Resilient No. 3 Virginia Tech Softball Wins Blacksburg Regional

Virginia Tech, the champions of the Blacksburg Regional. (Jon Fleming)

In one of the most remarkable comebacks in Virginia Tech sports history, the No. 3 Hokies softball team (45-8) won three consecutive elimination games in the space of 24 hours between Saturday and Sunday to win the Blacksburg Regional and advance to next weekend’s super regional.

“I’m in awe of what our kids did this weekend,” Virginia Tech head coach Pete D’Amour told Tech Sideline after his team advanced. “We took on one of the best mid-majors in the country and arguably the best No. 2 seed in the country in the span of 24 hours on five-hours rest. We just have a bunch of tough kids.” 

The gauntlet started late Saturday night as the Hokies won a 5-4 elimination game against Miami (OH) that ended after 1 a.m. on Sunday morning. The game should have started closer to 8:30/9 p.m., but weather pushed all of the day’s games back two hours.

That meant the Hokies didn’t get much rest before playing Kentucky at 12 p.m. on Sunday with VT needing to win two games to advance to the super regionals. D’Amour said he planned to give the team a later start on Sunday, but the team insisted on some film study and additional hitting practice anyway.

“We were all fighting for each other,” first baseman Jayme Bailey said. “We had to do this for our seniors. We wanted to come together and get it done and move on to supers.”

“These are the moments you dream of,” catcher Mackenzie Lawter said. “It was right in front of us, so we trusted our coaches and trusted ourselves and played for each other.”

The top of the order got the bats hot on Sunday, and they celebrated after Fagan’s home run to close out game six. (Jon Fleming)

The bats emphatically showed up in the first game on Sunday against the Wildcats as the Hokies scored nine runs on 11 hits. The top of the order was especially productive as leadoff hitter Cameron Fagan had two hits and drove in four runs while Emma Ritter went 3-for-5 and scored two runs.

Tech scored in the first via a sacrifice fly from Meredith Slaw, which scored Fagan. Kentucky answered in the second, scoring twice, but from there, it was all Hokies.

They posted one run in the third when Bre Peck walked with the bases loaded, scoring Ritter. Two runs came in the fourth thanks to RBI singles from Ritter and Bailey, scoring Darby Trull and Ritter. In the fifth, for the second time in the game, Kentucky walked in a run with the bases loaded – this time it was Alexa Milius scoring Lawter. Kelsey Bennett scored on a sac fly from Fagan, and Tech took a 6-2 lead into the sixth.

Freshman pitcher Emma Lemley held the Wildcats at bay, allowing just two runs while scattering eight hits and striking out four. That set the table for the bats in the top of the seventh.

Tech strung hits together quickly with Bennett and Trull, the second and third batters of the inning, getting on via single. Kelsey Brown grounded out to second, advancing the runners, before Fagan stepped up and hit a three-run shot to left field to seal the game.

Lemley was locked in vs. Kentucky, closing out the Wildcats in game six and setting up Rochard in game seven. (Jon Fleming)

That set up a winner-take-all rematch immediately following the 9-2 VT victory. Somewhat surprisingly, Lemley got the call in the circle once again, but D’Amour said it was all part of the plan.

“Emma was throwing hard and had only given up 3 runs against Kentucky in about 13 innings,” D’Amour said. “Her velocity didn’t change, and I thought she was the hot hand. She’s been throwing well the last couple of weeks. I’m glad it all worked out.”

Although Lemley gave up a couple of solo home runs in the first inning, Bailey evened the score in the bottom of the inning with this blast into the trees.

Things got interesting in the top of the second when D’Amour got ejected for arguing back-to-back illegal pitch calls on Lemley by the second base umpire. Normally, illegal pitch calls are made by either the first or third base umpire, so the calls from second base were certainly unusual.

D’Amour made his feelings emphatically known, and his ejection fired up an already passionate team.

Pete D’Amour got his money’s worth with his ejection. (Jon Fleming)

“We don’t normally see coach show emotion,” Bailey said, “but he goes to war for us, and he showed it right there and it lit a fire under us.”

