By LARRY VAUGHT
Virginia Tech will send Carrie Eberle, the ACC Pitcher of the Year with a 25-6 record, to the mound Saturday against Kentucky when the two teams meet at noon in the Lexington Region winner’s bracket final. The winner will advance to Sunday’s play and need just one more win to reach the Super Region.
Virginia Tech beat Illinois Friday before Kentucky knocked off Toledo.
Virginia Tech has a potent offense with an overall team batting average of .388 and 95 home runs, the nation’s fifth best total. The Hokies have outscored opponents 233-27 in the first three innings of games.
But to beat Tech, Lawson knows Kentucky will have to be ready to battle Eberle.
“She’s outstanding, she has a good drop ball, she can move the ball up in the zone and when her change up is on she does a nice job of changing her speed, so there is a reasons why she is the ACC Pitcher of the Year,” Lawson said after Friday’s win. “With that said, our offense has been game planning for pitchers like Eberle all year. That’s what we see week in and week out.
“Our game plan all year has been the postseason, but when you’re training in September and October and January and throughout the year, those are the types of pitchers you’re training for. So, we’re going to really have to make sure we get looks off of her, hopefully we have been in this situation enough that we’re able to trust our game planning that we’ve done all year and barrel up on some balls.”
Who will Kentucky pitch? That’s a question Lawson was not ready to answer when I asked. Junior Autumn Humes went five innings in Friday’s win and freshman Meghan Schorman worked the final two innings. Sophomore Grace Baalman did not pitch in the SEC Tournament. She is UK’s winningest pitcher with a 14-6 record and has a 2.81 earned run average but apparently has had a “sore” shoulder in recent weeks.
“Well, as of right now she is available. Healthy at this time of the year is always a little suspect,” Lawson told me. “You have to be careful with pitchers when you’re dealing with arm situations. One of the things about college is all these pitchers throw so many pitches when they’re younger and then they come into college and they throw a ton of pitches too.
“We had to go on a heck of a postseason run, so that was a lot of wear and tear on Grace. With that said, I’m not really sure what I’m going to do tomorrow. I know that Grace is available, I know Autumn Humes is ready, Meghan, I also know Larissa Spellman is available.
“So, what we know about Virginia Tech is they are a great pitching team. They’re smart, they can hit the ball. So, to me I’d say we’re going to have to use multiple pitchers to make it through tomorrow.”
Lawson planned a full Friday night of studying video of Virginia Teach before likely making a pitching choice Saturday morning a few hours before the game — which is not unusual for her.
“It’ll come down to who is the best matchup. It’s really important for us that we try not to let the other team come into their offense, whatever that is for that team. Fortunately, I have a lot of faith in all of my pitchers, so that is good,” Lawson said.
“The other part of it is obviously Autumn is a workhorse so you want to put her in the best situation to be successful, but honestly she could pitch all the rest of the games throughout. She’s in good enough shape and she’s strong enough that she could pitch the rest of the tournament if she had to. When you have a pitcher like that, that is very comforting. It’s also something in the back of your head when you’re game planning.”
Humes gave up five straight two-out singles in the first inning Friday. She allowed only two hits the next four innings.
She said it was an “honor” for Lawson to say what she did about her. She also would willing pitch every inning Saturday and Sunday.
“I think as a pitcher that kind of what you’re signing up for to be ready no matter what,” Humes said.