Photo courtesy of John Strong/Virginia Tech athletics
The 2021 NCAA Softball Tournament is finally here.
The road to the Women’s College World Series is upon us for the first time since 2019 after two years of uncertainty, day-by-day planning, and swab after swab shoved up student-athletes’ noses multiple times per week for the past year.
For Virginia Tech softball (33-13, 23-11 ACC), it’s the road to what would be the program’s second Women’s College World Series appearance. That’s a feat only accomplished during the magical 2008 postseason run. That year, the program’s leader in strikeouts, Angela Tincher, put the Hokies on her back all the way to Oklahoma City.
Fortunately for Virginia Tech, it has yet another strikeout machine in the circle.
ACC Pitcher of the Year, Keely Rochard (25-8, 1.12 ERA), leads the nation in punch-outs with 299. She’s held opponents to just a mere .146 batting average throughout the 2021 season.
The Hokies narrowly missed hosting a regional of their own, but they still have the makeup on the roster to make a deep run in this year’s tournament.
Tempe, Ariz. is the first stop for what is, for Virginia Tech, hopefully the first of many deep tournament runs for third-year head coach and new father Pete D’Amour. D’Amour has done a marvelous job in Blacksburg since taking over for inaugural coach Scot Thomas.
No. 15 overall seed Arizona State – the regional host – will likely match up against the No. 2 seed Hokies at some point. First up is West Coast Conference champion BYU (36-15, 11-1 WCC). The Cougars are the No. 3 seed in the regional and the Virginia Tech opponent for the always-important first game.
It’s a must-win game for any team. It’s a gauntlet to crawl out of and run the table after moving into the elimination bracket just one game into the regional.
The Cougars should have Virginia Tech’s full attention on Thursday night.
First pitch is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET and will be streamed on ESPN3.
Arizona State and No. 4 seed Southern Illinois will follow at 10 p.m. ET.
What To Watch For – Virginia Tech
Rochard, a Williamsburg native, is the backbone to this Hokies team. That isn’t exactly surprising for a pitcher of her caliber, but this Virginia Tech offense is pretty hard to ignore.
It was stagnant in the recent ACC Tournament semifinal loss to Clemson and Yorktown native Valerie Cagle, but that’s been an outlier for much of the season.
Slap-hitting Kelsey Brown (.400, 0 HRs, 17 RBIs) and star infielder Cameron Fagan (.400, 3 HRs, 17 RBIs) are lethal at the top of the Hokie order.
Jayme Bailey (.315, 7 HRs, 40 RBIs), Addy Greene (.309, 3 HRs, 18 RBIs), and Alexa Milius (.304, 5 HRs, 17 RBIs) all provide a strong bat in the middle of that Virginia Tech lineup. Fagan and Greene (from Suffolk) make for one of the nation’s most talented true freshman infield duos.
Kelsey Bennett (.273, 11 HRs, 36 RBIs) adds a serious power threat to the order as well.
Here’s what D’Amour and company will likely pencil in on Thursday evening.
- LF Kelsey Brown
- 3B Cameron Fagan
- DP Alexa Milius
- 1B Jayme Bailey
- SS Kelsey Bennett
- 2B Addy Greene
- RF Emma Ritter
- C Mackenzie Lawter
- CF Darby Trull
P Keely Rochard
What To Watch For – BYU
The Cougars will be a tough out for the Hokies in the opening round of the Tempe Regional.
Not only have they had yet another successful year out in Provo, they’re typically a mid-major softball powerhouse. BYU hasn’t missed an NCAA Tournament since 2004.
Longtime head coach Gordon Eakin has done a marvelous job since taking over in 2003. He has the Cougars back where he wants them — in yet another NCAA regional after winning their seventh straight WCC title.
Outfielder Violet Zavodnik (.417, 13 HRs, 44 RBIs) won both the WCC Freshman and Player of the Year. She has been an absolute menace in the three-hole of the Cougars’ lineup. Fellow outfielder Rylee Jensen (.400, 18 HRs, 40 RBIs) will be another threat at the top of the BYU order as well.
Star pitcher Autumn Moffat-Korth (21-8, 1.94 ERA) has also been outstanding in the circle for Eakin’s team this year, winning WCC Pitcher of the Year after boasting a league-best 0.72 ERA in conference play.
Here’s how the Cougars likely line it up.
- LF Rylee Jensen
- RF Hannah Peterson
- CF Violet Zavodnik
- DP Huntyr Ava
- 3B Martha Epnesesa
- SS Marissa Chavez
- 2B Alyssa Podhurcak
- 1B Brooke Hill-Barrington
- C Natalie Sicairos
P Autumn Moffat-Korth