After a breakthrough 2019 season, the Virginia Tech Softball carried that success over into the first weekend of the season in Conway, South Carolina.
The Hokies were one of five teams to compete in the 2020 Kickin’ Chicken Classic, an annual tournament hosted by Coastal Carolina University. The other participants were Campbell, Coastal Carolina, East Carolina, and Iowa.
Here's a rundown of how the Hokies did this weekend.
The weekend started off with a doubleheader on Friday. Their first match of the day was against the only power conference opponent the Hokies faced over the weekend: Iowa.
For Iowa, it was the second game that they had to play after earning a 6-5 victory over East Carolina right before first pitch.
The game started off slow between the Hokies and the Hawkeyes as a Maddie Rountree RBI single for VT and Donirae Mayhew solo home run for Iowa were the only scoring established through two innings of play.
Then the Hokies found their stride in the third inning and found out exactly what it took to get to Iowa’s pitcher, Lauren Shaw, who also pitched in the prior game against East Carolina.
The Hokies laid it on the Hawkeyes in the next two innings, thanks to multiple big plays including a Kelsey Bennett two-run home run in the third inning and an Al Velazquez base-clearing double in the fourth inning.
The Hokies’ offense continued to came alive in the later portion of the game as well to seal the convincing 9-1 victory over Iowa, which saw the mercy rule come into effect after 5 innings.
Freshman Kaylee Hewitt, Virginia Tech’s number two pitcher, delivered a strong first performance of the season going the full 5 innings while only allowing 3 hits and 1 earned run. She also tallied 3 strikeouts on the afternoon.
The Friday doubleheader continued into the night as the Hokies took on host Coastal Carolina in the late game.
Even though it was Coastal Carolina’s first game of the weekend, they proved to be no match for Keely Rochard and the Hokies.
The Hokies started off the game very similar to their prior game, not starting off too quick on the offensive side of things. However, they were able to find their stride as the night went on.
Al Velazquez continued her strong day by supplying 2 RBIs for the Hokies in the top of the third inning to help give VT a 4-0 advantage through three innings.
Hokies’ catcher Grayson Cruce brought in two Hokies in the top of the fifth inning due to a series of events that included a single that resulted in a Coastal Carolina error which sent Kate Kobayashi and Al Velazquez across the plate, making it 7-0 Hokies.
At the end of the game, Kelsey Brown collected two singles in the 6th and 7th innings, bringing home Ansley Whitley to finish off another Hokies victory, this time 11-2 over Coastal Carolina.
Rochard pitched a complete game for the Hokies as she only allowed two runs to Coastal Carolina and recorded ten strikeouts on the night.
As one doubleheader came to a successful end, Virginia Tech looked to seek the same results in another doubleheader on Saturday.
This time, the Hokies were victims to the back-to-back portion on the schedule where they had to go against Campbell University and East Carolina University.
In the first game of the day against Campbell, it started off with an offensive bang as Campbell built up to an early 3-0 lead thanks in part to Cassie Wancheck’s two-run double in the top of the first inning.
The Hokies responded very quickly in the first by using small ball techniques to work the score back to dead even at three.
The Hokies broke away from Campbell in the later portion of the game, as the Hokies hit two home runs.
The first one was a solo shot coming off the bat of Maddi Banks to get the inning going while the second one was a dagger three-run shot from Ashley Whitney to give the Hokies a 9-3 lead in the sixth inning.
After a scary start, Virginia Tech scored eleven unanswered runs to put away Campbell University 11-3 to continue the undefeated start to the weekend.
Kaylee Hewitt pitched another solid performance for the Hokies. Despite the rough start, the freshman pitcher only gave up four hits and three earned runs, while recording eight strikeouts in this game.
Heading into the second game of the doubleheader, the question surrounding the Hokies was if they were going to be able to come out strong without any time to rest after the previous game.
Neither offense did much through the first four innings of the game as Virginia Tech’s Keely Rochard and East Carolina’s Erin Poepping went back and forth in this pitcher’s duel.
The Hokies finally found the break through in the fifth inning, where Kelsey Brown’s solo home run broke the scoreless start both teams were suffering from.
Later on in the sixth inning, Virginia Tech delivered another deadly home run to their opponents; this time was Jayme Bailey’s three-run shot which powered the Hokies over the Pirates.
East Carolina made an attempt to get back in this game in the sixth and seventh, but it was too little too late for the Pirates and the Hokies prevailed 4-2 to capture another successful doubleheader sweep over the weekend.
Keely Rochard and Erin Poepping both pitched complete games for their respective teams; but Rochard completed the better stat line of only allowing five hits and two runs on the night and recording nine strikeouts against a tough East Carolina team.
As the weekend was coming to an end, the Hokies had one more game left on tap for Sunday against the Iowa Hawkeyes.
This game turned out to be the most competitive for the Hokies, who struggled offensively early once again.
The Hawkeyes pounced on the Hokies early in the second inning due to Avery Guy's two-run home run, but that didn’t put the Hokies away just yet.
Virginia Tech struck back in the fifth inning with Grayson Cruce’ solo home run and Oliva Lattin’s two-run single to give the Hokies their first lead of the game over the Hawkeyes.
Iowa responded with a Mia Ruther’s single that took a turn for the worst for Virginia Tech where a throwing error allowed Nia Carter to score and tie the game up at three a piece.
The game went into extra innings as both teams were tied 3-3, but there was not much softball to be played left for both teams.
As the Hokies were held scoreless in the top of the eighth, the Hawkeyes struck in the bottom half of the inning when Nia Ruther connected for her third hit of the game.
The chain reaction of Ruther’s hit led to another throwing error by the Hokies, which saw Taylor Ryan advance home and gave Iowa a 4-3 victory over the Hokies.
Keely Rochard was given the loss for the game, but still pitched a complete game for the Hokies. She allowed only six hits and two earned runs in the game, but recorded a season-high 15 strikeouts through the 7.1 innings she was on the mound.
The Hokies left Conway, South Carolina with a bad taste in their mouth, but had a solid weekend, finishing with a 4-1 record in the Kickin’ Chicken Classic.
Virginia Tech learned a lot about themselves over the weekend and have gained some experience through their in game situations that will benefit this team over the next few months.
Up next for Virginia Tech is the exciting St.Petersburg/Clearwater Elite Invitational, where the five opponents that the Hokies face are all ranked in the Top 25; #16 Oklahoma State, #18 South Carolina, #19 Missouri, #14 Minnesota, #21 Northwestern.
This will be a big weekend for the Hokies to figure out their identity for the season and gives them several great early season matchups against some of the best softball programs across the country.