Keely Rochard may have been struggling for her standards recently, but those relative struggles appear more than over after one of the best pitching performances of her career led Virginia Tech to a strong start to open the Blacksburg regional.
#3 Virginia Tech beat Saint Francis 4-0 led by Keely Rochard's ninth career no-hitter. The win sends Tech into the opener tomorrow to face Kentucky who beat Miami (OH) 15-1 in the second game of the Friday openers. The winner will advance to Sunday where they'll only have to win 1 of 2 potential games to advance to super regionals while the loser will play the winner of the middle loser's bracket game in the Saturday nightcap.
Rochard was dominant from the start striking out the first six batters she faced and carrying a perfect game into the 7th before a hit by pitch and walk derailed it. Despite that, Rochard close the game out strong with 17 strikeouts and only one out being caught by an outfielder, another sign of how she forced Saint Francis into weak contact whenever they got any contact.
The dominance went not only beyond the obvious numbers to the quality of Rochard's pitches as head coach Pete D'Amour said after the game.
"“A lot of swings and misses, her velocity was good and one walk. You know, one walk is pretty legit. And seventeen [strikeouts]? That’s a pretty good ratio,” D'Amour said.
Meanwhile, Tech's offense had a slow start to the game as they struggled to string together hits early on with Cam Fagan being the bright getting on base with a double and a walk in her first two at-bats. Tech came close in between those Fagan at-bats in the second inning when Bre Peck had a double and Darby Trull then hit a single. However, Peck was thrown out trying to score in what was a close play at the plate.
Things changed in the fourth inning as Meredith Slaw led off with a single before pinch runner Maija Louko came in and advanced to second on a sac fly. Bre Peck followed that with a single and a stolen base to give the Hokies runners on 2nd and 3rd with Darby Trull walking to load the bases. Then, pinch hitter Ally Repko stepped up and had a great at-bat drawing a walk to bring Louko home and give the Hokies the lead. However, Tech was unable to add on leaving the bases loaded at the end of the fourth inning.
Tech's offense got going again in the fifth with Emma Ritter getting a lead-off walk and then advancing all the way to third on back-to-back ground outs. Kelsey Bennett then brought her home with a two-out RBI single to make it 2-0 and give Tech a little more breathing room.
That breathing room grew in the bottom of the sixth as Mackenzie Lawter walked and Jayme Bailey singled with a Cam Fagan ground out advancing them to second and third with two outs. From there, Emma Ritter hit a hard grounder that the Saint Francis SS mishandled bringing both runners home. Ritter got greedy on the basepaths with the next batter stealing second, but getting caught in a pickle trying to score on a Kelsey Brown infield single.
While the Tech bats weren't the hottest, Tech found ways to win with great pitching, quality defense, and enough offense. Pete D'Amour also said after the game that he feels Tech didn't play their best game today which is encouraging to him knowing that the Hokies have more to bring to the table as the competition steepens in this regional.
While the bats may not have been as good as hoped, Keely Rochard did what you would expect from Keely Rochard and then some with one of the best games of her career coming at the right time in the postseason.