It was just before midnight on Saturday night and with #3 Virginia Tech down 4-3 to Miami (OH), the clock seemed poised to hit midnight on the Hokies' historic, impressive season.
Instead, Mackenzie Lawter hit a two-run home run to take the lead for the Hokies at midnight, and they never looked back on their way to an impressive three-straight wins in less than 24 hours and another history-making moment.
Virginia Tech beat Miami (OH) 5-4 in the early hours of Sunday before coming back and beating Kentucky 9-2 and 5-4 to win the Blacksburg regional and advance to the super regionals for the third in program history. Tech will also host their first Super Regional in program history starting this Friday against #14 Florida.
Tech got off to a slow start with Miami OH taking a 4-1 lead early after a Meredith Slaw RBI single as the Hokies went with Ivy Rosenberry and then Mackenzie Osborne in a move intended to try to save Keely Rochard for Sunday without any late night mileage.
While that didn't work out for the Hokies, Tech's offense came alive in the fourth inning with Jayme Bailey and Mackenzie Lawter hitting two-run home runs to flip the game to a 5-4 Hokies' lead. From there, Keely Rochard took over finishing with 4 dominant innings allowing only 1 walk and no hits while striking out 6 of the 13 batters she faced on her way to recording the save with Osborne picking up the victory.
That set the stage for a Sunday rematch between Virginia Tech and Kentucky albeit on not a lot of sleep for the Hokies after their win over the Redhawks finished after 1am.
This game all started with a Meredith Slaw RBI sac fly giving Tech a first inning 1-0 lead before an Emmy Blane RBI single and Vanessa Nesby RBI double gave Kentucky a 2-1 lead going to the third inning.
However, the Hokies slowly found their offensive rhythm with a Bre Peck walk bringing home the tying run in the third inning.
Like the night before, the fourth inning was when the Hokies reclaimed the lead for good with Emma Ritter having a RBI single followed by a Jayme Bailey RBI single with Ritter on second and using some aggressive baserunning that seemed to catch Kentucky off guard to make it 4-2 VT.
Tech built on it in the fifth with pinch hitter Alexa Milius drawing an RBI walk followed by a Cam Fagan RBI sac fly. Fagan would prove to be one of the stars of the game helping to ice the victory in the seventh with a three-run home run to lead Tech to a 9-2 victory in a game where she went 2-3 with 4 RBIs plus a walk. Darby Trull was among those who scored on Fagan's home run and was an on-base machine going 2-2 plus 2 walks.
Emma Lemley started slow in this game, but got better as the game went along finishing with a 7-inning complete game allowing 8 hits, 2 walks, and only 2 runs while striking out 4.
That set the stage for the winner-take-all Game 2 (and third matchup of the weekend) between Virginia Tech and Kentucky with the Hokies surprisingly going with Lemley again instead of starting out Keely Rochard.
The decision to go with Lemley after she had thrown a full game plus a weather delay that made the gap between games almost 2 hours didn't look good early with Kayla Kowalik and Erin Coffel hitting solo home runs to give Kentucky a 2-0 lead in the top of the 1st. Tech responded quickly though via one of the stars of the weekend in Jayme Bailey who hit a two-run home run to tie the game at 2.
The drama kicked into high gear in the second inning when Lemley was called for a pair of illegal pitches by the second base umpire which is an incorrect process as pointed out by those who cover softball regularly and know the sport way better than myself.
The official had been instrumental in calling @HokiesSoftball pitcher Emma Lemley illegal throughout the weekend from the third base position. She has now called them from behind second which calls in question her positioning to make such a call.— Rounding Third Softball (@Rounding3rdSB) May 22, 2022
The second illegal pitch call led an angry Pete D'Amour to leave the dugout and go straight out to the second base umpire to argue the call and her decision to take an authority that the collegiate softball processes state that she has no authority for. Then, D'Amour was ejected while walking back to the dugout with the Hokies' head coach turning around and getting his money worth before leaving the stadium to watch from afar.
Tech fed off the energy that surged inside Tech Softball Park with Lemley having a pair of strikeouts on her way to a much stronger second inning for the freshman.
Coffel continued to be Kentucky's biggest star in this game picking up an RBI double in the top of the third inning to give the Wildcats a 3-2 lead off Lemley. Meanwhile, Tech's offense went into a funk not having a single hit in the second, third, and fourth innings.
The fourth inning saw Tech make the change from ACC Freshman of the Year Lemley to ACC Pitcher of the Year Keely Rochard who came in after Lemley gave up a 2-out single with Rochard getting the Hokies out of the inning.
Rochard came in and was able to be Keely Rochard leaving the Hokies right in striking distance and setting the stage for the bottom of the 5th with Darby Trull and Ally Repko hitting back-to-back singles to start the inning.
Then, the hero of midnight proved to be the hero of Sunday as Mackenzie Lawter hit a three-run home run to give the Hokies a 5-3 lead and send Tech Softball Park into a frenzy of jubilee.
However, Tech wasn't about to blow this game open even as Tech had multiple hits over the rest of the fifth and sixth innings. The top of the sixth inning also saw Emma Ritter rob Meeko Harrison of a solo home run which would prove crucial in the end for the Hokies.
EMMA RITTER ROBBERY 🤯 @HokiesSoftball pic.twitter.com/Fnmr32pRSk— ACC Network (@accnetwork) May 22, 2022
All of that set the stage for a dramatic 7th inning where Kentucky led off the inning with singles from Emmy Blane and Vanessa Nesby before Rochard got a big strikeout of Kayla Kowalik and then got a fielder's choice off Lauren Johnson to make it 1st and 3rd with 2 outs.
The drama increased when Erin Coffel hit a sharp grounder to 3B Bre Peck who made a tremendous defensive dive and throw that nearly got Coffel but just drew Jayme Bailey off 1B too much.
That made it 5-4 and increased the drama, but Rochard once again showed why she's among the best pitchers in the country getting Renee Abernathy to ground out to end the game and send the Hokies to super regionals for the third time in program history.
Rochard's performance was what you'd hope from your ace coming in the close the game out with 3.1 innings allowing only 2 hits and 1 run while striking out 3. Combine that with Jayme Bailey and Mackenzie Lawter adding the firepower with multi-run home runs and it was that trio who closed out Miami (OH) early Sunday morning and then closed out Kentucky in the evening.
While it proved to be a much more difficult road than expected, #3 Virginia Tech is through to the Super Regionals and will face a good challenge from #14 Florida. However, their path to the Women's College World Series final has opened up beyond the Super Regional round with #2 Florida State, #6 Alabama, and #11 Tennessee all crashing out this weekend. That means that the winner of the Blacksburg Super Regional will face an unseeded team in either Stanford or Oregon State.
Regardless, the Hokies showed loads of character facing a mountain of adversity and responding with a dramatic fight back over an 18 hour stretch that saw them go from the brink of elimination against Miami (OH) when midnight was approaching to advancing on to their third super regionals in program history.