Hokies wrap up fall season, look ahead to the spring

BLACKSBURG – On and off the field, the Virginia Tech softball program had a successful fall season as head coach Scot Thomas turns the page to his 22nd spring leading the Hokies.

The program put on its most successful Hit-A-Thon in the event’s history in late October as the Hokies raised $6,186 that will go towards expenses for the upcoming season. In the new bracket format, assistant director of ticketing Chris Bales came out on top as the Hit-A-Thon champion, edging out junior second baseman Olivia Lattin in the finals.

When it came to their play on the field, the Hokies won all of their fall exhibitions and assistant coach Justin Miller’s Orange squad came out victorious in the annual Maroon and Orange series. The improved pitching depth on paper came to fruition as freshman Keely Rochard, freshman Jordan Dail and sophomore Carrie Eberle will look to carry their success in the fall over to the spring. Dail and Rochard’s classmates have bolstered Tech’s depth in the infield and outfield.

Overall, Thomas was pleased with the Hokies’ effort and performance in the fall as Tech looks to make a deep run in the ACC Tournament and get back to an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2015. Thomas recently sat down with HokieSports.com and answered five key questions about the fall and the 2018 campaign:

What were some of the things that stuck out to you this fall? Was there anything in particular you saw that was encouraging?

“Two things were really encouraging. Our pitching was fantastic, I thought we played the ball well when we had runners on. We didn’t panic. The girls pitched well out of those situations and we played well behind them. Second, we scored in multiple ways. We scored with home runs, we manufactured some [runs]. I think when you’ve got great pitching it allows you some flexibility to find different ways to score runs and that’s what we’re going to be trying to do as we move forward into the spring.”

You touched upon the pitching, it was a deficiency last year, how excited are you to get Jordan Dail and Keely Rochard out there with Carrie Eberle?

“Carrie did a great job of leading. She’s been working really hard and has done a great job with this staff. I think there’s some confidence that’s been worked on, and they’ve done a great job. Carrie threw very well. Keely and Jordan did a great job as well working through things, and that’s what the fall is all about—not being afraid to throw something because there’s nothing really riding on those games, you’re just trying to get better. Coach Tincher O’Brien’s done a great job with that bunch and helping build their confidence. I couldn’t be more pleased with them. We’ve got quality at the top, three deep, we don't even have Mikaela Aiken back yet, who is going to be primarily a pitcher for us, and we look forward to seeing a healthy Chelsea Whitcomb back as well.”

You return a lot of offensive pieces from last year. You’re not afraid to steal or bunt. What did you see from the offense situationally?

“I think we had some quality at-bats. Coach Miller has done a great job of working on being smart and aggressive early in the count. We didn’t do that as well in the first Orange and Maroon scrimmage where we got behind in counts, but we did a much better job as the fall went on, we bought in and got more confident. I thought we had some gap power. I think as much as anything we’ve been working on base running, trying to score runs, move runners two bases at a time, so some of that has to do with offensive strategy and utilizing the short game to make that happen. I don’t know if we’re going to steal a lot of bases compared to previous years. I think if we were to steal somewhere around 50 to 75 bases that would be a big number for us. But I’m more interested in what we’re doing from a two-base standpoint and being able to score from second. One of the things we didn’t do so well last year was hitting with runners on, and that’s going to be huge for us, if we can drive runners in. I think the depth of our lineup allows us to do that.”

Last year, injuries forced you to do a lot of different things with your lineup but this season you’ll have more depth. What did you do in the fall to evaluate those positions?

“One of the key things we’re not seeing right now that we will see in the spring is Caitlyn Nolan and Breanna Davenport. Once you plug those two into the lineup, in particular with Bre, we’re looking to get her bat back into the lineup. And I think Caitlyn is the solidifier in the infield. When she comes back she can play shortstop, third base, second base, wherever. We’ve got Olivia Lattin back, Casey Barrett and Taylor Clark both did a great job. Jess Mehr has become a leader for us off the field and on it. It gives us quality depth and I feel good about it. I don’t think you can say enough about how Sierra Walton came in and helped our pitchers and gave them a lot of confidence behind the plate. She’s transitioning great. We’re going to be deep everywhere, and it’s going to be a matter of people stepping up and getting the job done.”

What’s the one thing you want to see the kids improve on when the first week of February comes?

“I think the biggest thing is that I like where we are defensively. But we’ve got to really focus on being versatile from an offensive standpoint, working the short game, being able to read defenses. We’ve got enough good speed to drop some bunts here and there and keep defenses on their toes. I think if we do that and continue to run the bases well, we’re going to make contact and do some positive things with the bats. I think that piece, and the base running, and how that works with our short game (getting balls down, moving runners, making things happen), it should be fun. We should be a fun to watch, and hopefully the fans will appreciate that and get behind us come ACC play.”

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