Virginia Tech Wins, Walton Launches Pinch Hit Homer
LEXINGTON-- Illinois pitcher Sydney Sickles’ specialty pitch, the rise ball, is why Virginia Tech head coach Pete D’Amour summoned Sierra Walton to pinch hit with the game tied at two in the sixth inning.
“Coach told me they were bringing the rise ball pitcher, and that’s who I’m better off hitting against particularly,” Walton said after the game. “We work on the rise ball a lot too. So I knew that the first pitch was there for me and that I was going to hit it.”
D’Amour also said--half-jokingly--that it was a gut instinct that made him go to the senior.
“I thought that the type of a pitcher they had brought in, Sierra matched up really well with. Part of it was gut instinct, I guess, I felt like she was going to hit one. It made me look like a genius,” he said.
Walton was shocked the ball went over the fence for her first round-tripper of the season.
“I did not know that it was going to go out, I thought she (Illinois outfielder) was going to catch it,” she said with a smile.
The situation, though, fit her self-described role on the team, also made a memory Walton said she will never forget.
“My role on the team is kind of like our energy person. These girls have worked so hard and to be able to step up for them in a game like this as a senior in my final season is something I’ll cherish forever.”
Walton was not the only Hokie with a flair for the dramatic on Friday. Second baseman Maddi Banks saved the day in the field.
The Fighting Illini loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the sixth inning trailing 2-1 and seemed poised to capture the lead and the momentum.
Veronica Ruelius hit a shot at Banks, who tagged the bag and then fired a jumping throw to first for a double play.
Illinois tied the game at two, but the tide turned in Tech’s favor.
“That’s the play of the game, in my opinion,” D’Amour said.
Without it, things may have turned out differently.
“If that ball goes through the middle arguably that scores two runs, and it’s first and third (base) with no outs. So that put the wheels on their momentum,” D’Amour said.
Kentucky Weathers An Early Storm
The underdog champions from the MAC, the Toledo Rockets, played fearless ball in game two of the day and rocked the Wildcats early but eventually fell 7-2.
In the top of the first inning, the Rockets responded to two quick outs with a five-hit, two-run rally that had the hosts on their heels.
“I thought that Toledo did a great job coming out in the first inning and really showed their bats and showed why they did such a great job in their conference tournament winning so many games in a row,” said Kentucky head coach Rachel Lawson.
Senior Abbey Cheek tied the game at two with a two-RBI double and advanced to third on a Rockets fielding error. Freshman Kayla Kowalik then drew a walk and attempted to steal second, commencing the entertainment.
Kowalik got caught up in an extended run down that ended with an escape worthy of a heist film and provided the perfect diversion for Cheek to scramble home, score and give Kentucky a lead they would never relinquish.
“It allowed us to relax a little, and it was a lot of fun to watch,” Lawson said. “Those kind of momentum-gaining plays are what the postseason is about.”