AUBURN, Ala. — The No. 23 Hokies continued their torrid start to the 2024 season on Saturday by scoring another 18 runs as they went 1-0-1 in the Tiger Invitational in Auburn.
Virginia Tech (3-0-1) blasted Belmont (1-2) 13-1 in the first game of the day before having to settle for a 5-5 tie with the No. 20 Tigers (1-1-1) after a four-run seventh inning was erased because of weather.
“It was another good day for us,” Tech head coach Pete D’Amour told Tech Sideline after the game. “All phases were clicking Game 1 and I liked how we competed in Game 2.”
The Hokies, who scored 26 total runs in their first two games on Friday, kept the hot bats going against Belmont in the first game of the day. The first five VT batters — Emma Ritter, Cameron Fagan, Addy Greene, Emily LeGette and Bre Peck — all registered base hits in their first two at-bats and put the game away early.
The Hokies scored five runs in the first inning with Greene driving in two runs with a double and Peck capping off the scoring with a three-run home run.
BOOM!!! Bre Peck with the 3-run bomb to make it 5-1 Hokies in the first! pic.twitter.com/polvshlMny
— Chip Grubb (@Hokiechip) February 10, 2024
The second inning brought more of the same with the Hokies adding seven more runs to their total. Freshman Zoe Yaeger celebrated her first start at catcher by smacking a double to left center while Fagan drove CC Fleming (Yaeger’s pinch runner) and Ritter (reached on a single) with a double of her own.
LeGette and Peck each singled in a run and Michelle Chatfield drove in two more with a double. Yaeger added a 12th run when she drove in Lyla Blackwell, who had pinch run for Chatfield.
A LeGette home run, her second of the year, capped off the scoring in the third.
In the circle, Emma Mazzarone got her first career start and threw a complete game while allowing just two hits. Though she walked four batters and hit one, she also struck out three.
Tech’s second game of the day will be long remembered for the victory that wasn’t.
Needing at least a split with the Hokies for SEC pride, Auburn coach Mickey Dean once again called his All-American hurler Maddie Penta to the circle. D’Amour countered with his own ace, Emma Lemley, who got her first start of the season.
Lemley had uncharacteristic control problems, walking seven while registering only one strikeout. However, she was able to work herself out of a huge first-inning jam to keep the Hokies in the game. After loading the bases with three walks, she induced a pair of ground balls that led to force outs at the plate and a fly out that ended the inning.
The Tigers broke through in the third inning with a solo home run by KK McCrary that just barely eluded the jumping effort of Greene in left.
The Hokies responded in the fifth with the help of the Auburn defense. Cori McMillian doubled and Rachel Castine walked, setting up an RBI double for Ritter. Then Fagan hit a ball to deep short, and when the Auburn shortstop skipped the ball in the dirt to first, Castine and Ritter both scampered home to give Tech a 3-1 lead.
The Tigers answered in the bottom of the inning. After a pair of walks and a wild pitch, D’Amour summoned Cassie Grizzard to the circle. The left-hander recorded a pair of strikeouts but a wild pitch scored one run and Amelia Lech followed with a two-run homer to give the Tigers a 4-3 advantage.
But the Hokies proved to be resilient. In the sixth inning, Castine blasted her third homer in two days, this one a two-run shot, to put the Hokies back in front 5-4. She surpassed her home run total from last season (two) in just four games.
However, the Tigers tied the game in the bottom of the inning and the teams headed to the seventh knotted up at five.
Despite the fact that it didn’t “officially” happen, it was an electric half of an inning. Consecutive walks to Fagan, Green and Legette loaded the bases and Bre Peck followed with a grand slam to give the Hokies a 9-5 lead.
The Hokies continued to apply pressure to the Tigers. McMillian singled and Castine walked to put runners on first and third with no outs.
After multiple pitching changes by Dean slow down the action, the umpires halted play because of heavy rain and the tarp was brought out to cover the field. After an hour-and-a-half rain delay, the tarp was removed, the field was restriped, the teams warmed up and it appeared action would resume. But another shower passed through and the tarp was once again rolled out to cover the field.
After another 30-minute delay, the rain slowed down, and despite the forecast showing no more precipitation for the next four hours, a decision was made to call the game. Since Auburn did not hit in the seventh, the game reverted to the score at the end of the sixth inning, resulting in a 5-5 tie — the first in Virginia Tech softball’s 29-year history.
While fans were furious, D’Amour took the high road, simply saying, “We would have liked to finish the game today, but there were a lot of positives taken from both games.” He even tweeted out a philosophy that he wants his team to take:
This went around the @hokiesports department last week…it’s always pertinent.
“Control what you can control.”
A great start for my 24 amigas this weekend. Onward and upward!
— Pete (@VTechSBcoach) February 11, 2024
Through four games, the Hokies are hitting .429 with seven home runs and 15 doubles.
“The pitcher for Auburn is an extremely good pitcher,” D’Amour said. “She’s one of the best we’ll see all year. Grinding out good at bats against an All-American-type pitcher and keeping the game close until we opened it up at the end is how you advance in the postseason.”
The Virginia Tech pitching has shown up as well, holding opponents to a single run in three of the four games played. Lyndsey Grein, Mazzarone, Lemley and Grizzard have shared the workload.
“We’re trying to spread our starts out this weekend,” D’Amour said. “That’s the beauty of having a deep pitching staff. Emma did a good job tonight and got out of some pretty big jams. I have full confidence in her, she’s going to have a great year.”
The Hokies will conclude their weekend in Alabama with a noon ET game against Illinois on Sunday.