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Virginia softball narrowly falls to Virginia Tech over the weekend

The back-and-forth Commonwealth Clash series was decided in extra innings Saturday

<p>Although they lost the series, the Cavaliers still earned just the fourth win over a top-two ranked team in program history.</p>

Although they lost the series, the Cavaliers still earned just the fourth win over a top-two ranked team in program history.

Virginia softball traveled to No. 2 Virginia Tech this weekend for the annual Commonwealth Clash between the Cavaliers (23-21, 9-9 ACC) and the Hokies (32-6, 15-2 ACC).

In the first game of the series on Thursday, Virginia took a lead before Virginia Tech poured five runs onto the Cavaliers, sealing a 5-1 victory for the Hokies.

The first three innings were scoreless between the two teams, as Virginia’s senior right-hander Aly Rayle and Virginia Tech’s senior right-hander Keely Rochard were commanding on the mound.

The Cavaliers took a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning when senior outfielder Tori Gilbert blasted a one-shot home run to left field, her 11th home run this year. It would be the only time Virginia got on the scoreboard in the game.

The Hokies responded in impressive fashion, pouring in five runs in the bottom of the fifth inning. Even more impressive was how many different players contributed to the burst of scoring — four of Virginia Tech’s five runs came off RBI singles, with five Hokies recording one RBI each. After the fifth inning, neither team was able to put a run across, leaving the final score 5-1.

Rochard (17-2) secured the win for Virginia Tech, pitching a complete game of 7.0 innings. She gave up just three hits and one earned run, while walking just two runners and throwing 12 strikeouts. Meanwhile, Rayle (4-5) was credited with the loss as she threw 4.2 innings, allowing seven hits, three earned runs and one walk.

In the second game on Friday, the Cavaliers were determined to even the series up. Virginia put a run on the board in both the first and third innings, leading 2-0 heading into the bottom of the third inning. 

Junior infielder Gabby Baylog homered in the first to make it 1-0, while sophomore catcher Leah Boggs hit an RBI single up the middle to bring home senior infielder Arizona Ritchie and extend the lead to two.

The Hokies came back yet again, though, tying the game up after scoring two runs in the third from an RBI single and a sacrifice flyout with the bases loaded.

Not to be deterred, Virginia fought back in the fifth, as Gilbert brought freshman infielder Reece Holbrook home after hitting a single up the middle.

Then, in the sixth inning, junior infielder Katie Goldberg smashed a solo homerun on a full count to center field to make it 4-2. Holbrook also doubled in the inning to make it 5-2, batting in freshman outfielder Kailyn Jones.

The Hokies scored a run in the bottom of the seventh inning off of a Cavalier error, but couldn’t put together much else, as Virginia evened the series with a 5-3 victory.

Junior right-hander Molly Grube (1-2) got the win for the Cavaliers, pitching 6.2 innings and giving up eight hits and two earned runs, while walking none and striking out five. Freshman right-hander Emma Lemley (12-4) took the loss for Virginia Tech. She pitched all 7.0 innings, allowing nine hits and five earned runs, walking five and striking out eight.

The series hung in the balance heading into Saturday’s finale in Blacksburg, with Virginia looking to secure a victory against a top-two ranked team for just the fourth time in program history. 

Virginia jumped out to a 3-0 lead after scoring once in the second and adding two more in the third. The Hokies responded with a one-two punch of their own, scoring once in the fourth and scoring two runs in the fifth to tie the game at 3-3.

Both teams kept it 3-3 through the sixth and seventh innings, so for the first time this season, the Cavaliers went to battle in an extra-inning game. 

Virginia struck right away when Goldberg launched a solo home run to left field, giving the Cavaliers hope of upsetting the No. 2 Hokies again and clinching the series.

Virginia Tech was unphased, though. Junior infielder Meredith Slaw responded for the Hokies, hitting a solo home run of her own to keep the Hokies alive in the bottom of the eighth inning. Then, senior catcher Mackenzie Lawler hit a walk-off single to clinch the win 5-4 and the series for the Hokies.

Three Cavaliers combined for the effort on the mound, while Rochard (18-2) got her second win of the series. 

“What a competitive series,” Coach Joanna Hardin said. “I’m extremely proud of our team and how hard we fought and competed going to extra innings. If the ball bounces this way or that, who knows, but you can always go back and look at what you ‘coulda, shoulda, woulda’ done.”

“We have a lot of takeaways from this weekend and we’ll get back to work on Monday,” Hardin said. “I’m proud of the fight, the competitiveness and the defense. This is Virginia softball.” 

Virginia has endured a hard three weeks in terms of the competition they’ve faced — each of the past three weekends, the Cavaliers have faced off against a top-13 ranked team, including the second-best team in the nation twice. Florida State was ranked second, Duke was ranked thirteenth, and Virginia Tech was ranked second as well.

The Cavaliers will look to keep an even .500 pace in ACC play this weekend as they host Pittsburgh for a three-game series in Charlottesville. The first game will be at 4 p.m. Friday, with game two set for 1 p.m. Saturday and the series finale at noon Sunday. All three games will be streamed live on ACCNX from Palmer Park.