AUBURN, Ala. — If Virginia Tech head coach Pete D’Amour had the opportunity to script his first two games of the 2024 season, chances are it would have gone similar to the way the actual games did on Friday.
The No. 23 Hokies (2-0) opened play in the Tiger Invitational by run-ruling Illinois 18-1 in five innings and followed it up with an 8-1 win in eight innings over No. 20 Auburn.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better start,” D’Amour told Tech Sideline after the game. “All of our players were engaged during both games, and it’s good to start the season 2-0.”
Twenty-two Tech players saw action between the two games and contributed. The starters batted .414 (24-for-58) and scored 21 runs while the subs batted .667 (6-for-9) and crossed home plate on five occasions. The four pitchers limited their opponents to two runs in 14 innings and struck out 16 batters while walking just one. And defensively, the Hokies did not make an error and produced two highlight defensive plays.
Seven of the nine starters registered three or more hits, including Rachel Castine, who was 3-for-5 with two grand slams — one each against Illinois (0-2) and Auburn (1-1).
“Rachel has had a great month of practice and is swinging the bat well,” D’Amour said. “We weren’t surprised with how she produced today.”
“I think just hitting off of our pitchers has been making us better because they’re really good,” Castine told Tech Sideline. “And Coach Pete’s wonky drills such as the glasses and stuff — they look really funny and it’s awkward, but I swear that it works.”
Both of Castine’s bombs came with two outs and two strikes, but she said that was not the time to be timid.
“If I saw I was getting a good pitch to hit, I was going to swing hard,” she said.
The Hokies wasted little time in jumping on the Fighting Illini in the first game of the day as Addy Greene and Cori McMillian drove in first-inning runs with singles. Cameron Fagan brought home two more in the second with her second double of the game and the Hokies broke the game open with eight runs in the fourth and six more in the fifth, highlighted by Castine’s first career grand slam and Michelle Chatfield’s 2-run shot.
BOOM! Michelle Chatfield with a 2-run blast in the top of the fifth! pic.twitter.com/heiqgjKLLY
— Chip Grubb (@Hokiechip) February 9, 2024
Louisville transfer Cassie Grizzard got the start in the circle for the Hokies and went three innings, giving up three hits and one run. Emma Mazzarone pitched a 1-2-3 fourth inning, striking out two, and Emma Lemley threw a 1-2-3 fifth.
The second game of the day was a pitching duel for seven innings with Auburn’s All-American Maddie Penta squaring off against the Hokies’ Lyndsey Grein. The only breakthroughs during the first seven frames were solo home runs by the Tigers’ Amelia Lech and the Tech’s Emily LeGette.
In the top of the eighth, Emma Ritter and Fagan led off with singles and the Tigers misplayed a sacrifice bunt by Greene, which led to a run.
Hokies take a 2-1 lead in the 8th when Auburn can’t cleanly handle an Addy Green bunt. Ritter scores from second pic.twitter.com/KWJDXFko3L
— Chip Grubb (@Hokiechip) February 9, 2024
McMillian followed with a sacrifice fly to score another run and a single by Chatfield plated another before Castine’s bomb busted the game wide open.
But the story of the game was Grein, who had one of her best performances of her career for Virginia Tech. The sophomore limited Auburn to one run in eight innings and struck out a career-high 12 batters.
She downplayed her contributions after the game, however.
“I’m playing with my best buds, it’s easy,” Grein said. “The team played super well.”
“Between [pitching] Coach Josh [Johnson] and [catcher] Kylie [Aldridge] and the rest of the girls, we reset after each inning and decided that the riseball was going to be my strength for today. What was working for me the most was the teamwork. I could never do what they do — they work really hard. They’re good people, so they deserve every ounce of goodness that comes their way.”
D’Amour was proud of his entire staff.
“All of our pitchers did outstanding jobs,” he said. “All four had good stuff. We went with Lyndsey against Auburn, but I feel confident in all of our pitchers. Lyndsey was great today. She’s a totally different player than she was last year.”
The Hokies continue play in the Tiger Invitational on Saturday with games against Belmont at 11 a.m. ET and a rematch with Auburn at 2 p.m. ET, the latter of which is scheduled to be televised on SEC Network Extra.