The BYU softball team was inches away from creating a much different outcome in Thursday’s 5-2 loss to Virginia Tech to open the NCAA Tournament at Farrington Stadium in Tempe, Ariz.
The Cougars brought the tying run to the plate twice in the seventh inning but West Coast Conference Freshman and Player of the Year Violet Zavodnik just missed on a big swing. Then there were three key calls that went against BYU, including a play at the plate in Virginia Tech’s three-run third inning where Cougar catcher Kaylee Erickson was ruled to have missed a tag on a Hokie runner. Replays showed that Erickson’s tag clearly touched the runner.
“I would never blame a loss on any particular umpire call,” BYU coach Gordon Eakin said. “But I will be interested to look at those plays on film tonight. There were three calls that went against us and if we got those maybe that would have kept the momentum a little less on their side.”
The Cougars earned some momentum early when senior outfielder Rylee Jensen took a Keely Rochard pitch over the fence in the top of the first for a quick 1-0 lead.
Rochard – the Big East Pitcher of the Year with a 25-8 record and a miniscule 1.12 ERA – shut down the Cougars after that, allowing just three hits while striking out seven.
“We just kind of swung at bad pitches and didn’t play our best game,” Jensen said. “She (Rochard) threw a great game. We had a lot of people get on base. It was just a matter of making adjustments earlier in the game.”
Virginia Tech (34-13) had 12 hits against West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year Autumn Moffat-Korth and took a commanding 5-1 lead into the seventh inning.
The Cougars loaded the bases with one out and scored a run on a fielder’s choice to close the gap to 5-2. With two on and two outs, Rochard induced Zavodnik to pop up to first base to end the game.
“Losing is always disappointing,” Eakin said. “We’re never happy with that. One of the things we need to do is be resilient and bounce back tomorrow. I was not disappointed in my team’s effort. I thought we executed our game plan. We did not want to chase her (Rochard’s) rise ball and we didn’t. Sometimes you need to tip your cap to your opponent because they outplayed you, and they outplayed us.”
BYU (36-16) will await the loser of Thursday’s nightcap between host Arizona State (32-14) and Southern Illinois (37-14). The Cougars will have to win two games on Friday to get to Saturday’s championship.
“We know we can play with these teams by sticking together,” Jensen said. “We know if we stay together can accomplish it together.”