust off; we’re going to hit, we’re going to pitch, but we just have to play some defense,” D’Amour said. “We hit OK this weekend and we pitched OK; we just have to be able to pick the ball up sometimes. We just have to build off it.”
A lot of the Hokies offense came from James Madison transfer Kelsey Brown. The speedy outfielder totaled ten hits in five games this past weekend including a home run. She also added five stolen bases on six attempts making her a huge threat at the top of the lineup for Tech.
“When she gets the ball on the ground, there’s a good chance that she’s going to be safe,” D’Amour said. “She’s got elite speed, so the thing is with Kelsey, you just have to make it simple for her.”
On the mound, ace Keely Rochard had herself a great weekend. She went 2-1 in the tournament, giving up just five runs over 21.1 innings. Even in the loss against Iowa, she totaled a career-high 15 strikeouts to add to the 19 she had in her first two appearances. With Rochard at the helm, the Hokies pitching should be strong once again in 2020.
“The one thing I really liked is that she threw a really good game on Saturday night and came back on Sunday and was better,” D’Amour said. “It’s going to bode well for us in conference if she can throw back-to-back days. That was good to see.”
Rochard took over as the ace for 2019 ACC Pitcher of the Year Carrie Eberle. After last season, Eberle transferred to Oklahoma State, who just so happens to be the first team that the Hokies will face in Clearwater. Despite the familiarity, the Hokies won’t change what they do In preparation.
“It’s just another game for us; she’s not here anymore,” D’Amour said. “To say that we’re going to put more emphasis on this game or that, that’s not what we do around here. We won’t circle a game based on a kid that used to be here.”
Along with the 16th-ranked Cowboys, every team the Hokies play this weekend will be ranked entering the tournament. The Hokies are looking to take the next step and playing against some of the best programs in the country is a good way to see if they are there yet. However, the team knows that seasons aren’t made in February.
“You don’t win the conference based on a tournament in the preseason,” D’Amour said. “It’s a good test for us, we’ll see where we stack up against good teams in the country and we’ll come back and see what we need to work on.”
In D’Amour’s first season in Blacksburg, the Hokies had unprecedented success. The team finished 47-11 on the season with a 20-4 conference record that allowed them to gain the top seed in the ACC Tournament. However, postseason struggles left a sour taste in the mouth of the team.
“We just want to keep building because there is a standard that has been set,” D’Amour said. “It’s not so much about wins and losses, but how we act, how we handle ourselves, and how we go about our business.”
D’Amour and the Hokies will look to prove they weren’t just a one-hit wonder and build on the success of last year. That starts this weekend in Florida.
“We’re just going to keep building on what we did last year,” D’Amour said. “It’s more of a culture and that’s what we’re trying to build on.”