The Virginia Tech softball team is for real.
The No. 6 Hokies (14-3, 3-0 ACC) got the ACC portion of their schedule off to a resounding start this weekend, going into Clemson and sweeping three games from the No. 14 Tigers by scores of 6-1, 4-0, and 4-2, breaking Clemson’s seven-game winning streak in the process.
“We knew going into Clemson and winning games would be a challenge,” Tech head coach Pete D’Amour said. “Our ladies prepared to the level of expectations that we had, which was to compete as hard as we could and see what happens. It was a whole team effort.”
The Hokies’ pitching was outstanding.
Keely Rochard, Emma Lemley and Ivy Rosenberry combined to limit Clemson to a .154 batting average. That same team entered the series hitting .308, exactly double that.
The Tigers were also averaging 5.3 runs per game, but Tech held them to a 3 total runs – only two of them earned. They also struck out 31 Clemson batters in the 21 innings while walking only six.
Rochard was her usual dominating self, recording two wins, not allowing an earned run and striking out 17 batters in 11.2 innings. For her career, Rochard has now struck out 29 Tigers in 28.2 innings and has an ERA of 0.98.
But the weekend buzz (again) surrounded Lemley, who pitched a three-hit shutout on Saturday and earned her first career save on Sunday after relieving Rochard in the seventh inning. For the weekend, Lemley struck out 12 batters in 8 innings while walking none.
Her highlight moment occurred in the sixth inning of Saturday’s game when the Tigers got a runner to third base with one out. With the sold-out Clemson crowd at full throat and ACC Player of the Year Valerie Cagle at the plate, Lemley calmly struck her out. Her heroics were noticed on a national level by ESPN’s Amanda Scarborough.
Love that Emma Lemley rise ball and presence!@HokiesSoftball got themselves a GOOD one.
— Amanda Scarborough (@ascarborough) March 5, 2022
“I came up with an adage a few years ago that pitching and defense gives your offense a chance to win games,” D’Amour said. “Our pitching was stellar once again and we made enough plays on defense to win. Our offense is coming along.
“The last two weeks, we have beaten some very good pitchers. I’m confident in our hitters and I’m confident that we’ll continue to get even better.”
The Virginia Tech bats appear to be a reflection of the warming spring weather as the Hokies pounded out 29 hits in the three-game series. Kelsey Bennett was red hot in South Carolina, hitting .500 (6-for-12) and driving in three runs while Kelsey Brown and Emma Ritter both went 5-for-11 (.455).
Brown was also a defensive star, making a catch that ESPN showcased on its “Who Did It Best” page.
It marked the second year that Brown made highlight catches in the Clemson outfield. So does the Clemson Stadium bring out the best in her?
“It’s just a great atmosphere,” Brown modestly stated. “The fans are enthusiastic and it’s fun to play here.”
The Hokies also used the long ball at opportune times this weekend. On Friday, Tech had just taken a 1-0 lead when Jayme Bailey launched a grand slam off the center field flagpole to break the game open.
— Virginia Tech Softball (@HokiesSoftball) March 4, 2022
On Sunday, the game was a scoreless deadlock in the sixth inning when Morgan Overaitis was inserted as a pinch hitter with two runners on base and delivered this “pop up” that cleared the center field fence.
Pinch hit BOMB for the lead 😤 pic.twitter.com/IFPPfDCkR6
— Virginia Tech Softball (@HokiesSoftball) March 6, 2022
Both VT bombs came off of Cagle, last season’s ACC Player of the Year and Clemson’s ace. She can be a dominating presence in the circle with a career ERA of 1.56. However, despite having two career wins vs. VT, the Hokies have scored 15 earned runs against her in 25.1 innings for an ERA of 4.15.
The Clemson series continued a recent upward trend for Hokie hitters.
After the Ohio State game, Virginia Tech was hitting .247 as a team so D’Amour decided to try coaching from the dugout instead of from the third base coaching box. The results have been noticeable as the Hokies have a team batting average of .329 in the six games since the change.
“As the hitting coach, I feel like I can make more of an impact in the dugout,“ D’Amour said. “I can talk approach and give hitters cues that are specific to them without having to shout from the coaching box. The hitting coach should be with their hitters during the game. In addition, we have a lot of pinch hitting and running options on the team and it’s a little easier to manage that in the dugout.
“I really try hard to monitor my body language when coaching third. For some reason, I get more amped up when I’m on the field rather than in the dugout. The ladies seem to think I’m calmer in the dugout. Maybe I’m turning into a grumpy old man between the lines. It seems to be working, so we’ll continue to do it.”
With Florida State losing a game to Pittsburgh, the Hokies find themselves tied with Duke for first place in the ACC at 3-0. But there are seven ACC series left and D’Amour expects all of them to be battles.
“This is the first of many competitive conference series we’re going to have this spring,” D’Amour said. “There aren’t any weak teams in the ACC anymore. We must prepare like we did this weekend for every game left on our schedule. I’m happy with the effort our young ladies gave and we’ll get back to it on Tuesday.”
The Hokies are scheduled to play a doubleheader against Norfolk State on Wednesday starting at 4 p.m. before hosting a weekend series versus Syracuse. TSL will have preview of the Syracuse series later this week.