Photo courtesy Casey Richey.
Virginia Tech came into its weekend series with last-place NC State hoping to get back on track after back-to-back heart-breaking series losses. Instead, the Hokies dropped their third series in a row thanks in large part to the work of Wolfpack pitcher Kayla Cox.
Cox came into the series 1-7, 3.95 in nine ACC appearances with a league-high 13 home runs allowed. That didn't matter this weekend in Blacksburg. She won both of her starts, holding the Hokies to one run on eight hits, all singles, in 14.0 IP. Tech's only run against her came on a bases-loaded walk.
The series defeat drops the Hokies to 9-9 in ACC play. They'll finish the conference schedule when Maryland and its pitching coach, former Hokie Angela Tincher, come to town this weekend. The two teams will play a doubleheader Saturday at Noon and a single game at 1 p.m. Sunday at Tech Softball Park.
Game 1: NC State 3, Virginia Tech 0
Cox and Virginia Tech starter Jasmin Harrell were locked in a scoreless pitchers duel through five innings. However, NC State CF Landon Warren got the Pack on the board first with a one-out solo home run in the top of the sixth.
That would be all the Pack needed, but they added another pair of runs later in the inning thanks to a two-out, two-RBI double by RF Caitlin Dent. That was the last batter Harrell faced, as Kenzie Roark came in to finish the game with 1.1 scoreless innings.
Cox earned her second win of the ACC season by giving up no runs on four hits with three walks and nine strikeouts. It was the first shutout in conference play for NC State this season. 1B Courtney Liddle was the lone bright spot for the Hokies, going 2-for-2 with a walk.
Game 2: Virginia Tech 6, NC State 2
The Hokies scored three runs in the first and then coasted to a 6-2 win to even their series with NC State.
Kenzie Roark led the way in the circle, going 7.0 IP an giving up two runs on two home runs on back-to-back pitches in the fourth inning that made the score 4-2. She gave up eight hits total, walked one and struck out four to improve to 5-6 in ACC play.
Offensively, Tech got things started with three runs on four hits in the first, including an RBI double by 3B Kristen Froehlich to open the scoring. Froehlich was one of three Hokies with two-hit games in Game 2, going 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.
Another of the Hokies with two hits on the day was SS Kristina Cruz, who was 2-for-2 with a home run and two RBIs. It was her first home run of the season and her first multi-hit game in ACC play.
Game 3: NC State 3, Virginia Tech 1
Once again, the Hokies couldn't solve Cox as she gave up one run on four hits with four walks and five strikeout. Two of those walks came in the third inning when she walked Liddle with the bases loaded to give Tech its only run of the game and make the score 2-1, Pack.
Like Game 1 of the series, the Pack got on the board first thanks to a home run off Virginia Tech starter Harrell. DP Bethany Wells hit a two-out-two run home run in the first inning that would be all NC State needed. It added an insurance run on a solo homer by 1B Alicia Abbott in the fourth.
Liddle's walk represented the only RBI of the game for the Hokies and she, along with RF Laura Wolff were the only Hokies to reach base twice in the game. The Hokies had a chance to do damage in the third with the bases loaded and one out, but were unable to get any more runs across.
Coming into this series, NC State's pitching staff had a 4.58 ERA and .262 batting average against. However, in three games against Tech they managed a 2.33 ERA and a .230 average against. They also held the Hokies well below their ACC average in on-base and slugging percentage.
The bright spots at the plate for Tech were Liddle and Cruz. Liddle continued to dominate against ACC pitching, going 3-for-7 with two RBIs. She's hitting .500 in ACC play and would lead the conference in that category if she had four more at-bats. She needs 10 at-bats in three games next weekend against Maryland to qualify.
Cruz took advantage of her playing time by going 3-for-8 with a home run and two RBIs. After starting just one of the previous six ACC games, it appeared the senior had lost her starting position to freshman Dani Anderson. She responded with arguably her best weekend at the plate.
The Hokies' pitchers were again victimized by long balls this weekend. The Wolfpack came into the weekend with just four home runs in 13 ACC games, but hit five in three games against Tech's pitchers. The Hokies have now given up 22 home runs in 18 games in ACC play, second most in the conference. The Pack hit .263 in the series and had a .500 slugging percentage, far above their ACC averages of .208 and .276 respectively.
The bottom line is the Hokies had a home series against far and away the worst team in the ACC and came away with just one win. In back-to-back weekends against the worst two ACC teams they managed just two wins.
They will now face arguably the best pitching staff in the conference when Maryland comes to town next weekend. It's looking more and more likely the Hokies will finish either fourth or fifth in the ACC and open the ACC tournament with Florida State regardless of how the rest of the season goes.
If they could somehow sweep the Terps, they could find themselves in third despite not playing an ACC opponent in the final week of the conference schedule and get on the opposite side of the bracket as Georgia Tech. Either way, the last two weeks, which include a non-conference loss to Longwood have made it to where the Hokies pretty much have to win the ACC tournament in order to make the NCAA field.