Despite getting out to an early lead vs. Kentucky in game three of the Blacksburg regional on Saturday, No. 3 Virginia Tech fell after a late comeback. Trailing 4-0, the Wildcats scored a run in the sixth and four in the seventh to knock off the Hokies, 5-4, and advance to the NCAA Tournament regional final.
The loss, which came at 7:30 pm due to inclement weather pushing the start time back two hours to 5:10 pm, sent Tech to the loser’s bracket. After Miami (OH) eliminated St. Francis (Pa.) 4-0 in game four, the Hokies and RedHawks met for the second time this season with a 10:40 pm ET first pitch.
In a contest that ended after 1 am, Tech was victorious, 5-4, advancing to the regional final for a rematch with Kentucky.
First pitch on Sunday in Blacksburg is scheduled for 12 pm ET. Since it’s a double-elimination tournament, the Hokies have to win twice to advance to super regionals; the Wildcats need just one victory. A second regional final game, should it be needed, would start 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first title game.
Against Kentucky, Meredith Slaw opened the scoring early with a grand slam to center in the first inning. Cameron Fagan (single), Emma Ritter (walk) and Jayme Bailey (walk) were already on base, and Virginia Tech led 4-0 with no outs.
For the rest of the game, however, neither side could produce. Outside of the fifth, the Wildcats recorded at least one hit in each of the first six innings. The Hokies, meanwhile, went did not have a hit between the third and sixth inning.
Emma Lemley was in the circle and pitched well, holding Kentucky scoreless through five. But Taylor Ebbs hit a solo shot to left in the sixth to put UK on the board. Still, Tech led by three, 4-1, needing just three outs to advance to Sunday.
Just when it seemed like the game was coming to a close, Lemley gave up a single to Vanessa Nesby at second, Kentucky’s lead-off batter. Tech head coach Pete D’Amour opted to sub in Keely Rochard, but things turned south quickly.
“Kentucky can hit, it was the third time through the lineup,” D’Amour told Tech Sideline afterwards. “Kentucky was fearing towards riseballs and Keely has a drop.”
Kayla Kowalik singled to short and Erin Coffel hit an RBI single to left, cutting the score to two, 4-2. Then, Renee Abernathy stepped up and sent a three-run home run to right field, Kentucky’s go-ahead run.
Trailing 5-4 with their back against the wall, the Hokies needed a response. Ritter reached via error and then advanced to second a batter later, but they stranded her. It came down to a close call at first between Slaw and Meeko Harrison, who just appeared to tag the bag before Slaw’s foot touched.
“I mean, like coach Pete [D’Amour] said, this is just fuel to win the next three,” Slaw said after the game. “So [we] just have to look ahead and forget about the loss.”
Under the lights at Tech Softball Park, the Hokies’ season was on the line. D’Amour opted for Ivy Rosenberry in the circle to start the game.
Tech jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead courtesy of Slaw’s RBI single that scored Emma Ritter in the first. But Miami responded very quickly. Three runs in the next two innings – a RBI single, an RBI double and a 2-run home run – made the score 4-1.
After throwing 43 pitches and giving up a homer, D’Amour replaced Rosenberry with Mackenzie Osborne in the bottom of the third. She only faced three batters but got out of the inning via groundout and a nicely turned 5-4-3 double play.
However, the Hokies, trailing by three, activated their clutch genes in the fourth. Bailey had a two-run shotwhich scored Bre Peck (who doubled), and after Kelsey Bennett singled (Maija Louko pinch-ran), Mackenzie Lawter homered to center to retake the lead at midnight.
THAT’S OUR CATCHER 😤 pic.twitter.com/2fTgRZ30AX
— Virginia Tech Softball (@HokiesSoftball) May 22, 2022
Ahead by a run, D’Amour subbed in Rochard. She closed out the game from there, picking up her sixth save of the season over four innings of work. Rochard didn’t allow a hit and struck out six, including the final batter of the game. Osborne earned her second win of the season, too.
“It wasn’t the outcome we wanted game one,” D’Amour told Tech Sideline after the win. “We played a lot looser game two and it showed, especially offensively. The important thing is we gave ourselves a chance on Sunday. Anything can happen.”