This time last year, Virginia Tech was out west as one of those unseeded Cinderella stories taking on UCLA in the Los Angeles super regional dreaming of reaching the Women's College World Series for only the second time in program history. Despite some phenomenal pitching from Keely Rochard, the Hokies came up just short in the end of the best of 3.
One year later, the #3 Hokies are back and this time, they are hosting a Super Regional for the first time in school history.
Similar to last year though, the Hokies are feeling confident especially after a Regional weekend where the Hokies' offense found their rhythm as the games progressed to go with their dominant pitching.
"[We’re] swinging the bats better than we did when I was asked this question two weeks ago. [Our] pitching has always been good, so I’m not any less confident based on what another team did. We’re just worried about our team, so we’re fine,” head coach Pete D'Amour said.
Of course, one big difference between this year and last year is the fact that the Hokies have more high end pitching than just Rochard with ACC Freshman of the Year Emma Lemley providing Tech with one of the best 1-2 punches in the country. More importantly, Pete D'Amour has two arms that he can rely on to pitch at the highest level while not having to have one pitcher face a team so many times to the point where Florida could start to predict rather than react to what Rochard and Lemley bring to the table.
"Keely [Rochard] doesn’t have to face Florida 16 times and that’s a big deal. I don’t care how good a pitcher is, if you have to face somebody 14, 15, 16 times, the law of averages say that they’re going to hit you every once in a while. To have two options – and really four options – on our team, helps me sleep a little better at night. I don’t sleep anyway, but it makes me a little bit more comfortable," D'Amour said.
Rochard has also seen the benefit of having a great compliment behind her in the rotation with Lemley along with her own development of more pitches that can help keep hitters guessing and prevent them from starting to predict what is coming.
“Last year, it didn't really rattle me, but it is really hard just to face a team one time, and then to have to do it three times in a row is extremely hard. Especially when you don't have a lot of pitches to mix with. This year, I have more of a selection of pitches, so it makes it easier just like when I went in that last game against Kentucky, I don't think I threw a single rise ball. That's what's helped me this year," Rochard said.
"But it also helps having Emma (Lemley) who is able to come in and throw all rise balls and then I'm able to mix and use my other pitches. If they've already seen my rise ball, they're not expecting to see something else or expecting to see a lot. I think that helps me a lot compared to last year, just having a deeper selection of pitches."
Of course, Tech's path to the Super Regionals this year looked a lot different getting to play at home rather than travel to Tempe, yet getting upset early and falling into the loser's bracket before fighting their way back with 3 wins in roughly 18 hours to reach the first ever Blacksburg Super Regional.
That comeback last weekend has given the Hokies an extra level of fight and spirit that Keely Rochard is confident can take herself and #3 Virginia Tech as a whole to another level.
"I think our team all together showed that we had a lot of fight in us. And I think that we’ve kind of found a new spirit in us and hopefully that fight will carry over to these games. But, I pitched a little bit more last weekend than I had other weekends in the regular season. So, you know, I think that kind of prepared me to keep that fight within myself too. But overall, we’re just trying to take it one pitch at a time like we did [last weekend]."