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June 21, 2012

Tech softball squad concludes great season with loss to Tennessee in NCAA regionals

By: Marc Mullen

Thanks in part to its unbelievable run to the 2012 ACC Championship game, the Virginia Tech softball team earned its fifth trip to the NCAA Softball Championship and first since 2008.

The Hokies’ effort was rewarded with a trip to the Knoxville Regional, and they made a valiant effort in an attempt to advance to the super regionals, quickly dispatching their first two opponents in relatively easy fashion before falling to Tennessee in a pair of games.

“I’m just really proud of this team,” Virginia Tech head coach Scot Thomas said during his postgame press conference after the Tennessee games. “Hats off to Tennessee. They have a great program, and I felt like we came down here and played hard, and I’m real proud of this program.”

Behind a strong pitching performance from junior Jasmin Harrell – 7.0 innings, four hits and three strikeouts – the Hokies defeated the University of Alabama-Birmingham 4-1 in their first game. Sophomores Kelsey Mericka and Kat Banks each had a pair of hits, with Mericka driving in a run and Banks scoring one. Sophomore Lauren Gaskill and junior Courtney Liddle each had a run scored and an RBI.

Harrell was even better the next day, and the Tech offense gave her an additional two runs of support in the 6-0 shutout of Miami (Ohio), who was a surprise first-round winner over host No. 5 Tennessee a day earlier by a score of 1-0.

In the circle, Harrell allowed just three hits and two walks, while striking out four. Sophomore Dani Anderson was a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate with two RBI, as Liddle, Banks and freshmen Logan Spaw and Katey Smith all drove in one.

Unfortunately for the Hokies, the host Lady Vols escaped the losers’ bracket and dealt them a pair of losses on the final day, eliminating them from the postseason. In Tech’s hard fought 2-1 loss in the first game, Spaw drove in the lone Hokies’ run, scoring Banks, as Harrell tossed her third complete game of the weekend in the loss. Tennessee used a five-run third inning in game 2 to increase a 2-1 lead and cruised to the victory, 10-2.

“I feel like we did everything we could as a team, not just me personally,” Harrell said in her postgame comments. “The batters had my back when they scored two, and we came back with the one run. I just feel like you can’t let [the losses] linger too long. [We] played a good weekend, so I’m proud of me and my team.”

The Hokies ended the season 42-21, marking the seventh time in 17 years the program has reached the 40-win plateau. Their showing in the ACC Tournament certainly helped reach it, as they won a pair of games which included knocking off top-seeded and No. 21 North Carolina, 4-1, to reach the finals. It was the fourth ACC title game for Tech (three in the A-10, one in the BIG EAST) and the eighth overall.

The last time Tech made the NCAA Tournament, it completed a string of four straight bids (2005-08) and culminated with a berth in the College World Series. With two graduating seniors – Kristen Froehlich and Marra Hvozdovic – and 19 underclassmen returning, the odds have to be in the Hokies’ favor of repeating that type of run.