Tech softball made big strides in 2020

Hokies were enjoying success before the season ended.

BLACKSBURG – Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2020 NCAA softball season was abbreviated. Virginia Tech softball went 21-4 in the 25 games it played, 3-0 in ACC play. Time to take a look back at what was an unforgettable 2020 Hokies softball season.

Prior to the 2020 season getting under way, Virginia Tech softball had four players named to the Preseason All-ACC Team: Jayme Bailey, Kelsey Bennett, Keely Rochard and Darby Trull. Tech had the second-most honorees in the conference behind Florida State who had five.

KICKIN’ CHICKEN CLASSIC

The Hokies opened the 2020 season in Conway, South Carolina in a five-team tournament with Campbell, East Carolina, Iowa and host Coastal Carolina. Tech went 4-1 at the season-opening tournament with its only loss coming on the last day to Iowa in eight innings.

Rochard began her dominant season immediately. She threw 21.1 innings at the Kickin’ Chicken Classic, struck out 34 batters and yielded only two walks. Freshman pitcher Kaylee Hewitt made her collegiate debut in Conway, winning both of her starts and allowing just four runs in 11 innings.

Al Velazquez and Jayme Bailey led the way for the Hokies at the plate as they both left South Carolina with a team-high six runs batted in. Velazquez had two doubles and also scored seven runs, while Bailey had a home run and two doubles and registered a hit in all five games.

Kelsey Bennett started the season off with a bang as she had a homer and a double in the season opening game against Iowa for three RBIs. Making her debut in maroon and orange, Kelsey Brown had a home run, three RBIs, six runs scored and five stolen bases in Conway.

ST. PETE/CLEARWATER ELITE INVITATIONAL

Following the season-opening tournament in South Carolina, Tech was off to another tournament in week 2, this time in Clearwater, Florida. The Hokies played five games in four days, each against top-25 caliber opponents. They left Florida with a 3-2 record at the tournament, with quality wins over No. 18/17 South Carolina, No. 14/13 Minnesota and No. 21/23 Northwestern.

Rochard continued to work in the circle as she threw 141, 150 and 122 pitches in three straight games. She threw 23.2 innings in Clearwater and struck out 31.

Hewitt earned her first career win against a ranked opponent in the victory over No. 14/13 Minnesota. In a pitcher’s duel, Hewitt went six innings and allowed only one run to a team that was in the 2019 Women’s College World Series.

Trull led the team with five RBIs at the SPC Elite Invite and also had a double and scored four runs. Bennett and Mackenzie Lawter each had four RBIs in Florida and both had a double and a home run. Grace Chavez led the team with two home runs at the tournament, including a solo shot in the seventh inning against South Carolina, providing an insurance run to seal the win.

In the 2-1 win over Minnesota, Olivia Lattin and Maddi Banks hit back-to-back home runs in the fourth inning to lead the Hokies to its second top-25 win of the weekend.

HOKIES ENTER RANKINGS FOR FIRST TIME

After going 3-2 at the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational, Tech earned spots in both the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll and the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Poll, coming in at No. 24 and No. 25, respectively.

CHARLESTON INVITATIONAL

Week 3 of the 2020 Hokies softball season brought the third tournament of the season, the Charleston Invitational hosted by College of Charleston and Charleston Southern University. Once again, the Hokies played five games and posted their first perfect weekend of the season, leaving South Carolina 5-0 in the tournament.

In the circle, both Rochard and Hewitt picked up multiple wins as the pitchers went 3-0 and 2-0, respectively. Rochard, in her 18.0 innings, struck out 34 batters and allowed only one earned run. Hewitt also kept opponents’ offense to a minimum, giving up just two runs in 11.0 innings. She threw her first career no-hitter in the 16-0 run-rule victory over North Carolina A&T.

Freshman Molly Jacobson made her collegiate debut in the win over Dartmouth at the Charleston Invitational. She pitched two innings and surrendered only one hit.

The offense was rolling at the Charleston Invitational as Banks, Bailey, Bennett and Meredith Slaw set their single-game RBI career highs. Banks had four RBIs against Dartmouth, Bailey knocked in four runs versus Bradley, and Bennett and Slaw had five and four RBIs in the win over North Carolina A&T, respectively. Slaw had a total of eight RBIs on the weekend, in just seven at-bats.

Trull also recorded a four-hit game against Army, becoming the first Hokie to have four hits in one game since she did it against No. 8 Georgia on March 1, 2019.

ROCHARD EARNS CONFERENCE ACCOLADE

Following the perfect weekend in Charleston, Rochard was named the ACC’s Pitcher of the Week for the first time in 2020.

The Hokies also moved up in both polls after the Charleston Invitational, entering the fourth week of competition as the No. 19/20 team in the country.

