ON THE DIAMOND
The Virginia Tech softball team travels to Jacksonville, Fla., to open the 2012 season at the Opening Weekend Tournament, hosted by Jacksonville University. The Hokies open the season on Friday at 11:45 a.m. against Buffalo and then play UNCG later that day at 2 p.m. On Saturday, they face St. Louis at 11:45 a.m. and then play the host Dolphins at 6:30 p.m. On Sunday, Tech playes UNCG again, this time at 11:15 a.m.
IN THE SUNSHINE STATE
Virginia Tech has played 143 games in Florida since its inception as a varsity sport in 1996, the second-most behind Virginia (401). The Hokies boast a 83-60 record in the Sunshine State, but are just 11-10 there over the past two seasons.
THE WEEKEND FORECAST
Here’s the early weekend forecast for Jacksonville, Fla.
Live stats for every Hokie softball game this season will be available on through hokiesports.com. It will always be this link.
Fans can follow Hokie softball online through Twitter as well. In game thoughts, stats and notes, as well as links to articles and other miscellaneous items can be found at the official Twitter page for Virginia Tech softball, @VT_Softball.
NEW FAN GUIDE
A new online fan guide replaces the printed media guide this year for the softball team. This guide includes videos, color photos, links and much more. It will change throughout the year with new items as they happen so bookmark it and come back as the season progresses. The guide can be found at this link.
A wesbite that focuses on college athletics called College Sports Madness, has added coverage of softball this season. In its preseason coverage, it listed Tech junior firstbaseman Courtney Liddle as a preseason fourth-team All-American. It also trotted out an all-conference squad for each conference. In its All-ACC squad, it named Tech’s Lauren Gaskill as its preseason freshman of the year. It also placed Jasmin Harrell and Liddle on the first team and Dani Anderson, Kristen Froehlich and Gaskill on the second team.
YEAR NO. 17
Scot Thomas is in his 17th season at the helm of the maroon and orange. He enters this weekend with a record of 573-287, needing just 27 victories to reach the 600-win milestone. In his career, he has led the Hokies to a berth in the Women’s College World Series (2008), two ACC titles (2007, 2008), four NCAA bids (2005-2008) and a win over the U.S. National Team (2008).
The Hokies return 10 letterwinners from last year’s squad, including two All-ACC and all-region performers. Six of Tech’s top hitters in terms of batting average from a year ago return. Sophomore shortstop/outfielder Dani Anderson led the team a year ago with a .369 average with four home runs and 39 RBIs despite playing a good part of the second half of the season with a broken bone in her throwing hand. She will be joined by junior Courtney Liddle who hit .366 with six home runs to go along with 43 RBIs. Betty Rose is coming off a .316, 12-home run, 45-RBI campaign and will again anchor the catching spot. Marra Hvozdovic hit .294, Kristen Froehlich hit .280 with seven home runs and a team-leading 49 RBIs and Bkaye Smith hit .271. All three return, as do Kat Banks, Laura Wolff and Nina Compton.
In the circle, Jasmin Harrell will take over as the No. 1 pitcher for the Hokies. She led the team in wins (18), ERA (2.98) and strikeouts (149) a year ago. Banks, who saw action in just one game early in the season last year, will also be called upon to help out.
Tech welcomes 12 newcomers to the program this spring, including 11 from high school to go along with one transfer. Four of the 12 are expected to redshirt while the other eight will be counted on to contribute in one way or another. Expect several of the newcomers to battle for starting spots right from the get go, including Lauren Gaskill (OF), Kyle McGoldrick (2B), Kelsey Mericka (3B/C) and Logan Spaw (C/OF/DP). Jessica Rappe could also factor into the equation, either at second base or in the outfield.
Isabella Corrao is a freshman pitcher who is going to be counted on for big innings this year. Bailey Liddle, younger sister of Courtney, is an all-around player who could help out at several positions, including pitcher. Additionally, transfer Lauren Darden could contribute in the circle.
