Jackets softball catches an ACC Tournament win

The Jackets softball program (32-23) finished a strong season with a promising appearance in the ACC Tournament. Tech’s batters racked up  68 home runs, tying the fourth most in program history. The program boasted a 7-0 start in ACC matchups and 12-0 homestand, as well as leading the ACC in double plays with 25 and showcasing the defensive backbone of the team. With a 12-12 record in the ACC, the Jackets were invited to the ACC Tournament and were rewarded the sixth seed, their highest since 2013.

Tech matched against the No. 3-seeded Virginia Tech Hokies in the quarterfinals of the ACC Tournament. The Hokies collected 39 wins on their season with an 18-7 ACC record — three of these victories came against the Jackets. The fresh taste of defeat had Tech seeking revenge on May 9 when junior right-handed pitcher (RHP) Sophia Voyles received her first ACC Tournament start and commanded the circle for four innings in an impressive start.

Junior left-fielder Madison Dobbins broke through for Tech’s first hit as she led off the second inning. Dobbins soon reached third base and headed home after senior shortstop Jin Sileo sent a ground ball to second.

Voyles kept the Hokies off the scoreboard until the third, when an error allowed the leadoff hitter to reach third. A subsequent sacrifice fly gave Virginia Tech their first run of the game. Fortunately, sophomore first-baseman Jayden Gailey responded immediately, and a leadoff homer returned a 2-1 lead to the Jackets in the fourth.  

After collecting her second strikeout of the game to end the fourth, Voyles passed the circle to freshman left-handed pitcher Makayla Coffield to close the game. Coffield piloted the defense in retaining the lead, allowing for the offense to catch fire.

Leading off the sixth, sophomore catcher Reese Hunter’s shot to left field put her in scoring position before sophomore Brionna Condon stole third as the pinch runner for Hunter. With two runners on base after Sileo forced a walk, junior utility player Grace Connelly drove a strong pitch over the fence in deep left field for her first home run of the season to give Tech a four-run lead.

The Jackets defense denied the Hokies’ attempts at responding in the sixth, highlighted by Coffield striking out freshman first baseman Michelle Chatfield, the ACC season home run leader. Graduate second baseman Tiffany Domingue spread the lead further with a leadoff solo homer to left field in the seventh. Despite an excellent fielding recovery by Coffield to collect the first seventh-inning out, the Hokies did not quit. A late seventh inning homer by senior center fielder Emma Ritter gave Virginia Tech a spark of hope, but the Jackets closed the game at 5-2 to send the program back to the ACC semifinals for the first time since 2012.

The Jackets returned to the diamond the following day to face the Florida State Seminoles. The Seminoles entered the ACC Tournament as the No. 2-seeded team and wanted to three-peat as ACC champions to collect their ninth championship in the past ten tournaments. Last season, the Seminoles swept the Jackets in three games, so Tech would need to play its best ball of the year in order to save their season. . Senior third baseman Mallorie Black wasted no time initiating  the Jackets’ offense with a single, and Domingue moved the chains on an error. Black and Domingue took advantage of a groundout to advance a single base, and Gailey was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Hunter with two outs. A wild pitch allowed Black to take home, but the Seminoles tagged Domingue out to end the inning before Hunter had a chance to score more. 

The score stayed put at 1-0 through three innings behind Voyles’ second consecutive start. The bases were soon loaded after Hunter grabbed a single, and senior designated player Sara Beth Allen was walked, and Sileo reached on an error. Black stood strong at the plate and watched the fourth ball slide by to score Hunter. A quick groundout sent the Jackets back to the field up 2-0.

The Seminoles had saved their bats for the fourth inning; a nine-run barrage virtually stole the game from the Jackets. The combination of a two-run homer, a two-RBI double and a grand slam was too much for Tech to overcome before Florida State run-ruled them, 10-2.

Although the season did not  end the way Tech fans and players were hoping for, there is much to celebrate about the 2024 season. The Jackets displayed an  explosive offense in tandem with their imposing defensive identity, especially in their upset against the No. 3-seeded Hokies in the ACC Tournament. Coach Aileen Morales and the Jackets will look to further improve upon an impressive season and to set a new standard for Tech softball.