For the first time in school history, Virginia Tech softball is hosting an NCAA regional with the highest national seed ever as well at #3. That comes after an impressive regular season where the Hokies won the ACC regular season title and put together an impressive 41-7 record against one of the toughest schedules in the country.
Of course, that success and the #3 national seed earned by it brings some national expectations of not only winning the regional, but also reaching the College Women's World Series and being a national title contender.
That's the type of thing that can easily become a distraction if not either directly addressed or with an intentional focus on focusing on one game at a time. For the Hokies, they are taking the latter approach with freshman starting pitcher Emma Lemley saying that her team has talked about being focused on games one pitch at a time.
"We were actually just talking about this before practice. We have a pretty high ranking and people expect us to win. I think we just have to think back to the beginning of the season, when rankings really didn't matter. We just have to go into every game with the same mindset: win each pitch, win each inning, win each game," Lemley said.
For head coach Pete D'Amour, he made it clear that the Hokies haven't talked much at all about being the 3 seed or even looking ahead to start dreaming about a trip to Oklahoma City. Rather, Tech is focusing on the task at hand of trying to get through their Blacksburg regional and advance to the Super Regionals.
"I've heard the term 3 seed more times today than I have all week. We have not talked about it once. That's the thing with this team is that we're taking care of business today. We had a good practice. There's no looking forward or 'we're the 3 seed'. I know we are, but we never really talked about it so with this team, it doesn't faze them," D'Amour said.
One thing that will help Virginia Tech is all the experience that they have not only from last season's run to the super regionals, but also from the tough schedule that Virginia Tech faced from the start of this season as star pitcher Keely Rochard said.
"It definitely helps a lot. We just talked about earlier that Coach Pete has put together this year has also helped us tremendously. Not just the people who have experience, but the people who don't have experience. We've been put in Alabama home atmosphere. We went out to Florida and played five top 25 teams. As a team, nerves were kind of washed away at the beginning of the year which was nice that we had that kind of a schedule mainly for reasons like this," Rochard said.
Having that type of schedule where Tech has had tons of success, but also had a couple slip-ups and just shorts at Alabama is the type of valuable experience that should help Tech stay focus on every pitch and not be tempted to get distracted on dreams of lifting an NCAA trophy in Oklahoma City.
Despite that experience which includes win earlier this season over regional foes Kentucky and Miami (OH), the Hokies aren't counting that as some great advantage as Rochard said.
"It doesn't matter. Any day, someone can beat anyone. Just like rankings, your ranking isn't going to win you a game. A previous win isn't going to win you the next one. I don't really focus on the past games, who we played last. Focus on who we play next and handle business then," Rochard said.
The good news is that Tech does have plenty of momentum given their all-time great regular season in Virginia Tech history. Additionally, all of that experience that's been mentioned throughout should provide a big boost for the Hokies.
However, the focus will still have to be pitch by pitch as was the uniform message from Pete D'Amour and his players including standout hitter Meredith Slaw.
"I think our level of confidence is pretty high. We have experience, we've been hear before so we know what to expect. But you have to show up pitch to pitch, inning to inning, game to game," Slaw said.
Virginia Tech may have national expectations of being serious contenders for the national title, but the Hokies are committed to not looking ahead to dreams of Oklahoma City, but rather focusing on one pitch at a time starting with the Red Flash of Saint Francis (PA).