Keely Rochard has pitched well all season for the Virginia Tech softball team, but she chose the right time to have her best performance of the season. Hosting No. 17 James Madison in a midweek doubleheader, Rochard tossed the seventh perfect game in program history on Wednesday.
“She’s thrown well all year and so has Carrie [Eberle],” head coach Pete D’Amour said. “That’s a big time, a ranked opponent, to have a perfect game, that’s pretty special.”
The Hokies dropped the first game of the day 3-1. After taking a 1-0 lead into the seventh inning, Tech gave up three runs to JMU’s powerful offense. Eberle pitched all seven innings, giving up just three runs on six hits, but it was enough for JMU to pick up the win.
“Carrie (Eberle) threw lights out the first game,” D’Amour said. “She could’ve very well have won that game. We needed a good performance in game two to get back on track.”
And a good performance they got as the 20th-ranked Hokies won 12-0 in five innings in the second game of the evening. Tech scored 12 runs on 11 hits, including four home runs, two of which came from Lauren Duff.
“I think we had better at bats in game two,” D’Amour said. “People don’t realize the pitcher that started game two for them was 11-0 coming into this game. She was undefeated. We just had better at bats and connected more.”
The Hokies knew coming into Wednesday’s games that they had a challenge in front of them. They had only played two games against a ranked opponent this season, both coming against Georgia in early March. Tech split those games, winning the first but dropping the second. Other than those contests, the Hokies have been beating up on their opponents. Tech has swept three ACC series this season and won plenty of games by run rule.
Because of the success the team has seen this season, losing game one against JMU gave them some difficulties they haven’t seen recently.
“I just assured them that we haven’t faced adversity in a while and there were some new emotions that we’d been feeling in the top of the seventh in there, of the first game,” D’Amour said. “I just said that wasn’t the end of the world.”
Pete D’Amour thinks that the adversity his team faced on Wednesday will end up benefiting them in the long run.
“We need to face that kind of adversity as the season goes on,” he said. “If you beat a bunch of teams and they’re not close games, you’re not really testing yourself. I think we got tested game one and responded in game two.”
While the win over JMU was a big one, the team wasn’t too focused on rankings coming into the contest and doesn’t pay much attention to outside noise.
“It’s big, but we never really rank our opponents,” D’Amour said. “We just try to play our game. I think when you heap more pressure on kids they tend to press more. That’s natural.”
But Coach D’Amour did acknowledge the impact that the win could have on Tech’s season. The Hokies haven’t made an NCAA Tournament appearance since 2014, but this season could be the end of that drought. Wednesday’s win over a ranked opponent only added to the impressive resume that the team has been building all year.
“Man looking back at the end of the year, we’re gonna sit down in May, when the committee looks at who gets into regionals and this will be a big win for us,” D’Amour said.
A tournament bid would only be fitting after the year that Coach D’Amour has had in his first season at the helm of Virginia Tech’s squad. The Hokies went 23-30 last season and just 7-16 in ACC play. This year, they’re 34-6 and 13-2 in conference games in what is one of the most incredible turnarounds in collegiate softball this season.
“There’s a ton. There’s a lot of things,” D’Amour said when asked what has contributed to the turnaround. “I think it’s player development. I think there’s been a lot of buy in. Kids seem to trust us and what we’re teaching them. Effort’s been really good. Pitching and defense have been keeping us in every game. A lot of work on the hitting side so there’s been a culmination of a lot of things. I can’t really put my finger on any of it. It’s been crazy.”
Whatever it is that’s made the most difference, it’s working for Virginia Tech with the Hokies are well on their way to one of the most successful seasons in program history.