JU/UNF SPRING BREAK CHALLENGE

The team went back to Florida the fourth weekend of the season to compete in the Spring Break Challenge hosted by Jacksonville University and the University of North Florida. The team went 4-1 during the three days in Jacksonville as the Hokies continued to see great performances in the circle and the box.

Fresh off her first weekly conference award of the season, Rochard continued her dominance over opposing batters in Jacksonville. She went the distance in each of her four starts, pitching a total of 30 innings over five games, giving up just one run in that stretch. She threw her first no-hitter of the season against Jacksonville, striking out 13 batters in the process. Rochard had 44 strikeouts at the tournament.

While Rochard was keeping opposing batters in check, a number of Hokies took turns at leading the offense throughout their first two wins. Chavez provided the spark in the 4-0 win over Purdue on the first day with a two-run blast over the left field wall. In the 2-0 win in the rematch with Purdue, Slaw and Trull each had an RBI late in the game to seal the second victory at the Spring Break Challenge.

The offense got rolling after the wins over Purdue, as the Hokies cruised to 6-0 and 6-1 wins over Jacksonville and Stony Brook, respectively. Slaw led the team in RBIs over that span with three, and Lawter and Trull each had two RBIs.

BACK-TO-BACK FOR ROCHARD

After taking home ACC Pitcher of the Week honors the week before and a dominating performance in Jacksonville, Rochard was named the conference’s weekly honoree for the second straight week. Rochard also received national recognition as she was named the Wilson/NFCA Pitcher of the Week.

Following the Spring Break Challenge, Tech was ranked No. 19/21 in the country.

COMMONWEALTH CLASH

After four straight tournament weekends, the Hokies traveled up to Charlottesville, Virginia for their first ACC series of the season against Commonwealth Clash opponent Virginia. Tech grabbed the Clash point after a series sweep. For the second straight season, the Hokies did not allow a Cavalier to reach third base at any point in the series. Tech won the three games 4-0, 6-0 and 7-0.

Getting the starting nod in all three games, Rochard never gave an inch to the Hoos, registering three straight complete game shutouts, capped by her second no-hitter of the year in the series finale. She had 28 strikeouts in 21 innings, allowing just four hits the entire weekend.

In the first game, Bailey powered the offense with two home runs in the 4-0 win. She became the first Hokie to hit home runs in back-to-back at-bats since April 2019. In Game 2, three Hokies split the six runs batted in as Trull, Chavez and Bennett each had two RBIs in the 6-0 win. Bailey did more damage in the finale, registering a triple, a double and two RBIs. Slaw had a home run and four RBIs to help Tech to a 7-0 win to finish the sweep.

ROCHARD THREE-PEAT

After her three straight shutouts over Virginia, Rochard was named the ACC Pitcher of the Week for the third straight week. It was the first time a pitcher was the sole recipient of the award for three straight weeks since 2015.

The Hokies moved up in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll following the Virginia sweep to No. 17 in the country, the highest rank under head coach Pete D’Amour. Tech remained at No. 21 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Poll.

GEORGE WASHINGTON AND GEORGE MASON

The Hokies stayed on the road and traveled up to Washington D.C. for their first midweek game of the season against George Washington, followed by a game at George Mason the following day. Tech won both games in run-rule fashion, 9-0 over GW in six innings and 12-1 over Mason in five.

Rochard started against George Washington, allowing only one hit and striking out 12 of the 21 batters she faced for her fourth straight shutout.

Chavez had two solo home runs and Bennett had a home run and three RBIs to help lead Tech to the 9-0 victory. The Hokies also saw RBIs from Banks, Lawter and Slaw, and Ashley Whitley recorded her first career triple.

The next day, the Hokies traveled to Fairfax, Virginia for what would end up being their season finale. Hewitt got the start and didn’t allow an earned run while only surrendering one hit to the Patriots. She picked up her sixth win of the season in the victory. Jacobson entered the game in the fifth inning, retiring the side after allowing just one hit.

For the second straight game, Tech had a player with multiple home runs, this time Bennett did the damage with two solo home runs in the 12-1 win. Bailey and Slaw each had three RBIs in the win.

POSTSEASON AWARDS

Following the abrupt end to the 2020 season, Tech received a few end-of-season accolades. Softball America named Rochard a First-Team All-American for her performance in the shortened season. Rochard finished the season as the NCAA leader in strikeouts (134), wins (15) and shutouts (7).

Softball America also named three Hokies to its Top 100 players of the shortened season list, Rochard (14), Bennett (71) and Bailey (81).

In the final polls of the season, the Hokies were ranked No. 16 by the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll, their highest ranking since 2008. Tech also finished No. 18 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Poll, which is the first time it has been ranked in the teens in both polls since 2013.

 

 

 

 

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