“He doesn’t let anyone mess with us,” senior pitcher Keely Rochard said. “We fight for each other and he is in the same pack as us and no one messes with us.”

Right after D’Amour’s ejection, Lemley, already on a 3-1 count, walked the leadoff batter. But she responded with two strikeouts and a lineout to end the inning.

Kentucky took a 3-2 lead in the third inning via a RBI double. However, after the Hokies went three straight innings without a hit, they started stringing them together in the fifth.

Trull singled up the middle to lead off the inning, and Ally Repko, pinch hitting for Bennett, singled to left. After the Wildcats changed pitchers, Lawter hit a three-run bomb to left field, her second home run in three games. The Hokies took a 5-3 lead and never trailed again.

“I was just trying to get a base hit,” Lawter said. “I had Brownie [left fielder Kelsey Brown] behind me and then the top of the order, so I just wanted to get on base. The next thing you know, the ball was going out of the park.”

Mackenzie Lawter hit the game-winning home run on Sunday to send the Hokies to the super regional. (Jon Fleming)

Rochard relieved Lemley in the fourth inning and the VT defense stepped up late in the game. Bailey fielded a ball at first and dove to tag the bag to start the fifth inning, a key out on Kentucky All American Kayla Kowalik. And to start the sixth, Ritter robbed a Wildcat home run that even got a smile out of the normally stoic Rochard.

Rochard allowed a run on two hits and an error in the top of the seventh, but Kentucky grounded out to Bennett at short to end the game. And although Rochard picked up the decisive game seven win – Virginia Tech 5, Kentucky 4 – she was quick to praise Lemley.

“Emma did amazing,” the two-time ACC Pitcher of the Year said, “and I am so thankful that she is on this team. Her performance today was amazing. I can’t say anything else other than that she did great.”

D’Amour pointed out a potentially unnoticed factor in the Hokies’ late-night win over Miami (OH) that helped in the Kentucky victories – innings pitched by Ivy Rosenberry and Mackenzie Osborne.

A game that began at 10:40 p.m., Rosenberry got the start and threw two innings, allowing five hits and four runs. Osborne entered in the third, throwing a shutout inning, before Rochard took the ball in the fourth and closed out the game.

Mackenzie Osborne (left) and Ivy Rosenberry gave the Hokies some breathing room in the circle on Saturday night. (Ivan Morozov)

“The Ivy and Ozzy innings Saturday night allowed us to ‘preserve’ Keely and Emma so we could have a chance [on Sunday],” D’Amour said. “Without those two giving us those innings, today may have ended up a different story.”

Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson was impressed by the Hokies’ performance throughout the weekend.

“Virginia Tech is one heck of a team,” Lawson said. “They’ve had a great year. They play well, they’ve got great hitting, they got great pitching, and great coaching.

“I thought the crowd was awesome for Virginia Tech. You don’t want to be the one on the other side, but the crowd was great and they showed up for their team.”

D’Amour concurred with her observations on the environment and atmosphere in Blacksburg.

“The crowd at TSP was awesome,” D’Amour said. “Many people came up to me and said it was the coolest sporting event they’ve ever attended at Virginia Tech. Our kids definitely fed off the enthusiasm of the fans.”

It was an incredible crowd at Tech Softball Park for the Blacksburg Regional. (Jon Fleming)

“Our crowds have been amazing here all year,” Lawter added. “The additional stands just added to our support, so we definitely appreciate it. They’re heard and help us more than they know. We really appreciated the crowds this weekend.”

“It was so cool,” Bailey said. “It was like we were playing at Alabama with 4,000 screaming fans, except they were screaming for us this time.”

Virginia Tech advances to the NCAA Tournament Super Regional for the second consecutive year, but this time is the host. No. 14 Florida (46-16), winners of the Gainesville Regional, ventures to Blacksburg and will face the Hokies in a best two-out-of-three format.

The schedule for the Blacksburg Super Regional is below:

Friday, May 27: 2 p.m. ET, ESPN2
Saturday, May 28: 12 p.m. ET, ESPN
Sunday, May 29: If Necessary, TBD

TSL will have an in-depth preview later this week of the Hokies-Gators series. The winner advances to the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City and would face the winner of Oregon State-Stanford.