Lauren Boitnott, Beth Isaacs, Jessica McNamara and Katey Smith are expected to redshirt.
The Hokies are 9-7 all-time in season openers and will look to build on that mark when they take on Buffalo Friday morning. Tech has won its last three season openers.
Buffalo is coming off a 12-35 season, hitting just .244 with 12 home runs as a team with a team ERA of 5.04. The Bulls had just one hitter bat over .300 last year, but she returns. That is Kristin Waldron, who hit .313 with 10 stolen bases to lead the way. Their top pitcher in Tori Speckman also returns. She was 5-14 with a 3.78 ERA in 133.1 innings pitched.
Tech is 1-0 all-time against Buffalo, beating the Bulls 5-0 in 2004 at a tournament in Athens, Ga.
Buffalo’s 2011 stats
Buffalo’s 2012 roster
Jacksonville, on paper, will be the toughest opponent for the Hokies this weekend. The Dolphins are coming off a 44-16 season which saw them win the Atlantic Sun Tournament and advance to the NCAA Tournament. Senior Sarah Sigrest returns in the circle after going 27-7 with a 1.10 ERA and 208 strikeouts in 230.0 innings last year. At the plate, the top hitter from 2011 returns in Sarah Simon. She hit .365 with 10 home runs and 41 RBI last year.
Tech is just 1-3 all-time against Jacksonville. The two teams last played in 2010 with the Dolphins beating the Hokies 11-7 at a home tournament before downing them again 3-2, this time at a tournament in Boca Raton, Fla.
Jacksonville’s 2011 stats
Jacksonville’s 2012 roster
SCOUTING ST. LOUIS
St. Louis posted a 29-24 record a year ago with a 10-8 mark in the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Billikens had a solid pitching staff last season and all three pitchers return. Hannah Huebbe led the way with a 14-7 record with a 2.55 ERA and 121 strikeouts in 134.2 innings while Kelcie Matesa was 11-9 with a 2.68 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 133.0 innings. Julian Austin threw 80.0 innings, going 4-8 with a 3.85 ERA. At the plate, St. Louis lost its top hitter and power hitter, but returns Jessica Buschjost, who hit .331 wth 10 stolen bases.
Tech is 1-0 all-time against St. Louis, beating the Billikens 19-3 in 5 innings in 1998 at a tournament in Atlanta.
St. Louis’ 2011 stats
St. Louis’ 2012 roster
UNCG is coming off a 26-32 2011 campaign and usually plays the Hokies tough. Tech did beat the Spartans twice this fall down in Greensboro. Top hitter Alex Emeterio returns after hitting .339 with 22 RBI. The Spartans lost their top power hitter from a year ago - Kaitlin Merkt (9 HR) - to graduation. Cory Mattson (14-15, 4.04 ERA), Raeanne Hanks (7-3, 4.68 ERA) and Josie Felix (5-14, 5.07 ERA) all return in the circle for the Spartans.
Tech is 15-4 all-time against UNCG. After losing the first three games played against the Spartans (1997-98), Tech has won 15 of the last 16 games, including a sweep last year at home (13-4  and 11-3 ). The Hokies will head to Greensboro on March 14 for a doubleheader against the Spartans.
UNCG’s 2011 stats
UNCG’s 2012 roster
PRESEASON ACC POLL
The ACC coaches voted the Hokies sixth in the 2012 Preseason Coaches’ Poll, released last week. Georgia Tech is the preseason favorite, according to the coaches, followed by North Carolina, defending tournament champion Florida State, Virginia, Maryland, Virginia Tech, NC State and Boston College.
TECH SOFTBALL PARK
Tech Softball Park, home of Virginia Tech softball since 1998, has been a tough place for opposing teams to play of the years. Nearly 800 permanent seats have been added, along with lights, two more press boxes and a new sound system, making the facility a fine one for the Hokies to play. Over the years, Tech has posted a 186-73 record at home.
