On Sunday evening, the Virginia Tech Hokies of the softball diamond found out they’d be hosting a regional in Blacksburg. The ACC regular-season champions fell short in the conference tournament in Pittsburgh losing to the eventual runner-up in the Clemson Tigers. However, this loss wasn’t enough to drop the Hokies very far as they were still awarded the third overall seed and the chance to host the regional inside the comfortable confines of Tech Softball Park.
It’s the first time Virginia Tech softball has hosted an NCAA Regional on the way to the Women’s College World Series. If Virginia Tech gets past their initial regional round, they’ll face the winner of the Gainesville Regional and play them in what will be called the Blacksburg Super Regional.
But first, the Hokies must gain victory over three tough opponents in Kentucky, Miami (Ohio), and Saint Francis (PA) to get that far. Virginia Tech will start its run Friday, May 20th at 2 pm from TSP. Here’s the scoop on the Hokies' opponents in the Blacksburg Regional.
#4 Saint Francis (PA) Red Flash
Saint Francis comes in with the third-best overall record in this regional at 37-16 and 20-4 in Northeast Conference play. They were able to win both the regular season and conference tournament titles this year defeating LIU 9-0 in the championship game. That marks the fifth conference title in a row for the Red Flash which is an NEC record.
The Red Flash also led the NEC in hits, runs, RBIs, and slugging percentage as a team. They currently hold a 10-game win streak which will be tested on Friday against the Hokies. Despite a lot of success, Saint Francis did go 0-4 against power five conference teams including losses to familiar ACC opponents in Clemson and Pittsburgh.
On the pitching side of the team, Saint Francis sports two stellar hurlers in Grace Vesco and Rachel Marsden. Combined, they have 40 closed games on the season and have both pitched in over 150 innings throughout the season. Masden has a wonderful 142-24 strikeout to walk ratio while Vesco holds a 1.30 ERA for the year.
The team has seven batters that hit over.800 OPS. This includes Mekenzie Saban who is the team's most potent hitter. She has a 1.170 OPS for the season and leads the team in batting average, hits, walks, and doubles. Francis’ top pitcher Marsden can also hit for a lot of power as she leads the team in home runs with 13 on the season and RBIs with 35.
#3 Miami (Ohio) RedHawks
Miami (Ohio) had a highly successful 2022 campaign that saw them nearly win 40 games at 39-15 overall. They also went 24-5 in conference play which was good enough to land them the MAC softball regular-season crown. The RedHawks continued their dominance over the MAC in the tournament where they beat Bowling Green 11-0 in the championship game.
Miami (Ohio) has played a lot of good competition this year including Virginia Tech and Kentucky back in late February and early March. They lost to the Hokies 7-0, but beat the second-seeded Wildcats 7-5. In terms of their body of work, the RedHawks went 4-6 against major conference teams with wins over Louisville, Michigan, and South Carolina in addition to Kentucky.
Like Virginia Tech and Saint Francis, they threw out two main pitchers in Brianna Pratt and Courtney Vierstra. The two pitchers have a combined ERA of 3.4 and both have notched over 150 strikeouts on the season. Pratt has issued only 35 walks all season across her 147.2 innings of work. All of Vierstra’s 17 wins have been of the closed game variety.
Miami (Ohio) has six hitters with an OPS score over 1.000. Karli Spaid is their top batter and one of the best in the country. She has an absurd 1.432 OPS with a .939 SLG% and .493 OB%. Spaid checks all the boxes of patience, contact, and power and is a fantastic hitter. Allie Cummins is another great batter for the RedHawks with a .426 OB% and 15 home runs this season.
#2 Kentucky Wildcats
Virginia Tech’s biggest competitor will be Kentucky who came in at 35-17 this season. Even with the worst record out of all these teams, the Wildcats are still a tough foe. The SEC is a terrific conference and masked how talented this team is. Kentucky won five of their final seven regular-season games before going one and done to Florida in the SEC Tournament.
They went 13-11 in the SEC with series wins over LSU, South Carolina, and Mississippi State. In the non-conference slate, they played Virginia Tech back in February. The result was a loss for Kentucky by a score of 6-1. The Wildcats had success over the Big 10 conference, going 4-1 this year with wins over Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Michigan.
Kentucky has a different approach when it comes to pitching. They’ve put seven pitchers in the circle this season and all but one have registered at least one completed game. Their pitchers have a 3.67 ERA and pose a unique challenge since they rely on a group of brown belt pitchers over one or two black belts.
Kentucky has four starters that have over a 1.000 OPS. Three of them: Erin Coffel, Lauren Johnson, and Kayla Kowalik have notched over 60 hits this season. This big three is the engine of Kentucky’s offensive production. They represent 64% of the Wildcats' run production in 2022. While the pitching is powered by a cast of characters, Kentucky’s hitting is supplied by a select few.