Cassie Grizzard has always been a Virginia Tech fan.
Growing up in Midlothian, Virginia, about 15 miles southwest of Richmond, the left-handed pitcher was familiar with the Hokies from a young age. When Grizzard entered the transfer portal after her freshman season and talked with head coach Pete D’Amour and assistant coach Josh Johnson, her decision was easy.
“I just knew [Virginia Tech] was the place to be,” Grizzard said. “It just felt like home because it has been home for so long, so it was good to be back.”
Grizzard, a sophomore, transferred to Blacksburg to bolster a pitching staff that lacked depth in 2023. Tech advanced to the NCAA Tournament, but fell short of teams with more arms available. Florida State — which knocked the Hokies out of the ACC Tournament in the semifinals — used five pitchers in at least 19 games. All four of national champion Oklahoma’s options appeared in at least 25 games.
The Hokies only utilized three full-time arms in 2023, while also enlisting utility player Bre Peck twice early in the season. D’Amour said on Tech Talk Live that when he started coaching, he could rely on one strong pitcher to make a deep postseason run. Now, because hitters have improved so much, that is impossible.
In 27 innings across 15 appearances at Louisville, she pitched to a 1-1 record and 5.19 earned run average, striking out 29 batters and holding opponents to a .222 batting average.
“I knew about [Grizzard] in high school,” D’Amour said. “It just wasn’t the right time, as far as how many kids we had on our staff. She was talented in high school and when she came on the market and I saw a 65 [mph] left hander with a good changeup, it’s pretty hard to pass that up.”
Grizzard will join returners Emma Lemley, Lyndsey Grein and Molly Jacobson in the bullpen, along with freshmen Emma Mazzarone and Haley McManus. The 2024 season will mark the first in D’Amour’s tenure with six available pitchers.
Lemley crossed paths with Grizzard often before moving to Blacksburg, when their travel teams would play against each other. Lemley helped ease the transition, offering support on and off the field.
“It’s been really successful in that I’ve been able to help with her changeup and she’s been able to help me with my riseball,” Grizzard said. “Our whole staff is that way; we want to get better, we want to win. Obviously, when we get on the field, it’s a competition to play and to pitch, but when we’re in that bullpen, we want what is best for each other and we want what is best for the team. That’s what has been so cool this year is we support each other, through the good and the bad.”
Grizzard and Lemley are different pitchers; Grizzard is left-handed and relies on her changeup, while Lemley is a righty with an especially strong riseball. However, the two of them are set up to complement each other, mixing up opposing hitters along the way.
“Even in our fall games, you could see — when Cassie would come in after me or I would come in after Cassie — the difference in those pitches,” Lemley said. “It really throws off hitters, even our own hitters sometimes.
“I think about my freshman year, when everyone knew I threw riseballs and that was it — nothing else. It kind of caught up to me last year, so a huge emphasis going into this season was developing more pitches, because these hitters are very good and they have very good memories.”
Before this weekend in Auburn, Ala., where the Hokies open the season against Illinois on Friday (11 a.m. ET), all of Tech’s pitchers spent much of the offseason throwing against their teammates in scrimmages. Facing a lineup that finished second in the country in home runs last season with 100 is no small task.
“It’s a constant battle, being a pitching staff throwing against the No. 1 lineup in the country,” Grizzard said. “For us, [the focus is] getting better every day. If we can beat this lineup, we can beat almost any lineup — and our hitters look great. They’re attacking the ball. It’s hard to throw to them, so it makes you feel good as a pitcher, knowing your team is going to support you.”
Any team’s success hinges on its arms. If it has enough viable options, they can remain fresh deep into May, when D’Amour hopes to still be playing. Grizzard — joining Lemley and Grein — hopes to help prop up a team with lofty goals.
“I know if we each do what we can do, we’ll be so successful — to do the best that we can and to win games,” Grizzard said.