A NEW ADDITION
This past offseason, a new scoreboard and video board were also added to enhance the fans’ experiences at TSP. The new board features a scoreboard on the bottom portion like the old one, but this one has LED lights and is capable of putting team names on the board. The new addition will be something to behold as a video board, sound system, netting, side panels and a steel tress up top will all add to the project. Virginia Tech’s video board is the fourth-largest college softball display installed by Daktronics.
The overall dimensions of the structure is 28 feet wide by 21 feet tall, and includes the Sportsound-500HD sound system speakers in the board so the sound will be directed straight to the stands as opposed to over the fans’ heads now.
The 11x18 foot video board is a HD-15mm LED video display that has 216 lines of resolution high by 360 columns of resolution wide. The display can operate as an independent display showing single large images or be divided in multiple zones (windows) to show a wide variety of statistics, information graphics, animations, and live and recorded video.
It also has non-lit sponsor displays on the side and features the accomplishments of the program. The video board allows for an introduction video, player spotlights, replay and other in-game enhancements. The board is protected by a 21x28 foot net that drapes over the front.
Up top is a steel truss with “Tech Softball Park” illuminated for night games.
The Hokies are scheduled to open their home slate on Tuesday, weather permitting, against NRV rival Radford. The single game will start at 3 p.m. at Tech Softball Park. Tech leads the series with the Highlanders 29-10 after sweeping a pair of single games last year. The game can be seen on Hokies All-Access, a subscription-based platform.
Next weekend, the Hokies will participate in arguably its toughest tournament in 17 seasons as they head to Auburn, Ala., for the ACC/Big 12/SEC Challenge. Tech and Georgia Tech will represent the ACC, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will compete for the Big 12 while Auburn and Alabama will represent the SEC. The Hokies will play each team (except GT) once over the three-day event. Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Alabama all made the WCWS last year while Auburn made the NCAA Tournament.
RANDOM STATS AND NOTES
Did you know: Tech could start four freshmen Friday who will bat in the lineup, all of whom will have a chance to repeat history. Ali Verbage hit a grand slam in her first career at bat, coming against Akron in 1997. After walking in her second plate appearance, she hit a solo home run in her second official at bat, becoming the first and only player in program history to hit home runs in her first two official at bats. Junior Courtney Liddle hit a home run in her first official at bat - against Bethune-Cookman in 2010 - after walking in her first plate appearance, but flew out to left field in her attempt to tie the record. Those at bats came at the place the Hokies will be playing this weekend and these freshmen will be trying to replicate history: Jacksonville’s JU Softball Complex.
Career Grand Slams (active)
K. Froehlich vs. Charlotte, 2/12/11
K. Banks vs. UNCG, 3/29/11
B. Rose vs. Liberty, 3/27/11
Career Walk-Off Home Runs (active)
M. Hvozdovic vs. Western Michigan, 3/8/09 - solo home run in B7 with 1 out to win 1-0
Career Games Stated - by position (active)
K. Froehlich: 147 total - 46 2B; 34 RF; 20 1B; 19 3B; 16 LF; 11 DP; 1 SS
B. Smith: 114 total - 113 2B; 1 SS
C. Liddle: 100 total - 56 C; 37 1B; 7 DP
M. Hvozdovic: 64 total - 40 LF; 20 RF; 2 CF; 2 DP
B. Rose: 63 total - 50 C; 8 DP; 5 LF
D. Anderson: 51 total - 45 SS; 6 DP
K. Banks: 50 total - 48 CF; 2 RF
J. Harrell: 42 total - 42 P
L. Wolff: 8 total - 6 RF; 2 CF
Hokies by States (22)
North Carolina: 4
New Jersey: 2
New York: 1
Hokies by Class (22)
For updates on Virginia Tech softball, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@VT_Softball).