Virginia Tech Softball heads to Colombia for Carolina Classic

Kelsey Bennett and the Hokies have a chance to get started this weekend in South Carolina. (Virginia Tech Sports Photography)

No. 7 Virginia Tech travels to Columbia, South Carolina to compete in the Carolina Classic and continue its rocky start to the season.

The Hokies will play four games in three days, with matchups against Ohio State, Miami (OH), South Carolina and Troy. The RedHawks and Trojans received offers from the NCAA last season, while the Gamecocks are still stinging after missing the tournament for the first time since 2012.

Here is the weather forecast for the weekend:
Friday: 80 degrees, mostly sunny
Saturday: 60 degrees, cloudy
Sunday: 54 degrees, cloudy, 90% chance of rain

Below is the schedule of games involving the Hokies. The South Carolina game is scheduled to air on SEC Extra while the remaining games will be available on ESPN3.

ohio state

The Buckeyes, currently No. 25 by Extra Innings Softball, are off to a strong 7-1 start this season that includes wins over two ACC teams: Louisville (8-5) and North Carolina (5-2). Their only loss was against Liberty (3-2) in Leesburg, Florida.

Ohio State is relatively young with 15 players in their first or second year with the program. Nonetheless, the team was solid offensively, hitting .294 and averaging 5.7 points per game. Rookie Melina Wilkison came in strong, leading the team in hits (.478) and runs (nine).

The veterans also contributed, with fifth-year senior Niki Carver (159 career games) hitting .313 this season on first base. Carver is the team’s active career leader in hits (118), home runs (18), RBIs (84) and doubles (17). Junior Sam Hackenbracht, a 2021 second-team All-Big Ten selection, hits .333 to start the year at receiver.

Emily Ruck is one of the few pitchers to have pitched well for the Buckeyes so far this spring. (Ohio State Athletics)

Pitching was supposed to be a weak point for the Buckeyes this year with the graduation of workaholic Payton Buresch (11-6, 2.47 ERA). However, Lexie Handley (1.25 ERA, 32 Ks in 22 innings), Emily Ruck (1.97 ERA, 11 Ks in 10.2 innings) and Allison Smith (2.33 ERA, 20 Ks in 15 innings) combined for a team ERA of 1.71.

Miami (Ohio)

Miami started its season a week later than the other four teams in the tournament, so there is less data on this year’s squad.

The RedHawks started the year 2-3 with losses to Bradley, IUPUI and Tennessee State, in which they gave up 13 unearned runs. They have since tightened their defense and won their last two games against Bradley (2-0) and IUPUI (12-1).

However, Miami is coming off one of the most successful seasons in school history, winning the MAC for the second straight season in 2021. The RedHawks won a program-record 46 games and set school records batting average (.340), hits (499), average runs per game (7.6), and home runs (88).

Miami returns six different hitters who topped a .300 batting average last season, led by junior catcher Allie Cummins, who finished last season with a .439 batting average, 17 homers and 59 RBIs. The RedHawks were a unanimous selection to repeat as MAC champions in a preseason poll by coaches.

Miami is coached by former Hokie assistant coach Kirin Kumar, who replaced another former Hokie, Clarisa Crowell, who left for Penn State in 2020. Kumar was named MAC Coach of the Year last season, replicating a feat which Crowell made in 2019.

Another former Hokie, Kate Kobayashi, could start for the RedHawks in the outfield. Kobayashi started 29 games last season for Miami and finished the year with a .357 batting average, eight home runs and 26 RBIs.

In the circle, Miami is led by senior Courtney Vierstra, MAC pitcher of the year last season, who finished the season with a 26-5 record and 1.77 ERA. Junior Brianna Pratt (13-4, 2.77 ERA), a second-team All-MAC performer from a year ago, also returns.

Caroline from the south

The Gamecocks missed the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time since 2012 — a rarity for an NCAA-eligible SEC team. They were picked to finish last in the conference again this year by coaches, but head coach Beverly Smith (12th season, 359-247 at USC) thinks those two things are “something that really got us helped us to improve”.

South Carolina (8-2) is coming off a successful trip to Myrtle Beach where it went 5-0 at Bash at the Beach. The Gamecocks recorded a pair of wins over Marshall and Fordham and a single victory over Coastal Carolina. Earlier this season, USC had lost games to future Hokie opponents North Carolina (8-3) and UNC-Charlotte (6-1).

The Gamecocks have an explosive offense, averaging nearly seven points per game and hitting .341 as a team. They have seven regulars hitting .318 or better, led by first-year shortstop Emma Sellers (.464), senior catcher Jordan Fabian (.400, 6-6 stolen bases) and third baseman goal Riley Blampled (.400). Left fielder and graduate student Katie Prebble leads the team in home runs with five, while junior Hannah Kumiyama leads the team in RBIs with 13.

After a rough first outing, grad student Kelsey Oh (3.57 ERA) won two straight complete games. Junior Karsen Ochs (3.50 ERA) started a team-best four games this spring.

Troy

Last season, the Trojans won 37 games and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 25 years. To start this spring, they were red hot.

Troy (9-2) lost its opener to College of Charleston (1-0) but went on to win nine straight before falling to Ole Miss (8-7) in the second of two games on Sunday.

At home plate, Troy hits .337 as a team, paced by the top of the order. Junior second baseman Kelly Horne and sophomore center Jade Sinness lead the way.

Horne was on fire, batting .625 (15-24) and slamming four homers. Sinness was the perfect first hitter, batting .444 with a .535 on-base percentage.

Troy’s Leanna Johnson won both Sun Belt Pitcher of the Week Awards this season. (Troy athletics)

In the circle, Troy is led by junior First-Team All-Sun Belt draft Leanna Johnson, who led the conference in ERA (1.60), strikeouts (235) and opponent’s batting average. (.163) last year.

Johnson picked up where she left off last season, with a 1.47 ERA and 69 strikeouts in 43 innings. She won back-to-back Sun Belt Pitcher of the Week awards to start the season and went 3-1 last weekend with a no-hitter against Eastern Kentucky. She’s backed by sophomore Libby Baker (3-0), who has 20 strikeouts in 14 innings.

Final Thoughts

It will be a tough weekend for Virginia Tech. Sitting at No. 7 in the nation, the Hokies have become “the hunted” and any of those four opponents are capable of beating them if not focused. With the sticks still cool, it will be up to the pitchers to keep things on track.

“This weekend is another tough game schedule for us,” said head coach Pete D’Amour. “All four opponents will make a playoff run. We had some good practice this week so I expect us to be ready to compete.

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