In front of one of the largest crowds in Virginia Tech softball history, the No. 3 Hokies (42-7) got NCAA Regional play off to a memorable start Friday afternoon with a 4-0 win over St. Francis (37-17) behind Keely Rochard’s ninth career no-hitter.
A crowd of 1,923 witnessed the first regional game at Tech Softball Park, and they were noticed by the Hokie athletes.
“There was definitely a different ‘feel’ in the park today,” Virginia Tech head coach Pete D’Amour told Tech Sideline after the game. “The crowd was absolutely awesome. We’re going to need that atmosphere, maybe amp it up even more going forward. Our kids definitely appreciate it.”
“You can just hear HokieNation over top of everything,” Rochard told ESPN after the game. “That just really helps having all that support.”
Rochard was simply amazing, taking a perfect game into the seventh inning before hitting a batter and then walking one. She ended the day with 17 strikeouts.
“We worked a lot in practice this week of me getting my momentum back,” Rochard said. “I think that helped a lot.”
“Keely was back to her old self today,” D’Amour said. “Not that she struggled terribly the last couple weeks, but she was back to ‘normal’ Keely this afternoon.”
“She made it easy behind the plate,” senior catcher Mackenzie Lawter said. “I think this was the best she has thrown all year.”
The Virginia Tech offense struggled a bit early before a bases loaded walk by pinch hitter Ally Repko in the fourth inning forced in a run to get the Hokies on the board. Kelsey Bennett doubled the advantage in the fifth with this single that drove in Emma Ritter.
— Virginia Tech Softball (@HokiesSoftball) May 20, 2022
A St. Francis error in the sixth inning plated the final two VT runs.
“I didn’t think we played our best today,” D’Amour said, “which is a good sign moving forward. Coming out of the regional, the first game you always have a bit of jitters. I’ve been in enough of them where that’s almost always a tough game. We’re just happy to get the win and see who wins the next game.”
That “next game” was a Kentucky highlight show, as the Wildcats blasted MAC Champion Miami 15-1 in a five-inning run-rule contest. The Wildcats hit an NCAA Tournament and school record-tying six home runs and scored in every inning.
Virginia Tech and Kentucky will battle at 3 p.m. ET on Saturday in a winner’s bracket game that is scheduled to be shown on ESPN. The winner will advance to the regional final on Sunday at 12 p.m. ET.
The losing team will take on the winner of tomorrow’s losers bracket game between St. Francis (Pa.) and Miami (OH), with the winner earning a birth in Sunday’s finals and the loser being eliminated.
During the postgame press conference, Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawsen shared that the Wildcats have been preparing for the Hokies during the past two weeks.
“We had a good instinct that we’d be sent to Virginia Tech,” Lawson said. “The past couple weeks, we’ve only had one game. … The rest has been preparation and stuff. We’ve been preparing for Virginia Tech really the entire two weeks, so hopefully all that preparation will work out.”