Despite strong start, BYU softball falls to Virginia Tech in NCAA Tournament
In the end, the Hokies defeated the Cougars 5-2 at Alberta B. Farrington Stadium on the campus of regional host Arizona State
With a leadoff home run by senior Rylee Jensen in the top of the first inning, the BYU softball team’s first-round NCAA Tournament game against Virginia Tech couldn’t have started any better.
Unfortunately for the Cougars, they didn’t score again until the seventh inning. BYU managed to add another run in that final frame after loading the bases.
But in the end, the Hokies defeated the Cougars 5-2 at Alberta B. Farrington Stadium on the campus of regional host Arizona State.
BYU plays an elimination game Friday (4:30 p.m. MDT, ESPN3) against the loser of Thursday’s late game between Arizona State and Southern Illinois.
Virginia Tech and Keely Rochard, the Atlantic Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year, managed to keep the Cougars at bay for most of the game.
“We didn’t play our best game. She threw a great game,” Jensen said of Rochard. “We needed to make adjustments earlier in the game.”
BYU coach Gordon Eakin was pleased with the way his team played overall despite the setback.
“It’s always disappointing. We’re never happy with (a loss), but one of the things that this team needs to do is be resilient and bounce back tomorrow,” Eakin said. “I was not disappointed in the team’s effort. I thought we executed our game plan pretty well on offense. Our goal was to not chase (Rochard’s) rise ball and we didn’t. Sometimes you’ve got to tip your cap to the opponent because they outplayed you and I think that was the case today. They just outplayed us.”
The Hokies tied the game in the second inning on a solo homer by Kelsey Bennett. Then Virginia Tech enjoyed a three-run third inning.
“They definitely started seizing momentum. With Rochard on the mound, four runs is a big challenge but I didn’t think they would hold us to a run. I thought we’d stay resilient and fight, which we did, and give ourselves a chance in the late innings,” Eakin said. “Rochard isn’t the Pitcher of the Year in the ACC for no reason. She’s very good. But I thought we stayed resilient and gave ourselves a chance at the end.”
In the fourth inning, the Hokies scored their final run on a controversial call at home plate — it appeared that Cougar catcher Natalie Sicairos tagged the Virginia Tech runner but the umpire called the runner safe.
“It’s always disappointing. We’re never happy with (a loss), but one of the things that this team needs to do is be resilient and bounce back tomorrow.” — BYU coach Gordon Eakin
That was one of a few plays that didn’t go BYU’s way that Eakin questioned.
“I would never blame the loss on any particular umpire calls,” he said. “But I’ll be interested to look at the footage tonight to see if the three calls that I thought went against us maybe would have kept the momentum a little less on their side if they were called differently. Maybe not. We’ll see.”
Now the Cougars, the West Coast Conference champions, are looking to stay alive in the tournament, needing a win Friday afternoon.
Jensen said her team learned some lessons Thursday that it can apply Friday.
“The biggest thing is knowing that we were right there. Knowing that we can hit that pitcher and we can play with these teams,” she said. “We’ll have more confidence tomorrow because of that. Sticking together and knowing that if we stay together, we can accomplish that and come back.”
BYU is familiar with Arizona State, having lost a pair of games to the Sun Devils to open the season. The Cougars aren’t familiar with Southern Illinois.
“That’s one of the tough things about the NCAA softball tournament. We’ll play again in 20 hours. We’ve played Arizona State twice,” Eakin said. “We’re pretty well prepared for them. We will scout Southern Illinois to see what challenges they present. We have to play to our strengths and play our game. If we do that and do that well, we give ourselves a chance.”