Hokies set to open 2018 season at Sand Dollar Classic

BLACKSBURG - The Virginia Tech softball team hits the road this week to open the 2018 season at the Sand Dollar Classic in Gulf Shores, Ala.

Poor weather in the Gulf Shores area pushed the tournament’s start date, originally scheduled for Friday, up to Thursday. The Hokies will open with 14th-ranked Ole Miss at 5 p.m. and Lamar at 8 p.m. on Thursday before facing Penn State and Florida A&M on Friday and No. 11 Alabama on Saturday. For live updates, follow the Hokies on Twitter, @HokiesSoftball

On Tuesday, the Hokies were picked to finish second in the Coastal Division and seventh overall in the ACC by the league’s coaches. While all-region and All-ACC selection Breanna Davenport and ACC All-Freshman pick Carrie Eberle are arguably Tech’s top returners from 2017, the Hokies bring back a number of key pieces to this year’s squad. The Hokies return seven players that registered 30 or more starts last season and inherited 11 talented newcomers, including nine true freshmen.

KEY RETURNERS - INFIELD/CATCHERS

Jessie Mehr: Due to injuries last season, Mehr registered multiple starts at first base, shortstop and third base. Her defensive versatility anchored the Virginia Tech infield and her bat at times provided pop in the middle to lower half of the lineup. She’ll be slotted as Tech’s starting first baseman entering this weekend.

Olivia Lattin: Lattin turned in another productive season at the plate as she led the Hokies with 11 doubles and blasted six home runs with 23 RBI. She only struck out 12 times compared to 32 walks, a total that ranks seventh in program history. Tech will once again rely on her ability to hit for power and draw walks as a bat that could hit first, second or third in the lineup.

Key Newcomer: Sierra Walton - Walton comes to Blacksburg after a strong two-year junior college career at Indian Hills Community College. She was an NFCA All-American last season and will be the Hokies’ opening day catcher.

KEY RETURNERS - OUTFIELD

Emma Strouth: Strouth looks to build off of her strong 2017 campaign where she hit .338 with a .600 slugging percentage, seven home runs and 38 RBI. Her athleticism allows her to play either of the corner outfield spots and could be viable All-ACC candidate.

Caroline Schoenewald: With Davenport expected to be the full-time designated player this season, Schoenewald will be called upon to provide a veteran presence in the outfield for the Hokies. She set multiple career highs last season with 49 games placed, 38 starts, a .245 batting average, three home runs and 17 RBI.

Key Newcomers: Cana Davis, Darby Trull, Sammi Miller - These three freshman outfielders could step in and play right away for the Hokies. Davis was four-time all-state selection at Turner Ashby High School while Trull and Miller were prep standouts in South Carolina and Ohio, respectively.

KEY RETUNERS - PITCHING

Carrie Eberle: Eberle is coming off of a freshman campaign that saw her earn ACC All-Freshman Team honors. She tied for sixth in the ACC with 14 games finished, ranked 10th with 38 appearances and 153.1 innings pitched. Eberle’s performance in the fall impressed many in the program and, despite only being a sophomore, is being looked at as a leader

Mikaela Aiken: Aiken returns after a redshirt season where she recuperated from shoulder surgery. She’ll look to return to the form of her freshman season where she went 7-3 with seven complete games and a 2.91 ERA. From a velocity stand point, Aiken is one of the Hokies’ best.

Key Newcomers: Jordan Dail and Keely Rochard - The Hokies were able to sign the state of Virginia’s top two high school pitchers in the fall of 2016 in Dail and Rochard. The duo had some legendary pitcher’s duels, including last year’s 18-inning epic in the 3A state championship game with Rochard coming out on top. Now they’re teammates in Blacksburg, adding young talent and much-needed depth to the pitching staff.

For updates on Virginia Tech softball, follow the Hokies on Twitter

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