top-five virginia tech overpowers flames, halts 14-game win streak

Two of the Commonwealth’s finest faced off at Kamphius Field April 12, as the ACC-leading Virginia Tech Hokies topped the Liberty Flames 8-1 in front of the second-largest crowd in Liberty softball history. 

While No. 2 Virginia Tech is the highest-ranked softball opponent ever welcomed to Lynchburg, the Lady Flames remained hopeful that this matchup would usher a result similar to the last time these two met. Their 2021 meeting was headlined by a walk-off two-run homer from Caroline Hudson that gave the Flames a 5-3 victory over the Hokies. 

Unfortunately, the Liberty bats weren’t quite able to connect in big moments this time around. Hokies’ pitcher Emma Lemley was lights-out in the circle, limiting the Flames’ offensive approach all day with high velocities and a rise ball that gave her opponents trouble. 

“She was throwing hard,” Liberty shortstop Alexis Soto said of Lemley’s pitching. “In the ASUN, we don’t see a lot of throwing 68-70 (mph). But I did notice that when she saw that she was going to beat us with the rise ball, she just came higher and higher, so I think she did a great job of locating her rise ball.”

While Flames’ reigning ASUN Pitcher of the Year Emily Kirby has been a force in the circle all season, quieting Virginia Tech’s bats is a tough task for any pitcher in the nation to attain. 

The Hokies got an early jump on Liberty, opening the game with two runs off a single to left field from Meredith Slaw. A single from Kelsey Bennett in the second inning would extend Virginia Tech’s lead to 3-0. 

Lemley held the Flames scoreless until the fifth inning, when Alexis Soto hit a double to right center field that brought home Mary Claire Wilson as Liberty’s first and only run of the game. 

Despite multiple opportunities with runners in scoring position, the Lady Flames were unable to capitalize when within striking distance. 

Virginia Tech extended its lead to 4-1 when Bre Peck went deep in the sixth inning, followed by home runs in the seventh from Mackenzie Lawter and Cameron Fagan. A two-run dinger from Kelsey Bennett just about sealed the deal. 

“Right now, for us to get into the postseason, it’s about winning the ASUN. In the grand scheme of things, (the Virginia Tech) game doesn’t matter in getting us where we want to be.”

Sophomore infielder, Caroline Hudson

Flames’ Kirby finished her day on the mound with three earned runs, three walks and five strikeouts. Both Karlie Keeney and McKenzie Wagoner also made appearances, giving up three and two runs, respectively. 

Hokies’ Lemley struck out 10 batters in her five innings pitched, managing to give up only two hits. Reigning ACC Pitcher of the Year Keeley Rochard took the circle for two innings, allowing just one hit and striking out three.

While failing to repeat last year’s success was a let down for the Flames, Head Coach Dot Richardson recognized that this experience will only help her team going forward. 

“If we had not gone through this and learned from this, there might be a different outcome in the future,” Richardson said. “But because of this loss, I think it is gonna prepare us for the future. We’ve got Duke coming up, we have Tennessee and we’ve got Virginia Tech again at Virginia Tech. But you never know, we could be seeing Virginia Tech in the postseason after the ASUN tournament. Hopefully, we’ll have that opportunity again.”

While Liberty’s 14-game win streak came to an end, they remain undefeated in ASUN conference play. 

“Right now, for us to get into the postseason, it’s about winning the ASUN,” sophomore infielder Caroline Hudson remarked. “In the grand scheme of things, (the Virginia Tech) game doesn’t matter in getting us where we want to be.”

The Lady Flames proved to have a short memory from the mid-week letdown, completing a sweep of ASUN opponent Florida Gulf Coast April 15-16 and improving their conference record to 15-0. 

Following  a dominant win over top-10 ACC opponent Duke, the Lady Flames continued their ASUN dominance this season, sweeping a three-game series against Jacksonville to move to 18-0 in ASUN play. 

With just three ASUN series remaining before the conference tournament, the Lady Flames will look to win the conference and reach the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year. 

CORY is the sports editor. Follow her on Twitter

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