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Virginia Tech Softball: Hokies Prepare for ACC Tournament

A sweep at the hands of Maryland last week sealed the Hokies postseason fate. In order to make the NCAA Tournament, the Hokies are going to have to win their conference tournament May 13-15 in Atlanta and do so from the same side of the bracket as the No. 1 seed, three-time ACC champion Georgia Tech.

It's a tall order for the Hokies, who lost nine of their last 11 league games, culminating with the series against Maryland. It was the first time Tech had been swept at home since March of last year when it lost all three games in its series against UVa. 

Maryland Sweeps

It was a storyline we saw from the Hokies early in the ACC season. They just couldn't get a clutch hit to turn a close loss into a close win. In Game 1, the Hokies had the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh and two out and couldn't get the tying run across.

In Game 2, Tech had the tying run on base with one out in the seventh and couldn't put the ball into play. Kenzie Roark was the tough-luck loser in both of those games and in Game 3 pitched five shutout innings in relief. It wasn't enough, though as the Hokies were two-hit by Maryland's Kerry Hickey for a 2-0 win and a Terrapin sweep.

The three losses put the Hokies at 9-12 to finish ACC play. And locks them into the 4-5 game at 7:30 p.m. EDT Friday in Atlanta. Their opponent will be Florida State, which will finish either fourth or fifth after losing the first game of its series against Georgia Tech on Saturday. The winner of that game will face either Georgia Tech or Virginia in the semifinals.

Hokies Draw Seminoles

The Seminoles are one of only two teams the Hokies took series from in the ACC this season, along with Boston College. If their series in Tallahassee earlier this year is any indication, it will be a close one. All three games were one-run games and both of Virginia Tech's wins came in extra innings.

However, there is a big difference between that Tech team that took two of three from Florida State the first weekend in April and the one today. Everything seemed to change for the Hokies after the second gave of their doubleheader against Georgia Tech April 9 was delayed by rain. As I said since then, they are 2-9 in ACC play with series losses to NC State and Virginia, two of the bottom three teams in the league.

It all came to a head against Maryland, when Virginia Tech's hitters posted their second-lowest batting average and slugging percentage in an ACC series at .195 and .268. Of course, their lowest AVG, OBP and SLG in any ACC series came against their opponent in the first round of this weekend's conference tournament.

Pitching Improves

The good news for the Hokies is that their pitching staff has returned to mid-season form. After posting an ERA well north of 5.00 against Georgia Tech and UVa, the Hokies had a respectable ERA of 2.67 against NC State and Maryland. They also improved their strikeout-to-walk ratio by well over 1.00 over the same time frame.

The other good news? After giving up 22 home runs in their first 18 ACC games (second most in the league), they allowed only one against Maryland. Senior Kenzie Roark pitched extremely well against the Terps despite the two losses, going 0-2, 1.95 (4 ER/14.1 IP) with 10 strikeouts and six walks.

Whoever starts the game against Florida State will need to be effective as the Noles boast the second-best pitching staff in the ACC. Are either of these teams capable of upsetting Georgia Tech in the semifinals? Probably not, but the Hokies have at least proved they can match the Jackets punch-for-punch.

Get past Florida State, which will likely be a very close, very difficult game, and the Hokies might get their chance to avenge their most hear-breaking loss of the year when they were one strike away from winning the series.