For the full NCAA Tournament bracket, click here.

19 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Great write-up as always, Chip!

    I know we still need to get past Florida, but assuming we do, do you know what session we would be in to play the Oregon St/Stanford winner? I’m considering making the drive to Okie City and if I do, I’d love to scoop up tickets before the last minute. The NCAA site wasn’t clear on that the last time I looked, so maybe they don’t know.

  2. Thanks for the great summary of a truly great Hokie comeback! One thing I haven’t seen anyone mention is the rain delay before the second Sunday game. I was concerned that would kill the momentum we had after the first game, but maybe the extra rest helped our team? I’m not sure, but the ladies were ready to play all day if necessary.
    This was one of the most enjoyable sporting events I have ever attended at VT. I have been critical of the lack of planning and organization at some events in the past, but my hat is off to the staff for planning and executing this first class event in spite of multiple weather delays and other obstacles.
    Finally, here’s hoping we have seen the last of “TV Tanya” West and that she is watching the Super Regionals from her couch this weekend, rather than umping. I understand she has the right call illegal pitches from second base, but she does not have the best view and should defer to the 1st and 3rd base umps. And tossing a coach after he has turned and headed back to the dugout is bush league in my book.
    GO HOKIES, beat the Gators and on to OKC!

  3. Will reality set in when Texas A&M calls D’Amour? They just fired their Hall of Fame coach. And Saban is right. They’re loaded with money.

    In any case, it was a great series for the Hokies. I was there Friday. It was as hot as I’ve ever been in Blacksburg – including the four years I was there.

    In any case – I’ve seen videos of other pitchers around the country on ESPN. D’Amour showed his coaching guts and moxey. But – he’s got to know he’s gonna get tossed when he does on calls like this.

    1. I’m fine with Coach Pete confronting the umpire. This issue has been bubbling over for weeks. Lemley has greatly improved her delivery, and her delivery on the second “illegal pitch” was certainly not distinguishable between legal and illegal pitch, especially from directly behind 2nd base. Coach needed to stand up for his player. She is unfairly being targeted in my opinion.

  4. All I want to see is the NCAA get off their butts and take the air drag out of the rule book. International has and USA softball has. There is no doubt that Emma is illegal (by the book) most of the time and the 2nd base ump does have the authority to call the illegal pitch. But she didn’t until then and she didn’t ever again. That is the issue – the inconsistency. It’s taking away from the excitement and the spirit of the game. Coach shouldn’t have to go out and call out the inconsistency and get tossed. Both the FSU game and this one were deflating and thank God the ladies got fired up and took the ump out of the limelight. I don’t want to have to be antsy every time she pitches next year.

  5. Wow, things were looking so bleak Saturday – not sure I believe any poster who says they never doubted the outcome. What this team did is amazing. KY is a REALLY GOOD team. After their football team’s shenanigans in the bowl (which had 0 consequences), not a big KY fan. However, really impressed with their coach’s post game comments.

    Additional comments:

    Hard to believe Lemley is only a freshman. She pitched well this weekend and never got derailed with the illegal (and random – though maybe not incorrect) pitch calls.

    Finally, anyone else think those black uniforms were Bad A…?

    1. agree with everyone you said. and yes………….i love the black unis!! on to the supers……………….

  6. Awesome weekend and great recap!

    Not a big deal, but I think somebody messed up the bracket in the top photo. Since VT won the first game on Sunday, they should be listed on the top row above “if necessary”. But the only thing that really matters is the name all the way on the right. Go Hokies!

    1. I dunno, KY was the first team to the finals so in a computeresque kind of way their name gets inserted in the first slot as they awaited the not necessarily VT competition to make their way to the finals.

  7. I thought the upper classmen on the team really answered the bell this weekend. Especially when we appeared to be in a hole. A credit to their focus and talent.

    The future is very bright!!

  8. Been a great year, historic year..VT fans and you are part of that also. My hat is off to you and these ladies got more to do..

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